Martin Schanche won the last of his six European Rallycross titles in 1995, and retired from the sport in 2001, but it was in 1978 that the Norwegian claimed his first crown, in an Escort RS 1800.
GT cars were a major part of the sport’s make up in its second decade, Swede Olle Arnesson winning back-to-back GT titles in a Porsche 911 in 1979 and 1980, before Matti Alamaki, who would later star in the more powerful Porsches and the Group B era, claimed his first crown in 1981.
Brands Hatch in Kent began hosting the season-closing MSA British Rallycross Grand Prix from 1982, the inaugural event being won by Rolf Nilsson in a Porsche 911, a car that still competes in British RX today.
While the European Championship continued to grow, the Grand Prix was the highlight of the year, attracting the best drivers and cars from across the continent, with regular giant-killing acts performed in the single-category format by British drivers in far less developed machinery.
But, development was also rife. The 1984 season was a turning point for rallycross, and motor racing. In a project between Schanche, Mike Endean and Gartrac, the revolutionary four-wheel-drive Escort Xtrac was created to take on the best in the sport, driven by Schanche and John Welch.
The Norwegian won the European crown in 1984 and the Grand Prix, and only just missed out on the series title in the following two years, while Welch claimed the GP spoils in 1985, becoming the first British driver to do so, and then added the British title too in ’86.
The foundations built in rallycross were enough for transmission firm Xtrac to develop into the major motorsport concern it is today. Back in the European series in 1985, Alamaki wrestled a bi-turbo, four-wheel drive version of Porsche’s 911 to glory, before ’86 brought another revolution to rallycross, but not motorsport.
Banned from the World Rally Championship, Group B cars suddenly became readily available, and for achievable amounts of money. Mark Rennison was the first to acquire a Ford RS200 in early 1986 (and won two British titles with it), but just 12 months later the sport would be flooded with the Group B monsters. Another British driver, Will Gollop, made the step up to four-wheel drive with the sport’s first Metro 6R4 at the end of the same year.
Will Gollop was an early convert to Group B cars
Schanche starred in Xtrac