Rallycross is a form of sprint style automobile racing, held on a closed mixed-surface racing circuit, with modified production or specially built road cars, similar to the World Rally Cars, although usually with about stronger engines, due to eg. their 45mm turbo restrictors. It is mainly popular in the Nordic countries, the Netherlands, Belgium, France and Great Britain. An inexpensive, entry level type of rallycross is the Swedish folkrace or its Norwegian counterpart, the so-called bilcross. Rallycross can also be referred in Europe as 1:8 scale off-road radio-controlled buggy racing.
The sport started as a TV show (with especially invited rally drivers), produced by Robert Reed of ABC television for ITVs World of Sport programme, at Lydden Circuit (between Dover and Canterbury) in Great Britain on Saturday, 4 February 1967. The first ever true rallycross was organised by Bud Smith († 1994) and the Tunbridge Wells Centre of the 750 MC, with the aid of Lydden Circuit owner Bill Chesson († 1999), and was won by later Formula One driver as well as 1968 Rally Monte Carlo winner Vic Elford in a showroom Porsche 911 of the British importer AFN, ahead of Brian Melia in his Ford Lotus Cortina and Tony Fall in a BMC Mini Cooper S.
After that inaugural event there were another two test rallycrosses at Lydden, on 11 March and 29 July, before the new World of Sport Rallycross Championship for the ABC TV viewers started with round one on 23 September, to be followed by round two on 7 October. The series was run over a total of six rounds (three at Lydden and three at Croft) and was eventually won by Englishman Tony Chappell (Ford Escort TwinCam), who became the first ever British Rallycross champion after winning the final round of the new series on 6 April 1968 at Lydden.
However, the true birth of rallycross is often wrongly connected with the cancellation of the 1967 RAC Rally, due to Foot and Mouth disease, in November 1967, about ten months later. Some foreign entrants for the RAC had also planned to take part in the 1st international rallycross at Lydden Circuit, on Saturday, 25 November 1967, but went home immediately after the rally had been cancelled at the eleventh hour on the evening of 17 November, and was replaced by a single special stage (won by Swede Erik Carlsson in a Saab 96 V4) for the sake of the disappointed television companies. RAC rally stage number one by then, Camberley, was on Ministry of Defence land and not affected by movement restrictions caused by the disease in rural areas. Subsequently only British drivers competed in the maiden international rallycross event one week later, which was eventually won by Andrew Cowan and his Hillman Imp. Thames Estuary Automobile Club's (TEAC) premier event, the original Clubman's rallycross, was held the day after. It opened up the new rally drivers' fun-sport to many amateur competitors, proved very successful and thereby paved the way for the first generation of real rallycross specialists, a lot of them coming from the ranges of autocross and autograss racing.
After one and a half years and several rallycross events at Lydden as well as Croft Circuit (near Darlington) the BBC adopted the young sport for its Grandstand programme while ITV dropped it after the British Rallycross Winter Series 1968/69. In 1969 Lydden Circuit and Croft Circuit were joined by another RX venue, Cadwell Park in Lincolnshire. However, while both Lydden and Croft nowadays are still in use for rallycross Cadwell Park later dropped this type of car racing from its schedule.
On Saturday 17 May 1969 a group of invited rally and racing drivers went to the spot for a test day. Everybody was really satisfied and enthusiastic and only three weeks later, on Saturday 7th June the first ever rallycross event on the European continent was held. The track consisted of a section of concrete runway, loose sections through heathland and a hollow, about 40 metres long and 10 metres deep, usually used for tank testing. Although the soft heath soil and the muddy hollow hampered most of the two dozen or so competitors, or at least their mostly rather aged cars, the event produced a lot of fun for all concerned as well as the TV audience. Overall victory went eventually to Hans Kok and his valuable NSU 1200 TT.
