WILKS IS BACK IN THE BIG TIME
Briton lands a dream drive for the 2017 World Rallycross Championship.
Former Junior World Rally Championship title-contender Guy Wilks has been working towards achieving a competitive drive in a top-level FIA World Championship since he began his rallying career at the turn of the millennium. This season he will realise that 17-year goal by campaigning a race-winning Volkswagen Polo Supercar full-time in the World Rallycross Championship.
Wilks’ early career was fully focused on climbing the ladder in rallying, which culminated in a works Suzuki deal in the JWRC for three seasons, works Skoda and Peugeot drives in the Intercontinental Rally Challenge and several appearances in a privately-run WRC car.
He also won the British Rally Championship twice with Mitsubishi. Despite that success on the stages, it’s rallycross where the Englishman will compete in his first full top-level World Championship campaign having teamed up with Loco Energy Drink to race a privately-run ex-vw RX Sweden Polo.
“This has been a long time coming, I’ve been waiting for a good opportunity to do a full World Championship for so long and I’m massively looking forward to it,” said the County Durham driver.
Having stopped rallying at the end of 2011, Wilks returned to the driving seat at the British round of the World Rallycross Championship at Lydden Hill four years later and impressed,
piloting a JRM Racing-run Mini RX with a 1.6-litre Wrc-derived engine to a place in the final. The following four selected World RX outings since (in an Olsbergsmse Ford Fiesta and JRM’S Mini) haven’t reaped the same rewards, largely down to technical issues. However, in 2017, Wilks will have his best chance yet, driving the car that finished second in the championship last season.
“Without a doubt, the Polo is definitely the most complete package I will have used in rallycross,” explains Wilks. “You only have to look at the amount of events that it made the final last year – Johan [Kristoffersson] was always in the mix with the car. That’s not to take anything away from Johan’s skill, but the car is capable.
“That potentially adds a bit of pressure, but it’s good pressure and we have the ingredients for me to mix it at the top with the other guys, even though the bar is being raised year-on-year.”
With four works-backed teams entered in World RX for 2017 and at least two cars in each stable, the level of competitiveness at the front of the series is set to rise again.
Wilks is embracing the prospect of taking them on as a privateer in a new team: “I’ve enjoyed being an underdog in the past. It’s not that we have no expectations, because we want to go and do the best we possibly can. But, in [Audi-backed] EKS you have the World champion in (Mattias) Ekstrom and Peugeot-hansen has high-level drivers – everybody in the world knows what Sebastien Loeb is capable of. Then there’s Ford with Andreas [Bakkerud] and Ken [Block], who are already fast and doing loads of development, and the might of Volkswagen with Solberg – we know what they did in the WRC.
“You can’t deny those strengths, but at the same time I’ve faced them before in rallying and, as a privateer, you can be up there, especially when the conditions are mixed. Rallycross allows people to punch above their weight anyway even in the best conditions. Just look at what event winner Robin Larsson has done. That’s a very good driver with a privateers’ budget and a loyal team – that package has punched above its weight.”
Works team or not, Wilks is aware that there will be no room for error this year. With each one of the four qualifying races on track counting towards the position at the Intermediate Classification, from where only the top 12 move forward to the knock-out semi-finals, unlike in his previous career in rallying, it’s near impossible to make up for lost time.
“Look at Sebastien Ogier in Sweden,” he says. “He made a mistake on the last stage, he spun and stalled, but still made a podium. A stall in World RX could be the difference between qualifying for the semi-finals or your weekend being over before lunchtime on Sunday. It’s a really cut-throat environment.”
Although optimistic of being able to upset the order in 2017 and fight at the front of the field, Wilks is also quick to recognise that even making the semi-finals will be a challenge.
He says: “This has all come together quite late and I’ve got to find my feet quickly in a car that I don’t know. We’re getting a good team together and we want to start the first round in Barcelona in a top condition. I have no doubt that the guys can produce that. We have to be aiming to make semi finals every single time. After that, anything can happen. We want to be in the finals. I could say that we’re aiming for podiums but I’m not wanting to get carried away – we’ll take this one step at a time and I’ll be giving it my best shot.”
Despite having missed out on making it to the very top in the WRC in his earlier career, Wilks believes that time away from motorsport has made him even hungrier and more ready to take on a World Championship assault.
“Hot headed is not necessarily the correct term [for me] but I was so, so driven when I was rallying,” he says. “The only focus in my whole life for many years was to get up the next rung on the ladder. I was highly strung no doubt about it. Sometimes that paid dividends and sometimes it probably cost me results. I’m much more level-headed now, I think that comes with being a parent and having my own business, responsibilities outside of motor sport. I was always appreciative of the opportunities I’ve had, but I’m definitely appreciative of this opportunity and I’m absolutely ready for it.” ■
Wilks has a new car for his 2017 WRX challenge
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Wilks will drive Kristoffersson’s car