Remember the first time

FIA rallycross championship season openers

by Rallycross World |

We should have been in Barcelona this weekend, and those not lucky enough to be there in person would have been connected to the event, eager for every detail of the FIA World RX season opener.The FIA formally recognised rallycross in 1976, but the championship has its roots in the 1973 Embassy Trophy. So, what we now know as the FIA World Rallycross Championship – the World title conferred in 2014 – can trace its ancestry back to May 1973 at Melk in Austria.

Rallycross World | FIA Rallycross, Austria, Melk, John Taylor
John Taylor won the first ‘European Championship’ event in 1973.

Over 47 years the FIA championship and its forbear has only ever started at 11 different venues in seven countries.This year the opener is postponed because of the Coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic. As far as we can tell from research, only once in the past has the first round ever been cancelled. Britain has that unfortunate place in history, when the first round of the 1993 season was cancelled amid a  a political tussle between TEAC, the organising club of the British event at Lydden Hill and the ERA (the organisers’ association that at the time ran a parallel championship and sold TV rights). In 1989 the Spanish event at Sils-Girona formed round one, but only just went ahead. The majority of Norwegian drivers stayed away, as did many other leading competitors and a blind eye was turned to fact that the event did not have enough starters to qualify for points until the second day.

Rallycross World | FIA Rallycross, Spain, Sils-Girona, Matti Alamaki, Mark Rennison
Spain in 1988, Matti Alamaki leads Mark Rennison.

From 1973 and including the 1987 event, Austria had a monopoly on the first race of the year, Melk it’s spiritual home with Horn-Fuglau hosting for the first time in 1979 and then generally alternating with Melk.In 1988 the series opener was held in Spain at Sils-Girona.
Three years later it was again the Iberian peninsula that introduced a new venue for round one as Portugal made its debut with an event at Lousada. The following year Great Britain moved from it’s more traditional place late in the season to stage the opening event in the year that rallycross celebrated the 25th anniversary of the first event, which was run at Lydden on 4 February 1967.

Lousada 1991
Lousada 1991
Rallycross World | FIA Rallycross, Portugal, Martin Schanche, Will Gollop
Lousada, Portugal 1991, Martin Schanche leads Will Gollop.
Rallycross World | FIA Rallycross, Lousada, Portugal, Thor Holm, Pekka Rantanen
Pekka Rantanen and Thor Holm, Lousada, Portugal 1991.
Rallycross World | FIA Rallycross, Lousada, Portugal, Will Gollop
Will Gollop, Lousada, Portugal, 1991

The Czech Republic first appeared in the championship in 1995 with an event at Sosonva. But in 1999 it was the turn of Sedlcany to host the championship for the first time, and it staged round one.

Sedlcany 1999

France was the stage for the season opener in 2001 when Loheac was not in September, but in May. Four years later, Essay made its first appearance as host of the first event of the 2005 season.

Rallycross World | FIA Rallycross, France, Loheac,
In 2001 Loheac was run in May to host the first round of the FIA Championship.
Rallycross World | FIA Rallycross, France, Essay, Morten Bermingrud
Essay opened the FIA Championship for the first time in 2005.
Rallycross World | FIA Rallycross, France, Essay,
FIA European Rallycross Championship, Essay, 2005

Lousada was frequently the scene for the first gathering of the year, but when the troops assembled in Portugal at the start of 2007 it was in the hills of the north as Montalegre made its first appearance in the championship and staged round one. In 2014 Montalegre would also be the host for the first ever World Rallycross Championship event.

Rallycross World | FIA Rallycross, Portugal, Montalegre, Lars Larsson, Kenneth Hansen
Montalegre’s first time as the opening event was in 2007.

In the World Championship era, just two venues have joined this select list of opening venues, the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya opening the year for the first time in 2017 and Yas Marina Circuit lifting the curtain on what would become one of the best championships ever in 2019.

Rallycross World | FIA Rallycross, Barcelona, Mattias Ekstrom
Mattias Ekstrom at Barcelona in 2017.
Barcelona 2017
Rallycross World | FIA Rallycross, Abu Dhabi, Yas Marina Circuit, Kevin Hansen, Niclas Gronholm
Yas Marina Circuit 2019, the most recent venue to open the FIA championship.
Abu Dhabi 2019

This year we should have been back in Barcelona for round one, but nothing is normal now and the ongoing impact of the Coronavirus Covid-19 means that we do not yet know where or when round one will take place, and so it seems highly likely that we may add a new name to the roll-call of round one venues.

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