There’s a good chance you’ll have seen it by now. On the afternoon of Sunday 16 October, Kevin Eriksson lined up on the second row for the final race of the German round of the World Rallycross Championship.
Going into the first bend, he was stuck near the outside and in roughly fourth place (it’s hard to tell), until the five drivers inside him slowed for the corner and started bundling their way through it. Eriksson, outrageously, slung his Ford Fiesta sideways – virtually backwards – and turned in across the noses of all five other cars and, with all four wheels spinning, drove into the lead.
It’s one of the most spectacular, audacious and ludicrous overtaking manoeuvres in recent motor racing history and, within the space of three days, has been seen more than three million times online via official video channels alone – and countless millions more through social media.
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On the same day, France’s Sébastien Ogier won his fourth World Rally Championship in a row, coming straight off the back of Sébastien Loeb’s nine. Only two car makers and two drivers have won the WRC title since 2004, and were I in charge of the World Rally Championship and watching Eriksson’s move in Germany, I’d shudder. To me – to millions – World RX is where it’s at.
It wasn’t meant to be like this. There was a time when the WRC set itself up to be one of the top five global sports. It was the early 2000s, WRC was on terrestrial TV via Channel 4 and the old way of rallying, in which you knew less about what was going on if you were out spectating on the stages than if you were at home, was set for revolution.
There would be Super Special stages, in which cars would compete two at a time in purpose-built arenas. Expensive, long-distance events like the Safari Rally were dropped; dedicated single service parks were used so spectators could get closer to the teams. Rallying was to become more compact, easier to follow, more engaging and, as a result of fewer road miles, would also be cheaper to run, easier to manage and easier to use as a tool for selling cars – which is, ultimately, why car makers do it.
It would become, in other words, more like rallycross. But it would never be enough like rallycross, and in doing so, it ripped out the heart of what made rallying appeal to its core fans: that it was a long, demanding test of cars and drivers.
And no matter how compact and easy you make it, watching a conventional rally is hard. You wait, you see cars, individually, for perhaps a few seconds. Then they’re gone, and so your spectating journey begins again to perhaps see some more cars for a few seconds in a few hours.
World RX uses tracks in natural amphitheatres. The action all happens in one place and, ultimately, the hit is the same: these are cars that look like ones you can buy, being driven spectacularly on a loose surface. And they’re racing each other, in a way they don’t even on WRC’s Super Special stages. If you were looking for a sport that could realistically be one of the world’s top five, you’d only look at the trajectory of one: travelling audaciously, sideways, around the outside.