Look, you just don’t diss rallying, OK? I get that. It’s a great sport, all right? And I genuinely do think so too, but people get very upset if you slag it off. So I won’t.
But can we agree it has some issues? The World Rally Championship has tried to address some of them in the past. That it takes place over a long way is kinda the point of rallying in the first place, because it’s a gruelling test of people and machines, but that makes it hard to manage spectators, hard to film and photograph to get public exposure.
So the WRC introduced things like single service parks, scrapped events like the gruelling Safari Rally, made shorter stages that were based around one area, created ‘arena’ stages, and rather undermining what made it rallying in the first place and rather more like what you see here.
Which, ultimately, I’m not sure has helped rallying’s cause in the long run, because it has revived public attention on this sport. And I’ll tell you something: you ain’t going to compete with rallycross. Rallycross is on a roll like at no time since the 1980s. Cars compete against each other, not just the clock, in short stages, part rough, part smooth, based often in natural amphitheatres so spectators can see almost the entire circuit. And the cars are special, too: wildly powerful, looking enough like cars you can buy off the street, four wheel drive, long on suspension travel and big on going sideways.
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In short, rallycross rocks.
In the UK nobody does rallycross quite like the Dorans. Father Pat, and son Liam. Both have won the lot either as drivers or team managers. The Citroen C4 you see in the video below was driven by Pat in the World Rallycross Championship, then mothballed for a while. But in 2017 Liam is running several cars in the British Rallycross Championship as team manager, following a stint driving in the World Rallycrosss Championship himself in a Citroen DS3. For the foreseeable, though, he says he’d rather have the biggest team in British RX than the smallest team in World RX. So the C4 has been resurrected and will be run by Nathan Heathcote. Turns out he’s quite good, and that this car is still rather competitive, because he won the championship’s opening round the other weekend.
It runs to what are known as supercar regulations. There was a time when that meant the 2.0-litre engine had to come from the carmaker’s group, but didn’t necessarily have to be fitted to that car. And it can be, er, ‘modified’. So although the C4 is petrol powered, it uses a PSA 2.0-litre diesel block because that’s stronger than a petrol one; and that’s important because this C4 is running a turbocharger that is even bigger, it looks to me, than the ones they fit to the Bugatti Chiron.
Thus equipped, the C4 revs to 8000rpm, near which it makes 600bhp, but that’s not important because you don’t need to take the revs that far. Because it also makes 900lb ft of torque between 4000 and 6000rpm. No, that isn’t a typo. It drives through all four wheels – slightly rear-biased, with limited-slip differentials front and rear – via a six-speed sequential gearbox. Normally with these once you’re under way you can forget about the clutch, but the technician for Heathcote’s C4 advises me that isn’t the case on the loose around the Lydden Hill circuit in Kent. The resultant wheel slip could well lunch the transmission. As can botched use of the brutal launch control starts which makes these cars capable of hitting 60mph from rest in under two seconds. So, basically, go easy, Prior. Sometimes I quite like instructions like that.
Either way, this is not a complicated car to sit in. Visibility is good, you sit relatively high – in racing car terms – and there are three pedals, the gearlever, a steering wheel and a large bar for the handbrake. I won’t be needing that, either. Shift lights, a gear indicator, and that’s all you need to know.
Some race cars have very tricky clutches and stall easily. A car with 900lb ft isn’t one of them. It also has a ride you would describe as compliant. Pat has already driven me around the Lydden Hill circuit – it’s one of those lovely amphitheatre ones that will host two rounds of the British Rallycross Championship, and the only UK round of the World Rallycross Championship – in a Range Rover Sport in which, um you ‘felt’ the bumps a bit.
“You can be flat through here; you’ll be in fourth through there,” says Pat with the nonchalance of a man who is used to a 700bhp Ford RS200. So I’m not and I’m not, but I will say something, the C4 is a ridiculously easy car to drive briskly. And when you do give it the lot. My oh my. It’s not unlike a Chiron, only lighter, more able, more agile, and you could drive it across a ploughed field. The suspension control is utterly extraordinary, the steering wonderfully communicative and unfazed by bumps, and the handling thoroughly approachable. It’s a bit like an off-the scale Ariel Nomad.
Just one is a spectacle. Imagine several of them, then, side by side into the first turn. Only you don’t have to imagine. It’s on the telly on motorsport.tv, and at a rallycross track near you, soon. The World RX returns to Lydden for the final time this weekend.