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Episode 37

A last minute idea turned into a fantastic day out. Should more people make an effort to watch grassroots motorsport?

Club Race Meetings:

The Perfect Cheap Day Out?

A last minute idea turned into a fantastic day out. Should more people make an effort to watch grassroots motorsport?

A couple of weeks ago, due to a lack of elite motorsport to *ahem* ‘report on,’ I found myself with a free Sunday. Therefore, having been embroiled in non-stop motor racing for a month or so, I’d like to think that you’d forgiven me for a day off. On the other hand, I didn’t fancy getting withdrawal symptoms, and so I looked elsewhere for my tyre-screeching fix. That elsewhere took me to the fastest race track in the UK: Thruxton.

Sunday morning came, and I assembled the accessories I felt I would need for a day out at the races – a bottle of water, a camera and a friend – before embarking on the short trip down. During my travels, however, I had a thought: could this be the best cheap day out? After all, a day ticket to Thorpe Park can cost around £50 per person, yet for less than half the price, the pair of us were able to watch around 8 hours of entertaining sport. Based on that logic, a day watching some club-level racing seems a bargain, but what did you really get for your £12 entry fee, and having been, would I still recommend it?

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Once we arrived at the circuit and collected our tickets, our first thought was to have a wander round to scout out the best possible viewing spots. Now, Thruxton is quite a good arena for your average club meeting, as there’s only really one stand, situated at the final chicane. Now, that may seem an illogical reason for saying it’s a good circuit to spectate at, but I make the statement because, due to COVID, the stands are out of bounds. Therefore, the grassy verges that surround the majority of the airfield make perfect viewing areas.

For reference, we took in the action from various points around the outside of the circuit, all the way from the pit ‘straight’ down to just before Noble corner, but we settled around the Cobb Campbell Seagrave complex, as this seemed to be one of the focal points for action.

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In terms of the action itself, the race meeting was being organised by the BRSCC, the British Road and Sports Car Club if you’re being pedantic. Therefore, the schedule encompassed all five classes from the Caterham Motorsport ladder, alongside the Milltek Civic Cup, the BMW Compact Cup, and the Project8 Racing series (which had all sorts of weird and wonderful machines in). This gave us a unique variety of sights and sounds across the day, keeping our interest peaked.

Personally, I found almost all of the racing pretty mesmerising, as the Caterham’s were so closely matched that drivers could gain multiple positions in just a single lap, before losing them on the next tour. In fact, during the Roadsport race there was a period where five different cars led into Cobb corner on five consecutive laps! The Honda Civic EP3’s were also fun to watch, and they certainly sounded the part when on track, too! The BMW’s, on the other hand, were quite frankly bonkers. The field was huge, with around 30 cars on track, and that left us with several 4-wide moments in the braking zone.

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Unfortunately, the current situation inhibited paddock access to the average punters like us, which I was a little disappointed by. I can fully understand the decision to shield the competitors as much as possible, and whilst I fully support that decision, I was very much looking forward to interacting with the drivers to learn more about getting started in motorsport. Nonetheless, maybe that opportunity will be afforded to me on another occasion instead.

Overall, then, I would certainly say that the pair of us were thoroughly entertained over the course of the day. The sheer volume of close, hard racing is in another level in comparison to race meetings such as Formula One or British GT, yet prices are just a fraction of those for more prestigious events. Therefore, I would not hesitate to recommend a day trip to your local racing circuit, especially if the schedule features Caterham or BMW Compact races, as those really were awesome to spectate.

Finally, a couple of top tips. Firstly, always check the weather forecast before you go. I didn’t, and subsequently didn’t pack a rain coat. There were showers. All day. Secondly, take a camping chair with you. I didn’t. I had to sit on the wet grass. Finally, beware of sun- and wind-burn. I wasn’t. I had a very red face the next day, even though it was overcast. Oh well, we live and learn, right? I’ll rectify those mistakes next time. Just need to find a weekend without any racing on TV that I need to ‘report’ on…

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Race Watch 15

Following the best part of six months off, the WRC heads to a new event: Rally Estonia. In the homeland of the reigning World Champion, is it time for Tanak’s first win of the year?

World Rally Championship:

Rally Estonia 2020

Following the best part of six months off, the WRC heads to a new event: Rally Estonia. In the homeland of the reigning World Champion, is it time for Tanak’s first win of the year?

173 days after round three ended, the fourth World Rally Championship event begun, and my, was it a good one. The first Rally Estonia to be classed as a WRC event produced the fourth WRC winner in four rallies, proving the wide-open title race was unlikely to conclude any time soon. But what exactly happened?

Now, I won’t bore you with all the context of the championship etc going into this round, as I explained everything regarding the season so far in my previous #RacingGrind article (which you can read here). Therefore, the only important information needed to set the scene is that the majority of this rally’s running was not taking place on the Friday, in order to compress the event a little. This meant that Saturday’s bumper 10 stages took extra importance, with the road order taking championship order in the morning loop, before reverting to the standard reverse-standings road order for the afternoon.

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As such, Sebastien Ogier lead us off during the Friday night opening stage and Saturday morning loop.  He led well during the 1.28km Stage 1, too, setting the joint-fastest time alongside Esapekka Lappi. The times were very close-knit, however, as you would expect on such a short stage, with Ott Tanak, Craig Breen and Elfyn Evans all less than a second behind.

The Rally proper, then, began with an early start on Saturday, and it was Kalle Rovanpera who clearly got out of bed on the correct side, as he registered the fastest stage time, 1.3 seconds clear of Craig Breen. This gap also gave the young Finn the overall lead of the rally as well, with Breen’s Hyundai once again in second place, albeit just three tenths back. This lead didn’t last long, however. A rear-right puncture on the very next stage cost the Toyota driver around 25 seconds, dropping him into eighth overall. Ott Tanak had contrasting fortunes, however, as he won stage three by 5.6 seconds to – yes – Craig Breen. Elfyn Evans beat Neuville into third on the stage to ensure it wasn’t a Hyundai 1-2-3, whilst Ogier was fifth on the stage yet moved into fourth overall due to Rovanpera’s misfortune.

