A relative newcomer to American shores, Rallycross bears more similarities to Supercross motorcycle racing than other forms of four-wheel motorsports. Below, we’ll break down some of the key aspects of the sport, so you can follow along as Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross takes to the track this season.
Rallycross was born in Britain on Feb. 4, 1967, as a made-for-TV spectacle – a way to combine the speed and challenges of road rallying on a course viewable by TV cameras. Within a few years, European Rallycross was drawing top-level rally drivers and large audiences, and continues as its own series today. Rallycross came to the United States in 2010, and the Global Rallycross races launched in 2011. (The first champion? Tanner Foust.)
Our Beetle GRC is a purpose-built racing machine, featuring a 560-hp, four-cylinder, turbocharged motor that powers its all-wheel drive system through a six-speed sequential transmission. The combination of this power and grip from the all-wheel drive propels the car from zero to sixty miles an hour in less than two seconds. The car also features durable suspension with over nine inches of travel to absorb the bumps and jumps of a rallycross track.
Rallycross tracks are short (generally between a half mile and 1.25 miles long) and feature a combination of dirt and asphalt surfaces. Because of their small size, tracks can be constructed almost anywhere, allowing Rallycross races to come to urban population centers. Each track contains the signature, 70-ft jump, launching cars high into the air to fan’s delight. Additionally, each course contains a Joker—an alternate route that either shortens or elongates the usual course of traffic. Each driver must complete the Joker once and only once per race, adding a bit of strategy to each race’s proceedings.
After practice, cars qualify in two groups. The top six times from these combined groups move on to a second round of qualifying to set positions 1-6 on the on the grid for the first rounds of Heats. Heat starting position is determined by qualifying order. Drivers qualified in odd-numbered positions—1, 3, 5, 7, etc.—race in Heat 1A, whereas those who placed in even-numbered positions during qualifying—2, 4, 6, 8, etc.—compete in Heat 1B. Each Heat awards points with five given to the winner, four to the second place finisher, and so on.
There is a second round of Heats with starting positions determined by finishing order of the first round. After that, Semifinals take place with the grids set by finishing position in the second round of Heats. The top three finishers from each Semifinal automatically advance to the Final and those finishing fourth and lower must race in a Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ). Only the top four finishers in the LCQ get a chance to race in the Final, making up the last spots on the grid. The Final race contains ten cars and generally last ten laps. 50 points are awarded to the winner of the Final, with 45 given to second place, 40 to third, and so on. Those who don’t start the Final are awarded zero points beyond what they collect during the two rounds of Heats and the Semifinals.
Unlike some other racing series, Rallycross is accessible for fans, boasting open paddocks which allow anyone inside the race venue to get an up close and personal view of the cars, teams, and drivers as they work throughout the weekend. A general admission pass will grant access to most grandstands, and due to the small nature of the racetracks, views are good from pretty much anywhere. There is at least one official autograph session each weekend, but drivers will often venture from their trailers to talk with fans and sign items in between stints on the track.