Earlier this month, the FIA World Motor Sport Council approved plans for the JRX Junior Rallycross category to run as an international series alongside the FIA European Rallycross Championship for six races in 2013, starting in Hungary (May 24 – 26) and finishing in Germany (September 20 – 22).
Introduced to the championship in the middle of last season, the JRX category is designed for 14 to 17-year-old drivers to race at International events, in identical space-framed chassis cars powered by a 600cc Rotax engine with a Sadev sequential gearbox. Not only is it beneficial to start at such a young age from a driving perspective, but competitors also get to learn the circuits they will race on later in their careers should they decide to progress though the rallycross ranks. They are also put in a position to learn from those around them, after all what better place to learn how to conduct yourself to media, fans and officials than when you are shoulder to shoulder with European and World Champions at every turn.
The opportunity to test drive rallycross cars doesn’t come along often, especially when that car is the latest development version of a reasonably new concept. When I was asked if I would drive the latest JRX car at Lydden Hill during the RallycrossRX Media Day back in February I jumped at the chance. Before driving the car, I went for a couple of laps as a passenger with JRX pioneer Kevin Hansen. As the car had just had the finishing touches put to it following a refresh, Hansen took it steady, but it gave me an idea of what to expect. Back in the paddock, one of the Mtechnologies engineers that head the JRX development programme, (together with Kenneth Hansen) showed me the basic controls and which switches and buttons to press, since all the labels are in French, and my French vocabulary is, well, poor.
As I started to get into the car, two potential problems struck me. This was to be the first left-hand-drive competition car I had ever driven, coupled with the fact that the JRX cars are smaller than the steel bodied versions they represent. However, the driving position was no less than perfect. This was amazing, Kevin Hansen is probably two thirds of my height and yet without adjusting the seating position I fitted perfectly. Regrettably, it was necessary to adjust the harnesses, being slightly larger around the middle than Hansen too. I was warned that the car would be difficult to get moving, and would require a lot of throttle, given that it is belt driven. Having been warned of that fact, I was very conscious of stalling with the team looking on, but it was far easier than expected, and I headed out onto the circuit.
In all my time competing, I have always wanted to race with a sequential gearbox, but at the same time wondered if using such a thing would come naturally or not. As I drove down the main straight for the first time, I realised how simple it really is. With my left (clutch) foot sitting on the footrest, it really is as simple as pulling to go up a gear and pushing to go down. I headed into Chessons and drove around at a steady pace. The car felt well planted, but I resisted pushing for the rest of the lap, wanting to become acquainted with the car and painfully aware that chances to drive cars like this don’t come along often and I was desperate not to crash it. Into the second lap and I pushed a little harder. The steering isn’t power assisted, but this isn’t a hindrance at all. Being slightly heavy, the wheel gives great feedback. Pushing harder into Chessens, the spaceframe chassis turns-in perfectly, and is very easy to control once the car starts sliding on the loose. On the second lap the car felt slightly more nervous on the loose, and in the latter of my five tours of the Lydden circuit the rear of the car stepped out more. This wasn’t a problem to control, the four-wheel-drive transmission performing it duties perfectly.
Although lively on the loose, the car is far less dramatic on the tarmac, only having 600cc and 140bhp it doesn’t have the power to break traction in the corners, but this encourages you to push hard in and carry a lot of corner speed. Having driven more powerful, faster, cars the JRX doesn’t set the world alight with acceleration or straight line speed. But, that’s not what the car is about and it doesn’t require extra power. The concept is to provide a category that gives single make racing to junior competitors, and if you were just starting out in your driving career the car certainly has more than enough power, especially when you consider that the competition will be identically equipped.
I believe smoothness will be key to success with the JRX machines, keep up as much momentum as much of the time as possible. And again, learning to be smooth early-on in a drivers career can only help when moving up the motor sport ladder. I was pleasantly surprised how good the JRX car was, and more so how easy it was to drive. Thanks to Mtechnologies, Hansen Motorsport and Kevin Hansen for allowing me to drive the JRX car. If only I was 15 again…
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