Ford Fiesta ST Rallycross Hartwell

Forty-seven years on from the birth of the most gladiatorial form of motorsport, top-level rallycross returns to Britain this month with Ford racers at the forefront

When the flag falls at Lydden Hill, Kent, on the weekend of May 24/25 to start the UK’s first-ever round of the exciting new FIA World Rallycross Championship, Olsbergs MSE Ford Fiesta ST supercar drivers Andrew Jordan, Andreas Bakkerud and Reinis Nitiss will be following illustrious Ford predecessors.

A Ford driven by Ford-Autocraft employee Brian Melia was at the birth of rallycross in February 1967 – his Lotus Cortina finishing second in the Lydden Hill event created especially for ITV’s “World of Sport”.

The BBC adopted rallycross later that year and the sport’s future was assured, with the first British Rallycross Championship won by Tony Chappell in a factory-prepared Ford Escort Twin Cam in 1968.

Both the Escort and the Capri made their competition debuts in rallycross, an indication of how seriously Ford took a sport which was attracting TV audiences in excess of five million and making household names of stars including Roger Clark.

Ford Motorsport prepared a trio of the thunderous Capris to compete in rallycross from 1969 to 1971 and they enjoyed many victories, despite organisers imposing significant time penalties for their 4x4 capability. The factory rallycross Capris were as special as today’s Fiesta ST supercars, with their pioneering 4x4 systems mated to the Ford V6 using Ferguson-patented hardware.

Ford drivers helped rallycross take off internationally, too: in 1973 former jockey John Taylor, a Ford Motorsport manager, won the FIA European Rallycross title in a Haynes of Maidstone Escort. Norwegian Escort driver Martin Schanche claimed a memorable quartet of European titles between 1978 and 1984, while in the UK Escort and Fiesta drivers such as John Welch, Graham Hathaway and Keith ‘Ripspeed’ Ripp gained multiple championship wins between 1976 and 1987.

The rallycross Ford Escort morphed from being a simple live-rear-axle ex-showroom RS into a 4x4 monster with 500-plus turbocharged horsepower. Next came the all-conquering 4x4 RS200 driven by Lydden Hill owner Pat Doran.

Today’s Ford Fiesta ST rallycross supercars take the multi-award winning road car technology to race. Two Fiesta ST World Rally Cross cars finished on the podium in the opening round of the World Championship in Portugal – powered by a 2-litre, 560 bhp turbocharged engine which powers all four wheels via a six-speed sequential gearbox and three limited-slip differentials.

FIA World Rallycross features a 12-round calendar including events in Argentina, Turkey, Canada and Europe. Competitors race against each other over a mixed circuit of loose and asphalt surfaces driving high-tech supercars capable of accelerating to 60mph even faster than an F1 car. Race meetings include a number of short, sharp action-packed heats with the most successful drivers progressing through to the finals. Television coverage is provided by British Eurosport.