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2012 GRC Primer: Meet The Cars

Photo via Ford Racing Facebook

It’s not difficult to tell the difference aesthetically between a rallycross car and any other American racecar. From the utilization of smaller models to the closer exterior resemblance to stock models, rallycross cars clearly aren’t NASCAR racers, or even GT-spec; they’re in a class all their own, with significant major differences.

Rallycross cars feature significantly smaller engines than most American racecars; only 2.0 liters in size and featuring four cylinders, their closest comparison is the Global Racing Engine that Audi’s Unrich Baretzky tried to bring to IndyCar for this season to no avail. By comparison, a NASCAR V8 has a displacement of up to 5.9 liters, almost three times larger, while IndyCar engines before this season were anywhere from 2.65 to 4.0 liters, depending upon the sanctioning body and season.

Because the twisty, multi-surface courses outline the need for an agile car, rallycross cars are also all-wheel drive, unlike the rear-wheel drive cars in NASCAR and IndyCar that frequently compete on paved ovals. In fact, all-wheel drive is almost unheard of in any racing series that American fans would know of. In response to the six-wheeled cars that Williams was developing in the early 1980s, Formula 1 established a rule in 1982 that its cars could only have four wheels, of which only two could be driven.

Photo via Rhys Millen Racing

In most cases, successful cars have a factory team building and running them, somewhat like in sports car racing. For Ford, Swedish team Olsbergs MSE prepares Fiestas for a host of drivers; they’re the sport’s most successful team, having won seven of eight events last season and four X Games gold medals in the past three years. Subaru’s flagship rally team in America has been Vermont Sportscar, which backed Travis Pastrana to four Rally America titles and two X Games gold medals, and will field three entries this season. Meanwhile, longtime Hyundai driver Rhys Millen fields two Velosters for the Korean-based manufacturer.

However, that doesn’t mean that privateer teams aren’t involved in the sport, or that they can’t be competitive. Scott-Eklund Racing, a joint venture between 2011 British rallycross champion Andy Scott and legendary rally and rallycross racer Per Eklund, will field Saab 9-3s in this year’s championship. Last year, Stephan Verdier raced a privateer Subaru to three podium finishes, but with backing from Disney XD’s new animated show Motorcity, was able to step up to Rhys Millen Racing this season.

One final important difference to note is that these cars aren’t the same as their stage rally counterparts. For one, the Global Rallycross Championship doesn’t require a co-driver to dispense stage notes, as the courses aren’t long enough to require them. That, as well as the lack of dangerous obstacles on the course, contribute to the need for significantly less safety equipment in a rallycross car. According to Marcus Gronholm, who has excelled in both disciplines, the rallycross cars have greater power than their World Rally Championship counterparts, but are thus more difficult to drive. Ken Block, meanwhile, has cited major differences in driving style that come with racing against competitors rather than the clock, meaning that rallycross cars need extra reinforcement in their bodywork to put up with the beating and banging that drivers can put on one another.

– Chris Leone

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