Rallycross spirit alive and well in new era
by Hal Ridge |
With the introduction of the FIA World Championship to rallycross for 2014, the growth of the sport is absolutely without question. The increase in promotion, publicity, manufacturer support for teams and the inevitable increase in budgets that comes with FIA World Championship status, brings the potential concern from some corners that the ‘spirit’ of rallycross may be lost to the pressure and necessity to succeed at the highest level.
Of course, the atmosphere and environment at the top is more competitive than ever, but once the action has finished on track, the sport still harnesses ability for teams to do more than exchange the odd acknowledgement with one another.
Two instances at the Italian round of the World Rallycross Championship last weekend proved that despite the changing nature of the sport and the unrelenting strive for progress and development, the sense that the paddock is a community remains strong. Yes, for over 95% of the time each and every person in the sport has their own agenda to take care of, but there is still room for compassion.
In free practice on Saturday morning, in one of the very last runs on track, World RX Team Austria driver Manfred Stohl broke the steering on his Ford Fiesta over the first jump, hit a kerb head on and rolled his Supercar end-over-end. The damage looked huge, but the Austrian team’s mechanics worked a minor miracle and repaired the car in time for the first heat. As Stohl crabbed his way down the Franciacorta pit lane just in time for this race, the car’s geometry far from true, there was a burst of applause from spectators in the stand above, marshals, fellow drivers and teams. The good feeling surrounding what the 2015 newcomers had achieved was felt throughout.
Stohl completed the first heat, and with time before the next, the car was setup more as it should be. Come the end of the heat stages, Stohl had incredibly made it into the semi-finals, from where he finished third and to the amazement of many, started in his first final for the team. As the weekend had progressed, the general feeling of goodwill towards the Austrian outfit grew, and while Andreas Bakkerud won the event and Team Peugeot-Hansen wrapped up the World Teams’ Championship, there was genuine and unbiased joy from many for Stohl, for achieving success in the face of adversity. “What the guys did was incredible. To fix the car after such a big accident is just amazing and I have to say thank you to all of them for such a big effort. Every success this weekend is up to the team, not to me. I’m just very happy to be able to stay in the race,” said Stohl.
The second example surrounds Irish Euro RX campaigner, Ollie O’Donovan, who also rolled at the same place while fighting for position with Joni-Pekka Rajala in heat two. While O’Donovan was given a precautionary check in hospital, the Tony Bardy Motorsport team that runs his car immediately began to assess the damage to the Fiesta. It was repairable, but would need serious work.
When Rallycross World left the paddock on Saturday evening, there was confidence in the camp that O’Donovan’s Fiesta would be on track on Sunday morning, although chief engineer Tony Bardy did warn, “she won’t be pretty.”
What followed is remarkable, and unlikely to be seen in any other FIA World Championship. As the team continued to work, the extent of the damage became more apparent. However, they got stuck-in and in a great show of sportsmanship, were joined by fellow competitors, team owners, mechanics and engineers through the evening and into the night to repair the damaged Fiesta. Thanks to mechanics from SDRX, OlsbergsMSE, Eklund Motorsport and Albatec Racing among others, the Fiesta was fixed for Sunday morning. Anyone unaware of what had happened on day one would have been none the wiser, such was the quality of the repair.
“We had guys from at least five different teams working on the car during the night, about 22 people came and went at some stage. The boys were up all night. Everyone wished us well and I really felt that everybody was happy to see us back racing. I think this really shows how rallycross is,” said O’Donovan. “Yes, it is very serious now, but there is still a lot of help from many people. Andreas Eriksson, Pat Doran, Andy Scott came over and said we were welcome to spare parts if we needed them. The guys needed a welder to fix the front of the car; they went to Andy Scott’s awning and borrowed the whole workbench. And absolutely, we’d do the same for anyone else who needed it.”
The communal effort succeeded in getting O’Donovan back on track for Sunday morning, but he missed a spot in the Euro RX semi-finals after a fourth heat incident. In a television interview afterwards, all Bardy wanted to do was show his gratitude to their competitors. “We had one hour of sleep this morning, but we had a lot of fellow competitors, drivers and mechanics coming round helping. Without them, and the loan of some of their parts and equipment, we wouldn’t have made it. We’re really lucky to have been able to keep going,” he said.
The below photographs, taken on a selection of mobile phones from various members of the paddock, highlight that the ‘spirit’ of the rallycross paddock is very much alive and well.
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