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Tanak and Breen continued their dual domination on stage four, with the Estonian beating the Irishman by just a tenth, with the third Hyundai of Neuville completing the stage with a good enough time to move him into a podium place overall. The Toyotas fought back on stage 5, however, with Ogier claiming the stage win from Rovanpera, albeit less than a second ahead of the local man Tanak, before Neuville rounded off his morning with a stage win of his own.

At lunch on Saturday, then, the overall standings had the three main Hyundais in the top three, with four Toyotas chasing. That’s right, four Toyotas, as the Japanese outfit’s Japanese development driver – Takamoto Katsuta – was having the WRC performance of his life. After six stages the 27-year-old, alongside co-driver Dan Barritt, was just 35 seconds off the lead. Even more impressively, he was less than 20 seconds behind the leading Yaris, piloted by a six-time World Champion.

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Saturday afternoon contained more Tanak dominance, with the reigning World Champion finishing second on stages 7, 9 and 11, and winning stage 8. The only ‘blemish’ was during stage 10, when he was a ‘lowly’ fifth, and a ‘massive’ four seconds off Breen’s pace. Breen also claimed stage 9, whilst stage wins for the Toyotas of Ogier (7) and Rovanpera (11) bookended the afternoon.

Whilst is was a productive afternoon for two of the Hyundai entrants, it was misery for the Rallye Monte Carlo winner Thierry Neuville. An off on stage seven ripped the rear-right wheel from its suspension, meaning a 1 minute 15 second delay in the stage, but more disappointingly withdrawal from the afternoon’s proceedings. As such, with his pointless Mexican outing (pointless as in point-less, rather than no point in him going) and now this, I’d say the Belgian’s 2020 title hunt is over.

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Other than the aforementioned, there wasn’t much movement in the overall classification during the afternoon, meaning the standings overnight were Tanak leading Breen by 11.7s, with Ogier a further 17.0s back. Fourth was kale Rovanpera, but he was hit by a 1-minute time penalty after his co-driver removed a radiator cover whilst in parc fermé conditions. As such Evans was fourth, Katsuta fifth and Rovanpera sixth.

It was a miserable rally for the M-Sport Ford Fiestas, as the cars were simply not on the pace. Esapekka Lappi, after his win on Friday’s stage 1, was the best-placed Fiesta, yet even he was 1 minute 40 seconds behind the lead, down in seventh overnight. They would be hoping for a better Sunday.

Sunday came, and with it some Toyota dominance. Well, relatively speaking. No single driver was significantly quicker, however there was a whitewash of stage victories. Evans took the opening round of the day, with Rovanpera less than half a second behind. Clearly the teenager was angered by his overnight penalty, as he went one better in stage 13, taking the stage victory by 2.1s from Tanak. Sebastien Ogier then got his fair share, setting the fastest times through stages 14 and 15, before Rovanpera swept up the remaining two stages.

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Rovanpera’s Sunday performance included a magical run in the final stage – the Wolf Power Stage, for which there are bonus World Championship points up for grabs. The No. 69 Toyota absolutely blitzed the stage, beating Elfyn Evans by 5.1 seconds. To put that into context, the winning margin was the second biggest seen on any stage all weekend, only eclipsed by Tanak’s 5.6 second gap to Craig Breen on stage 3. The third largest margin, for context, was 3.3 seconds, by Tanak over Rovanpera on stage 8, so it’s safe to say these drivers are pretty equally matched, in general.

Unfortunately, Rovanpera’s supreme pace couldn’t bump him up the classification, as the only position he gained was as a result of Katsuta having a horrendous roll on stage 13. Both Katsuta and Barritt were unharmed in the incident, however their Yaris certainly was. No overall classification movement occurred in the top 4, however, meaning Tanak registered his first victory of the season, making it four winners from four events in the WRC this year. Craig Breen showed fantastic pace to secure second, with Sebastien Ogier’s third extending his World Championship lead. The rest of the top 10 read Evans, Rovanpera, Suninen, Lappi, Greensmith, Oliver Solberg (in an R5 VW Polo) and Mads Ostberg (in an R5 Citroen C3).

In the Driver’s Championship, then, it’s Ogier still in command, extending his lead over Evans by a point. Ogier now sits on 79 points, with Evans 9 back on 70. Tanak’s victory pushes him onto 66 points and third in the standings, whilst Rovanpera now sits in fourth, albeit much further adrift with 55 points. As a result, I’d say this championship has become a three-horse battle between a six-time World Champion, the reigning World Champion, and a Welshman. Who’s my money on? It’s too close to call right now, but the picture may look a little clearer after the next event in Turkey, in just two weeks’ time.

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Episode 36

After what is almost certainly the longest mid-season break in motorsport history, the WRC is finally back in action this weekend. Time for a refresher of the season so far, then.

FIA World Rally Championship:

Season So Far

After what is almost certainly the longest mid-season break in motorsport history, the WRC is finally back in action this weekend. Time for a refresher of the season so far, then.

173 days after round 3 of the World Rally Championship was completed, and round four is finally set to get underway. For the first time, the WRC will host a World Championship event in Estonia, the home country of the reigning Champion Ott Tanak, but what’s the situation leading up to the event, and what’s the plan for the rest of the year? Let’s have a look at the WRC season so far.

Round 1 of the WRC was the traditional season opener at Monte Carlo, and plenty of talking points came from the event. Ott Tanak’s title defence could not have started worse, as he had a huge crash which resulted in his brand-new Hyundai flipping multiple times in mid-air. Thankfully, both he and his co-driver, Martin Jarveoja, managed to walk away without physical injury, however I’m sure their pride will have been severely dented.

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It was a mixed event for the Hyundai team, as whilst Tanak was stricken, Thierry Neuville went on to take victory ahead of Sebastien Ogier and Elfyn Evans, both managing a podium on debut with the Toyota team. The best of the M-Sport Ford Fiesta’s was Esapekka Lappi in fourth, with WRC debutant Kalle Rovanpera beating out the most decorated rally driver of them all, Sebastien Loeb.

