World Rallycross 2023 preview: a leap into the future | CAR Magazine

World Rallycross 2023 preview: a leap into the future

Published: 20 July 2023 Updated: 20 July 2023

► World Rallycross returns to Lydden Hill this weekend
► Top class is now all-electric, with some big-name drivers
► Every lap combines tarmac, dirt and ridiculously close racing

World Rallycross is the series that mixes rough and ready thrills with a commitment to green technology that makes most other types of motorsport seem stuck in the past.

Starting last year, its top category switched to all-electric powertrains, making it the only established form of motorsport to transition from combustion to EV. 

It also has a more diverse driver line-up than most – male and female, young and old, with various different disciplines on their CVs, competing head to head. Nine-times World Rally champion Sebastien Loeb, 49, who returns to WRX after a four-year break, is in the thick of the action with 20-year-old former ice hockey star Gustav Bergström. 

Several drivers – including Loeb, Johan Kristoffersson, brothers Timmy and Kevin Hansen, Mikaela Ahlin-Kottulinsky, Cristina Guitérrez and Klara Andersson – have also competed in the electric-from-day-one Extreme E. But unlike that behind-closed-doors championship, WRX has plenty for spectators to enjoy, including cars that at least resemble familiar road and rally icons, especially Loeb’s Lancia Delta. (And if you’re gagging for some fumes, it also has combustion cars competing in the lower categories.)

After two rounds, defending champion Johan Kristoffersson is leading. But there are plenty of others itching for wins, including Niclas Grönholm, son of WRC legend Marcus. Andersson has been on the podium, and looks set for more success as the season progresses.

Round three is at Lydden Hill in Kent, where the series began in 1967 as a made-for-TV event. Initially shown on ITV’s World of Sport, it featured the spectacle of Vic Elford competing in a Porsche 911. Later, Group B cars were used, and more recently the potent 2.0-litre turbocharged Supercars. And now, in tune with the times, if you can’t make it to the circuit, it’s easily viewed (payment required) on a phone app as a live stream, or catch up at your convenience. The current all-wheel-drive cars have more than 670bhp and around 650lb ft, with 0-62mph times of around two seconds.

This year’s calendar sees the series stretching beyond its European heartland for the first time since 2019, with the penultimate round involving a return to South Africa in October, and the season ending in November at an entirely new venue in Hong Kong. 

Sporting director of the series is Mattias Ekström – a World Rallycross champion, a former DTM racer, and a current member of Audi’s innovative Dakar team. His dad, Bengt Ekström, is a former European Rallycross champion. Mattias told CAR: ‘I feel lucky to be involved in all kinds of series, and all kinds of powertrain concepts. Rallycross is the sport I grew up with, with Group B cars, and Group A, I became a petrolhead loving the sounds and all the cars. In the early 2000s to 2010, Supercars became very powerful, 0-100km/h faster than an F1 car, and the modern era from 2014 to 2021 was the glory years of the ICE Supercars.’

Going from that to all-electric overnight is a bold move…

‘There are two challenges,’ says Ekström. ‘One is to transform the petrolheads that we have – the fans, the sponsors, the industry. Another is to find new people. They’re not as attracted to sound. They like the acceleration of EVs.

‘The future is going to include both.’

By Colin Overland

CAR's managing editor: wordsmith, critic, purveyor of fine captions