Inside Story – Mettet’s new rallycross circuit

by Hal Ridge |

As the world of rallycross gears up for the second round of the new World Championship at Lydden Hill, widely regarded as the ‘Home of Rallycross’, Rallycross World paid a visit to one of the newest venues on the 2014 World calendar, the Circuit Jules Tacheny at Mettet which will host the Belgian round of the series on 12 – 13 July.

Although the new rallycross track will herald a new dimension to the Mettet circuit, the foundations of the race circuit, and the club that run it are steeped in history. Formerly a street circuit, the Mettet venue was created by the local Royal Motor Union, a club set-up over 80 years ago. The remains of the original race track infrastructure are still strikingly apparent as you arrive at the Mettet venue in francophone south Belgium. The ‘new’ race track, with its now even newer rallycross track, was opened in 2010 on the back of a plan formed a decade earlier.

“We had the idea for the circuit in 2000, previously it was the road track and we only had a few events each year. Before the permanent track, the club was non-profit making, then I got voted from my role in the club to manage the running of the circuit now,” says Philippe Dujardin. “We run 200 days each year, and it’s really an even split between cars and bikes, mainly on track days and test days, but we also hold seven race weekends, which now includes World RX. We have between 10 or 15 people from the club working on events, then for our big weekends, like Superbiker and now World RX, we will have over 300 volunteers.”

The Circuit Jules Tacheny has the appearance and facilities of a recently completed track; an expansive paddock area sits behind the control tower that includes a restaurant, and the circuit, which sits on the side of a hill overlooking a flowing vista of trees and fields. The rallycross track itself has the potential to host some spectacular racing. The start grid will be located just back from the circuit start grid, but after a short stretch, instead of continuing with the main circuit, rallycross cars will take a sharp right turn around a barrier and down a steep bank, the first loose section. The circuit changes to tarmac and back onto loose in a section of three 90 degree bends, before rejoining the main circuit for an open hairpin left onto a straight, running along the lowest part of the track. The next loose section then kinks left off the main tarmac again, for a quite steep uphill flowing left into a right, before rejoining the main track to head for the last corner. The joker lap uses the main tarmac circuit, not too dissimilar to Lydden Hill, while the standard lap cuts around the inside before firing back up the start / finish straight, uniquely, in the other direction to the way the lap started, before drivers start the second tour, the hairpin right now a square left. This will be a quick track, and one that will allow the headline Supercar category to operate at their most spectacular.

The project has been driven by Belgian Supercar driver Koen Pauwels, explains Dujardin. “At the beginning of last year Koen came here to ask me if it was possible to have rallycross here. We worked on the idea, and after a few months decided to go for it. The guys from IMG came here and liked what they saw, but really the vision for the project has come from Koen. We have put a huge amount of work into the track, but the response from the local area and all over Belgium has been very positive for what we have done.”

The Mettet organising team traveled to Loheac, France last year to see rallycross first hand, and have been to Montalegre earlier this month to witness the first ever World Rallycross event; “Rallycross is very spectacular and dynamic. The cars are very exciting and powerful, and Loheac and Portugal were fantastic for us to go to and learn from. Seeing aspects of the organisation has helped us go in the right direction for our event, we are very much looking forward to it!”

Rallycross has made one previous visit to the town of Mettet; a round of the Belgian national championship was run at the end of 2007 on a temporary track around the street circuit. Torrential weather probably didn’t help, but a number of factors meant that the event, organised not by the club but other Belgian rallycross organisers, would not be repeated.



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