Call me old-fashioned, but I will always love the violent popping and banging, and generally angry noise of a racing car.
I grew up not knowing what a turbo Formula 1 car sounded like, not experiencing a Group B rally or a Group C sportscar shooting past me. I thought I’d never get the chance to witness anything close to these beasts in my lifetime.
Don’t get me wrong, the introduction of hybrid technology in rallying and rallycross is a good thing, for two reasons. It does its bit for the environment while also opening up a mouth-watering arms race for manufacturers to push the realms of what is possible in mechanical innovation. I love that sort of stuff, even if I can barely understand the intricacies of such tech guff.
But there’s something about the last generation of cars we have just seen the last of as 2021 comes to a close. It’s not just the outgoing spec of World Rally Championship cars, but also the mighty World Rallycross Championship Supercars. Both are well beyond their generations, but both are seriously, seriously awesome pieces of kit.
And the best bit for me is that I have seen them in the flesh, albeit not for any great length of time as the sheer speed is incredible.
The first – and only – time I have been fortunate enough to watch the 2017-spec WRC cars was indeed in 2017, and rest assured it left a marked impression on me as Elfyn Evans stormed to a hugely popular maiden victory on home gravel in Wales for M-Sport; the same day the team wrapped up the teams’ title and Sébastien Ogier secured his fifth world championship crown.
Like most rally fans eager to grab a fleeting glimpse of the cars, I’d arrived early in a damp, crowded car park and trekked up a precarious looking embankment near the start of Dyfi, the 11th stage of the event, and second of Saturday morning’s running. Evans dominated that stage, extending his margin over Thierry Neuville by an extra 10s, heading to SS12 with a 49s advantage.
Of course, in the moment, I didn’t care about times. All I was concerned with was the growl of the Ford as it flicked from left to right, brushing the grass at the bottom of the embankment before navigating a medium-speed right-hander and out of sight.
Earlier that year, I was a spectator at Lydden Hill, the home of rallycross for round four of the World Rallycross Championship. The last time Lydden would host a world championship round to date.
I’d heard the anti-lag of a rallycross car before, but only on TV, so to experience it live at the start of a race was something else entirely.
The noise of the acceleration, the popping of the constant anti-lag and the squeal of the rear tires crying in protestation at the diminishing lack of grip negotiating Paddock Bend was sensational and seeing Petter Solberg secure what turned out to be his final World RX victory in front of a packed house was spine-tingling.
Alas, there is a contemporaneous point to this bout of nostalgia. For 2022, both of these experiences will be just that. Experiences of a by-gone era; replaced forever, but never forgotten.
And how fitting for the final seasons of the World Rally Car and the World RX Supercar that each produced superb campaigns. The WRC wasn’t perhaps as close as last season, or 2018, or 2017 even, but the competition and drama was as high as any before it.
And for the second time in two years, barely anything split the World RX title protagonists. After two dominant years of Johan Kristoffersson, Timmy Hansen prevailed on countback over Andreas Bakkerud in 2019 while Kristoffersson did likewise over Hansen in 2021, ironically with the same EKS Audi that Bakkerud used two years prior.
So, if you’re drinking to anything this festive period, let’s drink to two glorious eras of motorsport which reminded us exactly why we love the sport!