The passing of time is often a sad experience. Everything is at risk of being forgotten, only absolute giants manage to escape this fate. But what makes motorsport so attractive aren’t just the stories and legends surrounding stars like Fangio, Clark, Senna or Schumacher. There are plenty of other champions and championships that in the past thrilled generations of enthusiasts.
Rallycross has grown to the status of an FIA World Championship in recent years, with the introduction of the WRX. But the peak of the sport’s popularity was probably the European Rallycross Championship era in the 1970s and ’80s, when gorgeous rally cars raced wheel to wheel on tracks that were partly tarmac and partly gravel. A long series of heats would lead to the stirring finale, 15 minutes of white-heat breathless battle where one had to drive at 110 per cent to be on top. The prerequisite for success was a mix of on-the-limit driving skills, aggressiveness and, quite often, shamelessness. Is not by chance that the iconic magazine of the period was named Flat-out, as that was the driving style required to mix it at the front.
Rally champions such as Stig Blomqvist, Björn Waldegård, Per Eklund and Roger Clark battled with the rallycross specialists, driving dream cars: Porsche, Ford Escort RS, Fiat 131 Abarth, Lancia Stratos, Volvo 343. Franz Wurz, father of F1 and WEC racer Alexander, was often a winner on a smart Memphis Tobacco-sponsored Fiat and later on a Lancia. European rallycross events attracted some 5,000 to 10,000 spectators until 1987, when the Group B cars, banned from the World Rally Championship, were allowed in the series. A number of spectators who had crowded the special stages where the Group B monsters raced now migrated to the rallycross show – what could be better than a knife-to-knife battle between the likes of Delta S4, Peugeot 205, Ford RS200 and Audi quattro S1? It was an orgy of horsepower where even a Porsche 935 would race on the gravel. Pure folly, as a matter of fact, but great entertainment for the spectators. Roaring engines, no ‘balance of performance’ or air restrictors, just driving on the limit.
At the end of 1992, Group B was banned from rallycross as well. The sport suffered a decline afterwards, and not even the rise to world championship level or the presence of champions like Petter Solberg or Jacques Villeneuve have been able to restore the glory of the Group B days. Back then, a Norwegian driver was the top star. Petter Solberg hails from Norway as well, like many rallycross specialists. When fans nicknamed him ‘Hollywood’ because of his unorthodox victory celebrations, which involved driving down the road while leaning out of the door or even getting on the roof, few people remembered that he had adopted these stunts from one of his compatriots. A fellow Norwegian so popular and charismatic that he had been given the nickname ‘Mr Rallycross’: Martin Schanche…
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by Ugo Vicenzi
Photographs: Eddi Laumanns, Gerrit Blijleven, Jorgen Steinli, Collection Ugo Vicenzi, Arsenio Riseri