Elfyn Evans continued his remarkable start to the season in Sweden, taking home the spoils in what was a significantly shortened event due to a lack of snow. Tanak wasted no further time in getting his title defence underway, however, coming home in second place behind the Welshman. Rovanpera, in just his second event with a WRC car, completed the podium, although he was only 3.4 seconds ahead of six-time Champion Seb Ogier. Neuville, after winning the first event of the season, could only come home sixth in round 2.

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The third round of the WRC was also the first flyaway event, in Guanajuato, Mexico. Now, I say the first flyaway, but due to the exclusively European nature of the rescheduled season, it may in fact be the only flyaway race of the season. Nonetheless, the third round brought our third winner, with Sebastien Ogier standing upon the top step come Saturday evening. Yes, I say Saturday evening rather than Sunday, because the final day was cancelled due to the looming travel restrictions, and the event organisers thought it would be better to make sure everyone got home safe. Correct decision, I’d say. Behind Ogier was Tanak for the second consecutive event, with Ford claiming their first podium of the year with Teemu Suninen finishing third.

Much like Hyundai’s opening event, it was very much a rally of contrasting emotions for Ford, as Esapekka Lappi’s vehicle went up in a fiery inferno midway through the rally, with nothing salvageable from the burnt shell. This is likely to significantly hurt M-Sport, as they are effectively still a privateer outfit with just a fraction of the budget of their Asian rivals. This problem would have been compounded by the ongoing global crisis, leaving the team in a less-than-ideal financial situation.

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Regardless, the Fiesta is undoubtedly the third-best car on the stages, as shown by their occupation of the lowly sixth and seventh spots in the championship standings, with Suninen leading Lappi. Above them, reigning champion Tanak is in fifth, two points behind rookie Rovanpera, who is in turn two points behind the leading Hyundai of Thierry Neuville, on 42 World Championship points. Leading the way are the Toyotas of Ogier and Evans, who have amassed 62 and 54 points respectively.

Looking forward to the rest of the season then, and we currently have four events pencilled into the schedule. First up, as previously mentioned, is the inaugural WRC running of Rally Estonia this weekend, September 4th-6th. Two weeks later, we head to Turkey (September 18th-20th), before we head to Italy in October (8th-11th) and Belgium in November (19th-22nd).

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Despite not being a World Championship event in 2019, Rally Estonia had a pretty bumper cast regardless. Ott Tanak won his home event in his Toyota Yaris, with Andreas Mikkelsen in a Hyundai i20 finishing in second, but more than a minute behind. Esapekka Lappi’s Citroen C3 completed the podium, ahead of Elfyn Evans’ Fiesta and Craig Breen’s Hyundai. Winning the R5 category – and the European Rally Championship round – was the young Oliver Solberg, son of 2003 WRC Champion Petter Solberg. Oliver is returning to the WRC this weekend and will be hoping to once again be the class of the R5/Rally2 category. Neither Ogier nor Neuville contested this event in 2019, so it will be interesting to see whether their lack of local knowledge hinders their progress this weekend.

By complete contrast, Tanak failed to finish the 2019 edition of Rally Turkey, whilst Ogier took home the spoils. Of the other two title contenders, Neuville also suffered from issues during the event and finished eighth overall, whilst Evans was ruled out due to his back injury.

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Rally Italia last year was certainly a matter of attrition, as almost all the main runners suffered problems, including Jari-Matti Latvala rolling his Yaris. In the end it was Dani Sordo who won the event from Suninen, with Evans fourth, Tanak fifth, Neuville sixth and Ogier significantly down the order in 41st overall. As a result, it’s difficult to say which drivers will be relishing these two upcoming rallies, as the results were so skewed by mechanical problems.

Not a single WRC machine entered the 2019 Ypres Rally Belgium, so this will once again pose a completely new challenge. It will, however, be interesting to see whether Hyundai draft in Craig Breen for the event to drive in the third car alongside Tanak and Neuville, as the Irishman was victorious outright last year.

In short, the season so far has been almost too close to call, with three winners and a defending champion on a fightback, but with half of the remaining events not featuring in last year’s calendar, the uncertainty could very well cause the fight for the championship to go right down to the wire.

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Enjoyed reading this article? Let us know your thoughts with a comment below! All that’s needed is an email address, and don’t worry, there’ll be no junk mail!

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Episode 35

Caterham Cars offer a full manufacturer-backed motorsport ladder, culminating in 400bhp/tonne racers. What about the first rung, though. Should I be getting involved?

Caterham Academy:

The Ideal School of Driving?

Caterham Cars offer a full manufacturer-backed motorsport ladder, culminating in 400bhp/tonne racers. What about the first rung, though. Should I be getting involved?

This weekend I took a day trip down to Thruxton, to watch some club-level racing. Now, I can already tell you that next week’s article will be a full review of my visit, with the aim of determining whether it’s a day out that I’d recommend or not, but this week focuses on one of the headline events from last weekend: the Caterham Academy.

So far I have written articles about MINI Challenge, Ginetta G40 BRDC and Club100 karting in order to determine whether they are the ideal racing series for me to participate in in order to kick off my motorsport career and, whilst they each have their own unique positives, none have quite yet put together the perfect package. With that in mind, lets have a look at how the Caterham Academy performs when scrutinised under the following criteria: cost to race, accessibility, and car configuration.

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First up, is the cost. The Caterham Academy is a single cost, starting at £29,995, although the cost of various vehicle options can take the total up to north of £40,000. Therefore, assuming that most people would at least pay for their car to be built, we’ll go for a price of £35,000. Now you may be thinking that £35,000 may be a lot, especially considering the MINI Challenge could be completed with a budget of around £20,000, but the Caterham bundle includes much more than just a car.

Alongside your road-legal Caterham Academy racing machine, you are enrolled in the Caterham Academy Championship – a racing series exclusively for drivers who have not held a race or kart licence before. This means that all the drivers are novices, and all the cars are equal. Now, having seen the action for myself last weekend, I can tell you the action is close. At times the competitors were three or four wide heading into the chicanes, and most of the time they all emerged unscathed.

