WILKS IS BACK IN THE BIG TIME

Bri­ton lands a dream drive for the 2017 World Rallycross Cham­pi­onship.

Motor Sport News - - Headline News - By Hal Ridge

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.” ■

Photos: fi­a­worl­dral­ly­cross.com

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