The Dutch television company AVRO gave green light to Rob Herzet as well as another three rounds counting towards the so-called AVRO-Trophy and on 16 August of the same year NSU campaigner Hans Kok claimed the first national Dutch rallycross title. On 1 November the Dutch Rallycross Association was founded and, during 1970, organised another five events at Venlo. For 1971 the Nederlandse Rallycross Vereniging (NRV) moved the sport to its new continental home at Valkenswaard near Eindhoven. The Eurocircuit opened on Saturday 17 April with a race that was won by Jan de Rooy and his famous DAF 555 Coupé 4WD and became the first ever track in the World that was especially designed and built purely for rallycross purposes.
The largest competition nowadays is the FIA European Championships for Rallycross Drivers. Nordic drivers have dominated the sport ever since the end of the 1970s, with names as Martin "Mister Rallycross" Schanche (Norway), Olle Arnesson (Sweden), Matti Alamäki (Finland), Kenneth "His Kennyness" Hansen (Sweden) and Per Eklund (Sweden) as some of the more famous. British drivers to win European rallycross titles were the first ever European RX champion, Scotsman John Taylor (in 1973) and the two Englishmen Will Gollop (in 1992) and Richard Hutton (in 1994).
In rallycross several cars start abreast at the same time, and drive three to six laps on a rather short racing track, setting the best qualifying times. In the end there are 'C', 'B' and 'A' finals for the 16 fastest drivers of the qualification and the overall winner of the event will be decided in an afternoon showdown. Rallycross is a relatively small sport compared to rally and asphalt racing.
FIA European Rallycross Championship (ERC) cars are built based on production car body shells but are extensively modified. A typical leading ERC series car, Per Eklund's Saab 9-3 Turbo 16 4x4 technical specifications are a 2 litre turbocharged 4 cylinder 16 valve engine with a 45 mm turbo restrictor rated at + and of torque, four wheel drive with programmable active differentials and six-speed gearbox, (current FIA regulations) and will do the 0–100 km/h (about 0–62 mph) sprint in less than 2.5 seconds, thereby faster than a Formula One racer, some other ERC Division 1 cars are already claimed by their drivers to need even less than 2 seconds.
Like other forms of motorsports, the weekend begins with a session of unofficial practice, where laps are timed, but do not affect the running of the weekend. Following this is the official practice, where each driver does a number of timed laps. A driver's fastest lap counts, and this sets the grids for the first heat.
There are three heats in the ERC. Each heat is formed of a number of races. In the ERC, cars start 5 abreast on the start line, national championships sometimes use a staggered grid. The first race, or heat 1A, contains the five slowest cars from official practice. The second race, heat 1B, contains the next five slowest, and so on until there are fewer than 10 cars left, when they are split equally for the final two races.
At the end of a heat, the drivers are given points based on their overall time for the heat. The fastest driver gets 1 point, the second fastest 2 points, and so on. Drivers who did not finish get 80 points.
The second and third heats take place on the Sunday, after a morning warmup session, like the unofficial practice. The order for the second heat is set by the results for the first heat, and the order for the last heat is set by the results for the first two heats combined.
After all three heats have taken place, each driver is allowed to discard his worst score from an indiviadual heat, so he can keep his two best, which are combined to form a score for the driver, and to rank all the drivers. This sometimes means that a driver who performs in both of the first heats well can decide not to race in the third heat, and still qualify well.
On the Sunday afternoon, the finals take place. In the ERC, the finals involve the top 16 ranked drivers from the heats. The drivers ranked 1-5 qualify directly for the A final, drivers ranked 6-10 qualify for the B final, and drivers ranked 11-16 qualify for the C final. Drivers ranked 17 and lower do not compete in the finals, and do not score points. The winning driver from the C final qualifys for the B final, and the winning driver for the B final qualifys for the A final.
In the finals, the drivers start in a staggered formation, with three rows of two. The finals are longer than the heats.
The winner of the A final wins the event, and gains maximum points. Finsihers in the B and C finals are ranked below them, and score more minor points.
In every race, the drivers must pass through the joker lap section once. The Joker lap is a section longer than the normal track, and often on a different surface, therefore joker laps are slower than normal laps, and the drivers must decide when to take it carefully.
In the season of 11 or 12 rounds, the drivers can drop two round scores, one from the first half of the season, and one from the second half.
Different championships have different rules from these ones, and often have fewer drivers competing.