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The race series usually consists of a ‘sprint’ event, before six or seven race meetings, where racers have a 15-minute qualifying session and a 20-minute race. However, we haven’t finished with the benefits of your entry fee yet. Caterham also organise a time and place where you take the racing licence test, and they also host two further pre-season days: one handling day for you to learn the characteristics of your own car, and one Caterham-exclusive testing day. Finally, they organise a technical day within which they teach you about car setup and how to maximise your vehicle’s performance.

Overall, then, I’d say that the level of support received by the manufacturer is on a par, if not above the level that Ginetta offer with their G40 GRDC package, which is probably the only other racing series of this ilk. Caterham, though, offer their series at just two-thirds the cost of Ginetta, and if that’s still not affordable enough, Santander Consumer Finance is a partner of the series, meaning you can finance your racing journey if you can’t quite afford to strum up the cash sum. I think it’s safe to say that affordability is an overwhelmingly positive tick.

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The second area of interest to me is how accessible the series is to fans. In terms of social media following, Caterham themselves have a substantial audience, with around 40,000 Instagram followers, 30,000 Twitter fans and 55,000 likes on Facebook. More significantly, however, one current Academy class member commands social media numbers that are factorial in comparison.

James Walker – more commonly known as Mr JWW – boasts nearly 570,000 subscribers on YouTube alone, and across the board his following totals nearly a million accounts. Now, if I was able to use the crossover in potential content between his audience and mine to convert just 1% of his audience, that would be a gain of nearly 10,000 accounts for this blog, taking us into serious numbers.

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Caterham’s exposure of the Academy is also quite professional, as all races are recorded, with highlight packages available on YouTube consisting of multiple cameras dotted around the circuit. These highlights, alongside my own content, would allow my audience to easily keep up with my progress through the season, an absolute necessity for me. Finally, my understanding is that usually spectators are free to roam around the paddock during race meetings, however due to current circumstances that was not a possibility at Thruxton. After two categories, then, it’s two passes for the Caterham Academy. Will it be the first series to gain full marks?

Next, we move on to the cars themselves. All the cars are built brand new as part of the £30,000 entry cost, and the car is then yours to keep. Because all the cars are built equally using equal-spec parts, and are assembled by the manufacturer, I can be pretty safe in the knowledge that my competitors and I would have nigh-on equally performing machinery. This is beneficial, as it stipulates that any differences in performance – positive or negative – are most likely down to the driving.

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Similarly, repairs and replacements are carried out by Caterham themselves, meaning all drivers are subject to full factory support at race meetings. This keeps costs low and competitive advantages through part replacements at a minimum. Even when it comes to tyres, their road-legal nature means that, in the dry at least, partially-worn rubber is potentially advantageous, so it isn’t necessary to be purchasing dozens of sets of tyres for the year. Another good performance for the Academy.

The final consideration is what a Caterham is. I initially stated that I didn’t wish to race in a racing car that had been converted from a road-car chassis. Now, you could argue that Caterhams do indeed fit into this category as, for starters, the Academy cars themselves are road legal. However, I did caveat my preference by stating that road-legal track cars, such as Ariel Atoms or Caterhams, would be exceptions to this rule. I said this because they were developed with circuit driving in mind, and therefore would be built with to better withstand the demands of racing.

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In conclusion, the Caterham Academy looks to take home a perfect score. A good mix of affordability, competitiveness and accessibility to the fans, alongside fitting my personal preferences along the way, result in the Caterham Academy theoretically becoming the front-running race series on my shortlist.

One last benefit to this championship is that you can progress through another 3 racing series’ with your Academy chassis, just by adding small, incremental upgrades year on year. This allows a relatively cheap progression into some seriously pacey machines, matching your newly-developed driving skills with some more demanding racing. Is it somewhere I could actually be competing come the new year, however? Only time will tell…

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Enjoyed reading this article? Let us know your thoughts with a comment below! All that’s needed is an email address, and don’t worry, there’ll be no junk mail!

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Race Watch 14

FIA World Rallycross is back, and with the 2016 and the 2017 & 2018 World Champions rejoining the grid, how will they fare after 18 months out?

World Rallycross:

Holjes, Sweden

FIA World Rallycross is back, and with the 2016 and the 2017 & 2018 World Champions rejoining the grid, how will they fare after 18 months out?

In a year of new and out of the ordinary, World Rallycross returned this week, and the results were very familiar to those who have watched the sport for a few years. After having no past or present World Champions on the grid in 2019, we were reunited with two stars of the recent past, and by the end of Sunday, we knew it.

In a first for World Rallycross, this weekend held two events. Rather than having two qualifying sessions on the Saturday before two more, semi-finals and the final on Sunday, we had three qualifying sessions, semi-finals and the final all on Saturday, before repeating the schedule for round two on the Sunday. Whilst this meant much more on-track action for the fans watching via the live coverage, it also meant that any crashes or reliability issues would be much more devastating. Unfortunately, this leaves too much to talk about in one #RaceWatch, but you can watch all the action yourself, completely free, on the WorldRX Youtube channel! Without further ado, here’s my account of round 1 of the 2020 FIA World Rallycross Championship.

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Saturday. Rallycross is back! Yay! What’s more, we’ve got changeable conditions with torrential rain showers overnight, and more expected throughout the day. In Qualifying 1, the circuit evolved a lot as a result of the drying conditions, and so Johan Kristoffersson set the fastest time in his first competitive session since 2018. Behind the 2017 & 2018 World Champion, the 2016 Champion took second. Mattias Ekstrom, in his 2020-spec Audi S1, was pretty much keeping pace with his fellow Swede, which was very much a promising sign, as when the VW Polo R last ran in 2018, it was clearly the superior machine in the field.

Whilst Robin Larsson – Ekstrom’s teammate – and Anton Marklund also showed good pace, the real losers were the top two drivers from 2019. Timmy Hansen, starting his title defence, could only muster eighth – two places behind his brother, Andreas Bakkerud could only muster the fourteenth fastest time. Admittedly, the Norwegian is still in the process of adjusting to his new car, and he also had the worst grid slot in the worst race, however the Monster Energy RX Cartel driver would have been bitterly disappointed after topping the free practice times in the morning.

