Nitro Rallycross is back, and so are our power rankings! The championship table may tell one story, but here, motorsport becomes something of a judged sport, as our rallycross editor Dominik Wilde delivers his verdict on the field from trackside.
A little change to our ratings series for this year, with Supercars taking something of a back seat, Group E will be the sole focus here, with our chosen top-10 (or in the case of Lydden Hill, the 10 drivers) being ranked.
10. Oliver Bennett
Oliver Bennett showed flashes of pace at Lydden Hill, and was easily one of the most entertaining drivers on track.
He disposed of OC Veiby at the start of qualifying to set up a battle with team-mate Kris Meeke, one that he held the early advantage in before the Northern Irishman dropped the hammer and left him, quite literally, in the dust.
Back-to-back track marker infractions, compounded by a further penalty for pushing to pass in the last chance qualifier ended any hope of a strong result for the popular driver. An unfair return for someone who held his own when faced with a solid challenge on track.
9. Ole Christian Veiby
One of two late entries for Lydden Hill, Veiby was quick, but didn’t have much to show for that speed, sadly.
After spinning in his only battle bracket race, he made a lightning start from the back of his heat to take an early lead – a lead he was unable to keep a hold of after being struck by technical gremlins.
Further reliability issues prevented him from starting his semifinal, and while he was able to make it to the main via the last chance qualifier, he wasn’t much of a factor there after taking a heavy hit on the first lap. A cruel weekend for someone who could’ve had so much more.
8. Conner Martell
Things just didn’t work out for Conner Martell in the UK. He certainly had the pace, but a combination of reliability issues, and harsh track marker penalties (which cruelly caught out a number of drivers in the field) meant that he missed out on a final berth and subsequent strong result.
Nevertheless, looking at the positives, on pure speed, he’s on par with drivers with much more experience. A look at the scorecard might not fill him with glee right now, but he can head to Sweden with his head held high.
7. Travis Pastrana
Travis Pastrana came into the weekend on the backfoot. Absent from all pre-season testing before heading to the UK due to a combination of injury and rallying commitments, he only got his first taste of the FC1-X on Thursday.
He was able to equal team-mate Martell (who carried out countless testing laps over the off-season) in qualifying, then was bettered by Kris Meeke after pushing the limits a touch too far in his battle with the former World Rally star. Nevertheless, he kept up his record of advancing to the main event through the opening heats, albeit by finishing second – he won all of them last year.
In that final he looked to be a shoe-in for the lead out of turn one until he lost momentum. On rejoining the racing line, he triggered a multi-car shunt that ended his day early. It was a glum end to a weekend that had promised a lot for Vermont SportsCar after Martell’s early exit.
6. Oliver Eriksson
Starting the weekend a minuscule 0.034 seconds adrift of a rapid Meeke in practice, Eriksson was destined to be at the sharp end once the racing started.
Unfortunately, he came up against Robin Larsson in the battle bracket (after getting a bye though the first round), and as you’ll discover further down this list, defeat there – while disappointing – is certainly nothing to be ashamed of.
He rebounded with a strong semi win on Sunday, but being collected in that first lap shunt in the final arguably cost him a podium, maybe even a shot at the win.
5. Niclas Grönholm
Parachuted in at the 11th hour, Niclas Grönholm arrived with no experience in the FC1-X and left with a semifinal win and trophy from the final.
He wasted no time finding the limits of the car, pushing hard in Saturday morning’s practice sessions, then hounding eventual winner Robin Larsson throughout his first, and ultimately only, head-to-head race.
Grönholm said he just wanted to get through the weekend and learn as much as he could. It was an approach that was particularly evident in the final where his mature, understated drive netted him a solid result.
4. Fraser McConnell
It was a big weekend for Fraser McConnell who pulled double duty in both Supercars and Group E.
His popular Supercar win unfortunately, for him, isn’t a factor here. But despite missing out on doubling his trophy haul with the electric category, his performance was no less impressive.
Zeroing in on the final, McConnell was one of the victims of the hefty multi-car shunt on the opening lap, and while he was able to continue, he had to contend with a bent left-rear. Didn’t stop him setting the fastest lap time of the race though, did it? Imagine if he had all four corners in tip-top shape.
3. Andreas Bakkerud
This could be a very big year for Andreas Bakkerud. He comes in as reigning European champion, but this could be his best shot at avenging his bitter 2019 championship defeat on the world stage.
If it wasn’t for Robin Larsson on the other side of the RX Cartel garage, we could very well be looking at Bakkerud topping the championship and the power rankings after last weekend.
His progress in qualifying was halted only by his team-mate, and in the first heat race, a pesky track marker penalty robbed him of a win and a front row start for the final where he followed Larsson home.
2. Kris Meeke
I expected big things from Kris Meeke this weekend. Sure, there was a lot of talk about how he, a rally driver, had never raced before, but neither had his contemporaries Craig Breen and Hayden Paddon once upon a time, and both proved themselves to be pretty handy in their brief rallycross appearances a few years ago.
Meeke was naturally near the top of the time sheets all weekend, and were it not for an inverter failure in the battle bracket final, he could’ve been the top qualifier too.
Before that he made light work of his rallycross veteran team-mate Oliver Bennett and the series pioneer Travis Pastrana.
He was similarly unlucky on Sunday too after getting caught up in a crash that was not his doing in the final, an unfortunate event that came after an opening heat win.
He’s got two more outings left this season, a crying shame because if he has luck on his side, he’d easily be a championship threat.
1. Robin Larsson
Impeccable. That’s how to describe Robin Larsson’s weekend at Lydden Hill.
After a trying 2021 season driving a car not best suited to Nitro RX’s tough-to-tame tracks, Larsson needed a positive start to the second season of the category.
He began by setting the fastest practice time in the first of the two sessions, before sweeping the battle bracket, winning his opening heat, and dominating the final, coming home cleanly when most of his rivals ran into trouble.
It was the perfect start to the season for a top driver that deserved so much more last year.