GOING FASTER THAN FORMULA ONE B
Hal Ridge looks at rallycross’s iconic era
y the very nature of the sport, rallycross breeds monstrous machinery. Renowned for being full of uber-powerful Supercars, there are few other motorsport disciplines where cars are on the ‘wrong’ set-up for a considerable part of any given lap or race, such is the constant compromise of racing on both sealed and unsealed surfaces. That inevitably makes the action invigorating.
Most rallycross cars have at least some monster blood running through them. Look at entry-level national competition where, in some classes, restrictions are relatively few and in the pursuit of power racers often fit bigger and more powerful engines than are actually required. Or at the twin-turbo monsters that graced the top echelons of the sport over two decades ago in the Group B era. The state-of-the-art machines that race in the World Rallycross Championship today can out-acceleration a Formula 1 car to 60mph.
While the sport is littered with examples of frankly bonkers machinery, it’s difficult to shy away from the Group B period when thinking about monstrous rallycross cars. Group B, as has been detailed in this week’s MN, was a crazy time for rallying. But when the infamous cars were banned from the rally stages in 1986, many were adapted to race in rallycross. If the Group B rally era could have become any more extreme, then it was on the rallycross tracks around Europe, where they were given more power, less weight and raced door handle-to-door handle with electrifying consequences.
There are few that drove the most potent of machines on both the rally stages and the rallycross circuits some 20 years ago, but to have driven then and still today is even more unique. But then, as anybody that has had the opportunity to spend any time in his company will know, Swedish legend Per Eklund is unique.
Eklund has driven most types of cars in most championships in an incredible 50-year motorsport career and says racing his lightened, more powerful MG Metro 6R4 in rallycross stood out as a favourite.
“It was fantastic to have Group B rallycross cars on the start line,” he says. “F***ing hell, it was [Ford] RS200S, [Audi] Sport quattros, Peugeot 205s and the Metro – cars today that you need to pay millions for. The Metro was funny really, everybody had a turbo but we were there with a naturally aspirated engine, the V6. That was different.
“The Metro was like a racing car, you were sitting on the gearbox and there was nothing in front of you. The car was almost the same when we turned it into a rallycross car as it had been when I did rallying, but it had much more horsepower and that was a bit of a problem. We used to break the transmission, there was good traction and the rear differential was the problem, it kept exploding so we had to do some work there, and to the suspension.”
Eklund says that despite the lack or a turbo, over a race distance the Metro was a strong match for the opposition. “We lost out at the start but over a lap it was very good. We used the 3.5-litre engine, so it had much more power than the rally car, even with no turbo. Will Gollop used a twin turbo, which worked well and he was quite quick for some years. The cars were fantastic, they were like a circuit racing car with long suspension arms too.”
Eklund also sampled the legendary Martin Schanche’s Ford RS200 rallycross car, albeit on a hillclimb. “It had the 2.5-litre turbo engine when I drove it. It was very good, very quick. It was more horsepower than the 6R4 and was more difficult to control. The response out of the corners was not as good. Driving these cars was not an easy life.”
The Swedish team owner, who is as active as ever, now into his 70s, has also competed in modern cars recently. The 600bhp World RX Supercars are considered as some of the most monstrous machines in racing, but to Eklund, they’re tame against the 6R4 and RS200.
“Our Volkswagen Beetle is more like a proper rally car with more power, the chassis is very good” he explains. “The modern rallycross cars are so good with all the hanky-panky tricks with the response system and electronics. They’re much easier to drive now, with the sequential gearbox and everything. They [Group B] were much more extreme and more difficult, but they were fantastic.” ■