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Qualifying two, and it was Ekstrom who took the top spot from Marklund, with Kristoffersson sixth. Timmy Hansen improved to fifth in the session, however things went from bad to worse for the RX Cartel. Bakkerud only managed the thirteenth best time, whilst his teammate – Briton Liam Doran – had to withdraw from the day’s proceedings after his car caught fire after Q1. As I said, the single-day format meant the issue put the ‘British Bomb’ out of action for the rest of the event.

It was back to the top of the timing sheets for Kristoffersson in Q3, whilst it was a return to form for the reigning champ, with Timmy Hansen in second and his brother Kevin in third. Timmy’s 2019 rival Bakkerud was subjected to an early finish, however, as he once again delivered a sub-par qualifying which left him just thirteenth in the standings, and thus not making it into the semi-finals.

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Onto the semis, then, and they weren’t without controversy. Kristoffersson led home Niclas Gronholm – son of the two-time WRC Champion Marcus Gronholm – and Robin Larsson, however Larsson was subsequently handed a penalty for a bump-and-pass on Anton Marklund. On second thoughts, calling it a ‘bump’ is a little lenient, as it was more of a shunt in all honesty, leaving the rear of Marklund’s Renault Megane to bunny-hop it’s way over the finish due to the damage it received. Larsson’s penalty subsequently promoted Marklund himself into the final, meaning justice was eventually forthcoming with the correct three drivers proceeding to the final.

Semi-final two was much less controversial, as Ekstrom led Timmy Hansen across the line, with two-time DTM champion Timo Scheider completing the grid for the decider. This meant that last year’s Holjes winner – Sebastian Eriksson – missed out on an opportunity to defend his crown, whilst Kevin Hansen and Timur Timerzyanov also bowed out.

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A corker of an event fittingly ended with a corker of a final, as a dramatic start sent cars flying left, right and centre. The wet surface left little grip for the drivers, and after Gronholm stalled on the line, Marklund overcooked the first turn and clattered into Timmy Hansen whilst righting himself. As a result, Hansen’s Peugeot was sent into a full 180 spin. With this debacle also impeding Scheider, this left a two-horse race out front. Mattias Ekstrom did everything in his power to deny Kristoffersson a comeback victory – including taking his joker early to give himself clear air, alas it was unsuccessful, as the winningest driver in FIA World Rallycross notched another one into his tally.

Does he recreate his dominance on Sunday? Well, he doesn’t win all of the five races he competed in, but that’s all I’m letting on. You can have a watch online to find out yourself!

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Enjoyed reading this article? Let us know your thoughts with a comment below! All that’s needed is an email address, and don’t worry, there’ll be no junk mail!

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Episode 34

Formula One may not be on the agenda this weekend, but motorsport certainly isn’t. Ever heard of Rallycross? No? Well here’s your ultimate guide.

The Complete Guide to FIA World Rallycross

Formula One may not be on the agenda this weekend, but motorsport certainly isn’t. Ever heard of Rallycross? No? Well here’s your ultimate guide.

This weekend marks the return of the FIA World Rallycross Championship, the fourth and final FIA World Championship to begin racing this year, after the World Rally Championship managed to squeeze three events in before lockdown, Formula One has just come off the back of six races in seven weeks, and the World Endurance Championship has straddled the pandemic with events both in February – with their Lone Star Le Mans in the USA – and last weekend with the Spa Six Hours. Despite having the honour of World Championship status, something Formula E will only gain next year, the World Rallycross championship is relatively unknown in the wider motorsport community. With that in mind, then, this is a detailed guide to the sport, and what to look out for if you’re thinking of tuning in to this weekend’s action.

The format of Rallycross is conducive to short, furious racing with small grids, creating a frantic, high-energy spectacle designed to keep spectators on the edges of their seats. The race weekend consists of 4 qualifying rounds – two on Saturday and two more Sunday morning – before a pair of semi-final heats and then a final to determine the race victor. Rewinding back to the start, though, and there has to be a way of splitting the drivers into their qualifying groups, as the track is only big enough for six cars at once, so how do they determine who races who?

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Grids can fluctuate in size between 16 and 25 due to a number of race entrants only competing at one-off events, so to determine the grid positions for Q1, each driver is able to choose which heat/grid position they would like. For the order of who picks when, the drivers’ names are pulled out of a hat. Qualifying consists of 4-5 heat races filled with up to five drivers in each heat. Because not everyone is out on track at the same time, it is the overall time you set in your heat that determines your qualifying position. This makes things a little more interesting, as drivers could very easily be caught up in on-track battles, ruining the qualifying times of all involved.

From then on, the composition of each heat in subsequent qualifying sessions is based on the classification from the previous round, meaning the fastest five drivers from Q1 race each other in Q2 whilst the next fastest five are grouped together, and the same thing for qualifying rounds three and four.

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The question is, though, what do these drivers have to do in each qualifying session? What does one race consist of? Well, a rallycross circuit is a little on the confusing side. For starters, there is an extended straight before the first corner which is only used at the start of the race, as this is where the initial drag-race down to turn one occurs. The other anomaly is a small portion of the circuit which seems to split into two? This is where the ‘Joker Lap’ occurs. A Joker Lap is a longer, slower section of track which every driver must navigate at least once per race, but due to its increased duration nobody drives through it more than they have to. There is no set point in the race when it has to be taken, meaning that teams and drivers use it as a tactical opportunity, such as to give themselves clear air if they’re stuck behind another car.

The race itself is marginally different depending on whether it’s a qualifying heat or a semi/final race. For qualifying, a race consists of 4 laps, with each driver starting side-by-side on the start line, whereas in the finals, the drivers have a two-by-two staggered grid, and six tours to complete. The joker lap only has to be completed once regardless of the race duration.

