The exotic-sounding Olle Arnesson, Andy Bentza, Rolf Nilsson, Seppo Niittymaki, Mikael Nordstrom and Martin Schanche, as well as conventional-sounding (but no less exciting) home-grown heroes Rob Gibson, Mark Rennison, Will Gollop and John Welch made a huge impact on me during the 1980s as they battled for honours in the British Rallycross Grand Prix at Brands Hatch.
A heady mix of bucking, sliding and flame-belching rally cars – all fortunately blessed with far more horsepower than was necessary and chassis dynamics that could barely cope – going head to head in short races around a half-asphalt-half-gravel circuit on the Kent circuit’s Indy layout was thrilling – in the flesh and on ITV’s World of Sport show with Dickie Davies.
“All young drivers – in any category of racing or rallying – should take a leaf out of the Solberg Secrets of Success manual”
And when the effervescent and indefatigable Murray Walker added his addictively shouty, power-beats-handling commentary style to this most frenetic of motorsports, it became the stuff of legend for me as a young fan.
Imagine my delight, then, about the announcement in 2013 that the 40-year-old FIA European Rallycross Championship would be getting global status by becoming a fully-fledged world championship for 2014. It was a shot in the arm for a series whose 600bhp, four-wheel-drive turbo monsters thrill huge crowds wherever they go.
With promotion from broadcasting giant IMG the inaugural series was a great success, with 12 countries hosting rounds and seven drivers from five nations taking victories for five different marques. And that one of the sport’s biggest showmen, former World Rally Champion Petter Solberg, lifted the crown in his family-run Citroën DS3 only made the first year better.
Norwegian Solberg, who became king of the WRC in 2003, has guaranteed himself a unique standing in motorsport: he’s the first driver to win two FIA world titles in different disciplines. A huge draw for the series, he knows how to work a crowd and is never without a big smile. He’ll routinely hang out of the car to wave, while it’s still moving, perform celebratory donuts, throw baseball caps to fans and sign autographs at will. He loves what he does and knows he’s lucky that people want to pay to watch him do it.
All young drivers – in any category of racing or rallying – should take a leaf out of the Solberg Secrets of Success manual.
I’m looking forward to Solberg defending his title in 2015 and there’s no doubt the FIA World Rallycross Championship top brass are relieved he’s back for another year. He’s good news for the sport and is helping to ensure my passion for this branch of the sport lives on.