06:00 21 May 2016
Next weekend will see thousands of race fans flock to Lydden Hill race circuit between Canterbury and Dover for two days of breathless action. The World Rallycross (RX) of Great Britain returns for its now trademark spring bank holiday weekend slot of May 28 and 29, in the only event where the high-octane championship will go wheel-to-wheel on UK shores this year.
And it is expected up to 15,000 will fill the venue to watch the fast-paced action which was created to deliver quick, bite-sized races which would appeal to TV audiences.
Rallycross was invented by Robert Reed, who was the producer on ITV’s World of Sport programme at the time, and has its roots at the race track in Wootton.
The first event took place at Lydden Hill on February 4 in 1967, where it quickly became a staple of Saturday afternoon sports in the UK with both ITV and BBC broadcasting the sport.
The popularity of rallycross soon spread, with the first event on the European mainland taking place in Holland in 1969, with the Scandinavian rallycross debut taking place in Sweden two years later.
John Close, spokesman for World RX Great Britain, told KoS why the sport is so special and why it seems to continue to grown in popularity year-on-year.
“Rallycross is a product made for TV – it’s short, sharp racing that everyone can enjoy,” he said.
“Races last about three and a half minutes compared with two hours in F1, for example, and that was the ethos behind it, really.
“Its big appeal is the fact you can buy a ticket and take anyone – regardless of whether they’re massively into their motorsport or not – and they’ll come away having had a good time.
“The final is a bit longer but still lasts under six minutes but it’s so action-packed. I don’t believe there’s another motorsport that delivers so much and it appears to be growing year-on-year.
“Cars will have tyres smoking or their bumpers hanging off but they’ll just keep racing.”
Rallycross drivers get behind the wheel of supercars packing more than 600bhp and the ability to accelerate from 0-60mph in less than two seconds – faster than an F1 car.
Race meetings include four action-packed qualifying heats with the most successful drivers progressing through to semi-finals and a final.
This year represents the third year of the world championships, which have proved a hit in Kent and beyond.
With its roots firmly cemented in the county, drivers returning to Lydden Hill see it as a big deal, as last year’s winner and current defending world champion Petter Solberg explains.
“It’s always a fantastic weekend to go racing at Lydden Hill,” he said.
“The atmosphere and the crowds are very special, and of course, we are going there this year to fight hard and win like we did last season.
“Rallycross at Lydden is a massive part of the sport and everyone wants to win there, it will be an exciting weekend for sure.”
Mr Close agrees that Kent’s connection is obvious: “It’s really nice because it’s where the sport first started and it still continues to take place here and draw big crowds.
“Lydden Hill is a special venue, and while we’re expecting up to as many as 15,000 next weekend, it still maintains its small, intimate charm that makes it unique.
“You can stand or sit anywhere, bring your family and your dog, and see everything that goes on on the track – it’s not like in F1 where you just wait to see cars go past the same corner.
“The access you have to the pits and things like that is great, too.
“It’s difficult to operate in terms of noise and restrictions and so there aren’t many venues around, but we’re lucky in Kent to have both Lydden Hill and Brands Hatch on our doorstep.
“There are only five sports in the whole world recognised by the FIA so to have them come to Kent so frequently and to such positive reviews is fantastic.”
If Solberg is to repeat his dominant performance from last season’s World RX of GB, though, he will have to be on top form.
A full complement of factory-backed entries will be revving up to take the spoils away from him – including nine time World Rally champion Sébastien Loeb, double DTM champion Mattias Ekström, 2014 winner Andreas Bakkerud and Ford Performance Racing’s Ken Block.
Not to mention X Games winner and Kent local Liam Doran, as well as 2015 vice champion Timmy Hansen.
Liam Doran will be particularly popular – his father, legendary racer Pat Doran, owns the Lydden Hill circuit.
In addition to that, Lydden Hill is offering a full support programme of junior categories to keep the on-track action buzzing, as well as jaw-dropping demonstrations of stunt driving and retro rallycross machinery.