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Speaking of semi-finals and finals, how do you get into them? Well, the top twelve drivers from qualifying are split into two groups: the odd-placed drivers (i.e. first, third, fifth etc) go to semi-final one, whilst the other six drivers take part in semi final two. From there, the top three at the end of each race progress to the final, with the two victors taking the front row, the two second-placed drivers on row two, and you get the idea. When it comes to the final, it’s winner takes all.

Have you been able to digest all of that? Yep? Good. Because now we’re getting on to the fun bit – the cars! Yep, the purpose-built machines that spit fire, sound glorious and spend as much time going sideways than they do forwards. From the outside, Rallycross cars look like beefed up equivalents of everyday hatchbacks, and that’s because they are. Admittedly, the resemblance is minute, however the base shell used to build a Rallycross car around is exactly the same as the road car of the same shape in your local Tesco car park. For 2020, those cars include: Volkswagen Polos, Audi S1s, Renault Clio and Renault Meganes, Peugeot 208s, Hyundai i20s, Ford Fiestas and Seat Ibizas. Little economy hatchbacks.

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The similarities end there, however. Rallycross machines do not share the engine and drivetrain characteristics seen in Tesco car parks, as the racing cars have four-wheel-drive, and two-litre turbocharged engines producing 600 horsepower. Six hundred. Any turbo lag is taken care of by the popping, banging anti-lag system fitted, and all of that means the cars can accelerate from nought to 60mph in less than two seconds. To put that into context, the Dodge Demon – the fastest production car over a 1/4-mile, takes 2.3 seconds to accelerate from 0-60. Safe to say these cars take a bit of practice before they can be properly wrung out.

Speaking of practice, many illustrious racing drivers have turned their hand to the sport, with Sebastien Loeb – the most decorated rally driver of all time – having previously raced for Peugeot, Petter Solberg – another WRC champion – winning two World Rallycross titles in 2014 and 2015, and DTM legend Mattias Ekstrom having headed the Audi factory effort also. None of these drivers are racing full-time anymore though, so who should you be on the lookout for this weekend?

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The reigning champion is a Swede by the name of Timmy Hansen and, despite winning four of the ten events last year, he only clinched the title by a single point to the Norwegian Andreas Bakkerud. Both drivers are returning in 2020, with Timmy in the Red Bull liveried Peugeots alongside his younger brother Kevin Hansen, whilst Bakkerud teams up with Briton Liam Doran in the Monster Energy-branded Renault Meganes.

Other notable drivers include Timur Timerzyanov and teammate Niclas Gronholm in the i20s, but the main threat to the status quo will come in the form of Johan Kristoffersson, returning to the series after a year out to compete in the World Touring Car Cup. Kristoffersson is a big name in the World Rallycross scene, as in 2017 and 2018 he won the driver’s title as Petter Solberg’s teammate. His 2018 season in particular was utterly dominant winning all bar one of the twelve events, and so his comeback should make interesting viewing.

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This weekend, the aforementioned Mattias Ekstrom is returning, in one of his Audi S1s, however he has stressed that it is a one-off outing rather than a full season commitment. This weekend’s location of Holjes in Sweden is his home event, and has been a happy one for his historically, after winning the 2015 occasion.

After this weekend, the current schedule offers back-to-back weekends, as the championship travels to Finland for the 29-30th August, followed by Latvia on 19-20th September, Belgium on 02-04 October, Portugal on 10-11th October and Spain on 17-18th October, before finishing the season at the all-new Nurburgring circuit on 12-13th December. The first three events – being Sweden, Finland and Latvia – are due to be especially action-packed, as they are double-header rounds. This means we’ll be able to feast on all four qualifying sessions, semis and the final all in one day. Motorsport sure does come thick and fast, these days.

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Race Watch 13

After the sixth race in seven weeks, the Spanish Grand Prix could have been interpreted as a little tired. But what exactly happened?

Formula One:

Spanish Grand Prix

After the sixth race in seven weeks, the Spanish Grand Prix could have been interpreted as a little tired. But what exactly happened?

As has been the norm over the past few years, the Spanish Grand Prix did not produce an instant classic of a race. A lights-to-flag victory was somewhat made interesting by a few midfield scraps, however, on the whole wheel-to-wheel combat was sparce. But what exactly happened? Let’s run through the highlights.

Lewis Hamilton is arguably the greatest driver of all time, and this weekend he took just one more step toward showing that in the record books. His victory this weekend gave the Briton his 156th trip to the podium, surpassing the seven-time World Champion Michael Schumacher’s 155, and I personally feel that the sheer domination he showed in the race was a pretty fitting reflection of how he’s gone about his Formula 1 career, particularly since his move to Mercedes. After all, in today’s race, his teammate – in an identical car and having started on pole – was unable to match Verstappen’s pace early on, and failed to close him down toward the end despite booting on new softs. In complete contrast, Hamilton was able to control his pace at the front initially before cantering away from the lead Red Bull, ensuring a comfortable victory by a considerable margin.

2020 Spanish Grand Prix, Sunday – LAT Images
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Max Verstappen, the determined Dutchman in said leading Red Bull, has been demonstrating plenty of qualities often found in World Champion drivers, most notably when it comes to his radio communications. After having enough mental capacity to remind his race engineer to rehydrate and sanitise during last week’s 70th Anniversary GP, the 22-year old’s conversations this week were a little more heated, culminating in a rant more akin to what we have seen from Sebastian Vettel this term. In fairness to the driver, I would say the outburst was due, as Verstappen made a reasonable point in that he wasn’t as quick as Hamilton, and therefore the strategy shouldn’t revolve around the lead Merc, but you can understand the team wanting to cover Bottas, their closest threat.

It could be said that, instead of reminding Max how far away Hamilton was, the Red Bull strategists would have made better use of their time by devising a strategy that didn’t drop Alex Albon into traffic after his first stop. This effectively ruined the Thai driver’s race, as he couldn’t attack the Racing Point cars, but instead had to duel with Carlos Sainz throughout the race and finished behind Vettel’s one-stopping Ferrari also. Speaking of duelling, pretty much all of the entertainment to be had from this Spanish Grand Prix came from the ferocity of a few of the defensive moves. Charles Leclerc’s pre-retirement skirmish with Lando Norris comes to mind, as the Monegasque racer was met by robust defence from the Papaya McLaren ahead of him.

