British SuperNational racer Gary Dixon will add to the diversity in the category at the MSA British Rallycross Championship season opener this weekend, as he debuts a freshly built Vauxhall VX220 at Croft.
The car is only the second of it’s kind to be built for British rallycross; former British champion Mike Turpin built and raced a supercharged version before retiring to hill climbs with the car. Dixon has raced a Vauxhall Astra in recent years, a car he has owned for 17 years, but wanted to progress in the category and try to win his first event. After much deliberation, Dixon decided that if you can’t beat the mid-engined rear-drive cars in the division, the best thing to do is join them.
“You’ve got to get to the first corner first in rallycross. You watch all the front-wheel drive cars, that’s where they loose out. You’re always looking for your next improvement, to do something a bit better. How can I go further with the Astra? The only thing to do would be to turbo charge it, but with all the Lotus’ about, I thought I’ve got to try something different. It’s just a case of having a go at it. I might hate it and the Astra will be back out. We’ll see how it is,” explains Dixon. “I bought a VX220 and did a sprint on the circuit at Blyton. Then the one I have now came up, so I swapped a lot of the parts onto this. This one is a 2.2 litre turbo, the other was a two litre naturally aspirated, which if I had kept I would probably have Supercharged it like Turpin did, but this one came along. We just had to repair the bodywork on it.”
The Vauxhall man says building the VX220 has required a different thought process to a ‘normal’ car, and that he is still exploring possibilities for development. “It’s quite a strangely different concept of a car. Normally a car is a bodyshell, where is this is an aluminium tub with everything bolted to it. It’s just different. There’s very little room in them, I bought a new seat and put it in but my head was sticking out of the roof, so I had to get a special seat for it. It’s got a standard engine, but with a different turbo. It’s supposed to pull from around 1000 to 1500 rpm, so it should be nice and drivable, with around 240 brake horse power. The only thing is that this is heavier than the Astra. There’s not a lot you can take out, the bodywork is all light anyway and then it’s just the monocoque. Gearbox wise you can’t run anything straight-cut because nobody makes one. Everything is as a normal front-wheel drive car, but sat behind the driver, but they don’t do a special gearbox. I have put a torque bias diff in it though. I’ve got different suspension too, but that will be something else to get used to because the car has so little travel,” says Dixon, who thinks the car’s characteristics are far removed from his front-wheel drive experience.
“I’ve never properly driven a rear-wheel drive car in anger, especially on loose” he says. “I think if you drive this smoothly then it will be fine, but if you start throwing it about, it’s just going to bite back. I tried different things at the sprint I did; as soon as you chuck it into a corner hard, it spun. It’s a very fine line between being fast and a spin. You have to be smooth.”
Dixon has been a regular front-runner in the British Championship in recent years, and hopes the change of machine will raise him to the front of the grid, although he is cautious about his hopes for Croft. “I’d like to bag some points for the championship at Croft, but we’ll just see how it goes. In the last three years I’ve had a second, a third and a second in the championship, but I’ve never even won a British Championship event. I want to stand on the top step.”
The photographs in this article were taken at earlier this week, but Dixon was confident he will make it to the event this weekend. “There are little things to do, and we hope to paint it on Wednesday. The small things seem to take a lot of time. It would have been nice to have the car finished and do some testing but that’s how it is. I will do some track days I think just to get some seat time probably if Croft goes ok. I’m looking forward to the season, I think rallycross is really looking good.”
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