Despite their similar names, rallying and rallycross are definitely two different disciplines. But there are certain parallels – like loose-surface courses and turbocharged four-wheel-drive cars – and that’s why a number of drivers have made the switch between the two motorsport codes.
A number of drivers have made the change in recent years, including the likes of Kevin Abbring, Craig Breen, Hayden Paddon, and Pontus Tidemand, and some have even managed to turn the move into a sustained, successful career.
Here, DirtFish takes a look at the most successful drivers to swap stages for circuits on both sides of the Atlantic.
Two-time World Rally Champion Marcus Gronholm will always be remembered for his exploits on the stages, but besides running a moderately successful World RX team nowadays, he also enjoyed success in rallycross in the latter stages of his career.
After a part-time foray in European Rallycross – which included a debut win in Sweden in 2008 – Gronholm headed to the US. Global Rallycross was arguably the genesis for rallycross as we know it today, and in the early days it attracted a number of superstar names and Gronholm was one of them.
There was another win first-time out, this time at Irwindale, and further victories at the Californian track (the very next day) and Pikes Peak led to him finishing second in the points in the series’ inaugural season behind Tanner Foust. Gronholm won again at Charlotte and Texas in 2012, but a horror crash at that year’s Los Angeles X Games brought a sudden end to his career.
Nowadays, Gronholm runs the GRX World RX team, which fields his son, event winner Niclas Gronholm.
Probably the best-known rallying to rallycross convert, Solberg switched codes after losing his World Rally Championship ride in the early 2010s.
An initial season at European level didn’t yield much success, but when the World Rallycross Championship began in 2014, Solberg was the man to beat. He won the very first race in the championship’s history in Portugal in 2014, and added a further four event wins to become the first driver ever to win world championship crowns in two different FIA series.
Solberg backed up that 2014 title with another in 2015 and, although he faced a much stiffer challenge from Timmy Hansen, it was again a pretty convincing campaign for the Norwegian.
He had a chance to go three-for-three in 2016 but slipped to fourth in the points, missing out on the title to Mattias Ekstrom, while second went to future team-mate Johan Kristoffersson, and third to Andreas Bakkerud – albeit on countback, as he had three race wins to Solberg’s one.
Solberg was a winner again in 2017, taking victory at the final event at Lydden Hill, but went winless in 2018, a season that would turn out to be his final full-time campaign in the category.
Travis Pastrana was among a contingent of American action sports superstars to move from rallying to rallycross when GRC arrived in the early 2010s, along with Ken Block, Brian Deegan, and the late Dave Mirra.
Besides a full-season in 2012, the Nitro Circus ringleader’s rallycross exploits have been restricted to a number of part-time, but mostly competitive runs.
In 2012 he claimed his only rallycross win to-date in an otherwise uncompetitive season behind the wheel of the relatively giant Dodge Dart. Pastrana struggled throughout the year, but the course at New Hampshire Motor Speedway played to the big car’s strengths, allowing him to prevail as others struggled on the bump-ridden track.
Nowadays, Pastrana is the man behind the Nitro Rallycross event, a one-off competition on a track of his design at the Utah Motorsports Campus. In 2019 he entered the event with Subaru, which was enjoying its best year in rallycross to-date. That allowed Pastrana to not only make the final, but battle for the podium places until a mechanical problem forced him to drop down the order.
Sébastien Loeb is the greatest driver of his generation. As well as a record number of WRC titles and wins, Loeb has also won in sports cars, touring cars, and rallycross.
His first foray into the discipline came in 2012 when he competed at X Games alongside fellow Red Bull-backed driver Travis Pastrana who’d thrown down a challenge to the Frenchman.
Naturally, Loeb was instantly on the pace, dominating the event’s final to secure an impressive win on his debut. An unusual figure from that event is that Loeb is statistically the most competitive in US rallycross history, winning 100% of the races he’s competed in – one win from one start.
A one-off appearance on home soil in the European championship a year later didn’t quite yield the same level of success, but after moving to the World championship in 2015, he was once again a frontrunner.
Sadly for Loeb, his arrival at rallycross’ top level came at the same time as Johan Kristoffersson’s epic run of success. That limited Loeb to just two wins in three years, but he was a consistent podium finisher and never finished lower than fifth in the points.
Internet sensation, TV star, businessman… there are a lot of terms used to describe Ken Block, but there’s only one he really likes – ‘rally driver’.
However, besides 16 event wins and a trio of runner-up finishes in the US national rally championship, his greatest successes have come in rallycross.
Block was something of a slow burner at first, making his debut in the final rounds of the 2011 GRC season. He competed full-time from 2012 but didn’t win until the 2013 season finale in Las Vegas. In 2014 Block won twice, in Charlotte and again in Vegas, helping him to finish second in the points, but in 2015 Block looked to be the real deal.
After victories at Fort Lauderdale, MCAS New River, and Detroit, Block was the clear favourite for the seasons honors and was leading the standings at the halfway point, but a tough second half of the year, including a spectacular roll in Barbados (his second at the track in as many years), led to him dropping to seventh.
Block moved to World RX for 2016, but two years battling with the fundamentally flawed Ford Focus RS RX yielded just one podium finish.
After winning the Junior WRC title in 2006, Sandell made sporadic appearances in the World Rally Championship before joining the growing Scandinavian contingent to move over to Global Rallycross in the US in 2013.
The Swede was instantly on the pace, claiming a podium finish on his debut at X Games Brazil. Further silverware followed in Loudon, but he’d have to wait until 2014 to claim his first victory – that came in Washington DC.
After two seasons in the Olsbergs Fiesta, he switched to the M-Sport platform with Bryan Herta Rallysport for 2015. Sandell kept a run of one win a year throughout 2015 and 2016, emerging victorious in Detroit and Dallas, but a horrendous run of luck in both campaigns prevented him from mounting a serious title challenge.
In 2017 Sandell joined Subaru with the aim of helping it return to the front – the move also gave him a chance to return to stage rally in the American Rally Association series, where he made three starts (and took three wins) in 2018.
As Subaru grew and improved, Sandell finally returned to the winners’ circle in 2019 at the second Americas Rallycross race at Gateway, keeping up Subaru’s unbeaten start to the season. Once again Sandell was a championship contender, but sadly, as was so often the case, poor fortune at Mid-Ohio and Trois-Rivières cost him in the overall title fight.
Chris Atkinson was a surprise addition to Subaru’s revolving driver line-up when he made his rallycross debut at the Atlantic City GRC event in 2016, reuniting with the brand that gave him his big WRC break, and driving an all-new car for the team.
Race results weren’t immediately strong for Atkinson, but the pace was there – he was top qualifier in that year’s season finale in Los Angeles. After a somewhat tough first full season in 2016, podiums finally came in 2017 as Subaru continued to improve.
In 2019, Atkinson was finally a full-on championship contender, winning two ARX races, including a maiden win that came in controversial fashion at Gateway after he made contact with Steve Arpin.
His two wins, the second coming at the season finale at Mid-Ohio, were his only podium finishes of the season as he finished the top Subaru runner after Scott Speed’s season was cut short through injury. In the end, the Australian was just 12 points adrift of eventual champion Tanner Foust.