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It says a lot about a race when the highlights were a few almost-overtakes, so maybe it’s a blessing that this weekend brings with it a break from the on-track action. On track action for Formula One, at least, as the motorsport season is now very much in full flow. Over the next weekend we have BTCC at Oulton Park, DTM at the Lausitzring and the World Rallycross Championship kicks off at Holjes in Sweden, just to name a few. Therefore, there’s no reason for me to skip a week of #RaceWatch anymore. I’ll see you next week.

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Episode 33

The British Touring Car Championship is the most illustrious UK-based racing series, but why is that the case? What makes the BTCC so special?

What Makes The BTCC Special?

The British Touring Car Championship is the most illustrious UK-based racing series, but why is that the case? What makes the BTCC so special?

Last week we had a look at whether the MINI Challenge UK could be the perfect racing series for me, and whilst it may not be my personal preference, it’s certainly the first rung of a very successful racing ladder. For example, the winner of the 2019 MINI Challenge’s premier JCW class, James Gornall, has made the step up into the British Touring Car Championship for 2020. But why make that move? What precisely is it that makes the BTCC so popular with both drivers and fans alike? Here’s what I think.

When it comes to ‘what makes the BTCC so good,’ the answer does not solely lie in the present day. Many iconic moments of motor racing history have been made in British touring cars, from the famous Volvo 850 Estate to Ian Harvey and John Cleland’s ‘I’m going for first’ debacle, and moments like these create talking points that will have people coming back for more.

On the subject of ‘I’m going for first,’ the BTCC used to be commentated on by Murray Walker, almost undoubtedly the most famous voice in motorsport. For a national series to have the honour of being narrated by the voice of F1 certainly shows just how mainstream the series was in its heyday.

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Nothing can live in the past, however, and one of the main draws of the current BTCC is down to the sheer variety on the grid. BMW, Honda, Ford, Audi, Mercedes, VW, Infiniti, Hyundai and Toyota all have vehicles entered on the 2020 grid, whilst Vauxhall were due to race until COVID-related budget issues saw them pull out, although they are committed to returning in 2021. With the Astras included, that makes ten car manufacturers racing with cars that resemble production vehicles, meaning you could walk into a BMW dealership the day after Colin Turkington inevitably wins, and purchase your own 320i. Sure, the car won’t have any of the same internals, but they do look almost identical from the outside, and that’s what matters.

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Stemming from this, the cars are a mix of front- and rear-wheel drive, which can make for intriguing narratives in races, due to the competitive advantages each drivetrain possess. This means battles are more interesting as some cars have significant pace deficits to others in certain areas of the circuit, or even on some circuits as a whole.

Another important factor stems from its coverage. The British Touring Car Championship is broadcast live on free-to-air TV. Every television in the UK is able to tune in to ITV4, meaning there are no barriers to accessing the sport. The same certainly can’t be said for F1, as the only way to watch races live in the UK is by purchasing Sky Sports, which can cost many pounds a month, and therefore many are unable to enjoy the most high-profile motorsport on the planet.

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Finally, if you wish to witness the action in the flesh, this can also be easily arranged (although not at the minute, of course). Tickets for the BTCC are cheap, generally at around £30 for adults on the Sunday, making them significantly cheaper than theme park tickets, for example. What’s more, children under 12 can go for free, and 13-15-year olds also get heavily discounted prices. The national nature of the series also creates much less of a barrier to those who wish to attend multiple rounds, as locations are much closer to one another than in the DTM, for example, which crosses borders for some rounds of its championship.

These main contributing factors, along with others not mentioned in this article, all combine to ensure that the BTCC is one of if not the most followed national racing competition in the UK. I personally love it as all of the cars are fairly equally paced, yet they all find their speed through different methods, making overtaking relatively easy and battles fierce.

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Race Watch 12

A bumper motorsport weekend saw the BTCC at Brands Hatch, Formula E hold the first four of their six-races-in-nine-days bumper event, and this: the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix

Formula One:

70th Anniversary Grand Prix

A bumper motorsport weekend saw the BTCC at Brands Hatch, Formula E hold the first four of their six-races-in-nine-days bumper event, and this: the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix

The first Grand Prix ever to not be named after a geographical location also produced a first non-Mercedes victor of the year, with Max Verstappen’s Red Bull first past the chequered flag. As predicted, the hotter temperatures and softer tyres in comparison to last week meant greater flexibility in strategy, and a more tactically intriguing race ensued. But what exactly happened? Let’s have a look at a few of the main talking points.

Charging Bull vs Tyre Troubles

The pair of Mercedes drivers faced crippling tyre blisters throughout the 70th Anniversary GP, whilst Verstappen, in stark contrast, was able to Max-imise (sorry) his strategy thanks to his exceptional tyre management. Red Bull rolled the dice on Saturday by sending Verstappen out on the hard tyre in the second part of qualifying – something nobody else attempted – and this laid the foundation for the dutchman to push in clear air whilst Bottas and Hamilton had to work their way through traffic after their first stops. This added variable meant the Mercs were unable to properly bed in their tyres at the start of their stint, and they paid the price for it.

The Red Bull was able to use the overcut strategy to move from third before the pit phase, to side-by-side for the lead upon re-joining from his box. A short, six-lap push on the medium tyres gave him track position, enabling him to switch back to the hards and nurse them to the finish. Bottas and Hamilton were both put on the medium-hard-hard strategy, with Bottas taking pretty equal stints, whereas Hamilton eked out his almost-shredded first set of hards in order to give himself fresh tyres with which to attack toward the end. This worked to an extent, after the Briton worked his way past his teammate, although Verstappen’s Red Bull was too far away.

Blisters were the bane of Mercedes’ race

One-Stop vs Two

Whilst the double stop strategy was the preferred option across the field, two drivers in particular managed to nail the single stop strategy. Starting eleventh, Frenchman Esteban Ocon managed to work his way into eighth at the flag, and earning four deserved points to move himself into the top 10 in the Drivers’ Championship.

More impressive, though, was Charles Leclerc. Having qualified eighth, the Monegasque racer was not expecting to take any forward strides in the race, yet after a mammoth stint on the hard tyres, the Ferrari crossed the line in the ‘best of the rest’ 4th place. If that wasn’t impressive enough, he was just ten seconds off a podium spot. On a day when some drivers had to stop for fresh tyres three times, these two men drove superbly to maximise their points hauls.

Mixed Fortunes For Bulls of Past & Present

Ironically, whilst one Ferrari and one Renault pulled off blinders, the other Ferrari and Renault both suffered from spins. For Sebastian Vettel, this has unfortunately become a bit of the norm, with a number of high-profile spins occurring over the last two seasons or so. This time, it was a big moment on the apex of the first corner on the first lap that he struggled to collect, although he and Carlos Sainz both did well not to tangle with each other. Daniel Ricciardo, also a former Red Bull racer, also spun whilst up the inside of Sainz’s McLaren – the car the Australian will take over next year.

In contrast, Alex Albon produced the sort of race that reminded us all why he was promoted to the Red Bull seat. After a couple of tough races in Hungary and Silverstone last week, Albon was back to his passing best. Moves were flying in left, right and centre, with passes around the outside of Raikkonen and Gasly at Copse particular highlights. Ninth in qualifying is still not quite at the level Christian Horner and Helmut Marko will be happy with, but the fightback will hopefully instil some confidence back into the Thai driver.

So, after the first – and presumably last – 70th Anniversary Grand Prix, we head off to sunny Spain, and the Circuit de Barcelona Catalunya for the final leg of this triple header set of weekends. Whilst the magnitude of Hamilton’s championship lead didn’t alter, his nearest challenger did, with the mercurial Max Verstappen now posing a bigger threat than Hamilton’s teammate. Whether this will make a difference to the team dynamic or if it’s too early for team orders at Mercedes, we’ll find out at the same time next week.

Episode 32

Fancy racing on live, national TV? You’d expect to be paying many thousands of pounds for that privilege, but the actual figure may pleasantly surprise you!

MINI Challenge:

The Cheapest Racing Series On TV?

Fancy racing on live, national TV? You’d expect to be paying many thousands of pounds for that privilege, but the actual figure may pleasantly surprise you!

This week saw the return of the British Touring Car Championship, and its associated support races also had their season openers. Among those on the schedule was the MINI Challenge, which got me thinking: should I be aiming to enter the UK’s premier front-wheel drive racing series?

So far, over the course of this year, I have written an article about what I’m searching for in a racing series, alongside taking a detailed dive into whether the Club100 karting series or the Ginetta G40 GRDC. Whilst both competitions produce compelling arguments, neither have quite fit all of my criteria, so let’s take a look and see whether the MINI Challenge is the series I’m looking for.

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For those of you who aren’t aware of the MINI Challenge, it is a single-make domestic racing series for the BMW-made MINI hatchbacks. There are four different classes, from the entry-level Cooper class up to the hard core JCW class, whose thoroughbred machines are only a small step down from the front-wheel drive BTCC cars. For the purposes of this article, however, I’ll be looking at the little Coopers, as they are aimed more at the rookie racer.

The Cooper class cars are built from an R53 model chassis, and are powered through their front wheels by a naturally-aspirated 1.6 litre unit producing 130bhp. That power is transferred to the ground through the road-going Cooper S’s 6-speed manual, and the slick Goodyear tyres. MINI claim that, if you were to build your Cooper-class car yourself, a budget of around £10,500 would cover all of the parts, including a suitable donor vehicle. Employing someone to carry out the work for you will of course require a considerably larger wallet, but on the other hand is certainly advisable if you’re not the most mechanically minded person.

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Once you’ve built your racing machine, you’ve got to pay the fees to race it. The pre-COVID race schedule amounted to seven race meetings for the Cooper class, two of which were due to be in direct support of BTCC meetings, including live TV coverage on ITV4. A season entry fee included entry to all of these meetings, in addition to a pair of test days, at Silverstone and Thruxton, all for the cost of £7,995 + VAT, which equates to £9,594 all in. Adding that onto the cost of building the car, and you could theoretically complete a season, with your own car, all for circa £20,000. Is the MINI Challenge inside the budget then? Definitely.

The second aspect I am looking at relates to the reach, the following of the series. Now, as previously mentioned, the Cooper class of the MINI Challenge was scheduled to race on two occasions as part of the BTCC support package, featuring live races on national TV. Other than that, their social media following isn’t sizeable, however the MINI Challenge social media team are very hard working, with considerable coverage on race weekends. Therefore, I would say that the MINI Challenge also passes this test.

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Moving on, we’ll now look at how closely regulated the series is, in terms of performance. On a race weekend, tyres are limited to just two fresh rubbers for each meeting. Alongside this, in order to make car setup simpler, only toe, ride height and single-way dampers are adjustable, so it shouldn’t be too taxing to find the optimal feeling in the car. Alongside this, costs are controlled by ‘widespread use of control parts,’ however this almost inevitably means there are still areas where spending more equates to better performance. The engine, gearbox and chassis are also road-based, meaning that maintenance should be cost-effective due to readily available parts, both new and used. Overall, then, whilst the series isn’t totally cost-controlled, there are a fair few measures to limit ridiculous expenditure.

Finally, my personal preferences. And unfortunately, this is where the MINI Challenge falls down. My criteria listed a preference for a non-front-wheel drive series, and preferably not a racing car that started life as a road car. That is, however, exactly what the MINI Challenge Cooper class is – converted road-going R53 MINI’s, cars which are front-wheel drive. And that makes the choice about entering the MINI Challenge that much more intriguing: all the quantifiable criteria point to the Challenge being the perfect racing series, yet my preferences would almost immediately discount the series. Head vs heart, the age-old adage.

What do you think? Do you think the MINI Challenge is where I should race? Let me know with a comment below!

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Enjoyed reading this article? Let us know your thoughts with a comment below! All that’s needed is an email address, and don’t worry, there’ll be no junk mail!

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