|Arne Dirks, Rallycross Promoter GmbH Managing Director speaking to the media.
PHOTO CREDIT: FIA World Rallycross Media
The duel surface championship had it all, full grids, and four manufacturers in the early era, but as a result of uncertainty surrounding the switch to electric power under the stewardship of former promoter IMG, the four manufacturers withdrew at the end of the 2018 campaign leaving the championship in some doubt, but like rallycross, things never truly end.
From 2019 to 2020, privateer teams ruled the roost, but like stories, IMG’s came to an end in 2020, handing the batten to Rallycross Promoter from 2021.
In their first year at the helm, Rallycross Promoter began their steep learning kerb, before the planned switch to electric power in 2022, with Kriesel Electric supplying powertrains for teams to retro-fit into the already existing cars. And, whilst their was an initial delay with the delivery of these powertrains to the teams, the first-ever electric season went ahead, and was truly electrifying.
With the new electric era of rallycross, also came the introduction of a new concept to determine the grid order, called “SuperPole”. Just one lap to decide your position for the first heat, thereafter, your overall heat time would decide your ranking.
The first electric powered season ran smooth as butter, but just a year later, the World Championship faced it’s darkest days, as two Special One Racing cars (Lancia Delta Evo-E's), their equipment and a truck was lost in a blaze at Lydden Hill in the United Kingdom, seeing the cancellation of three rounds.
|The 2023 World RX of Norway final, with Lancia's before they were gutted in Lydden Hill.
PHOTO CREDIT: Red Bull Content Pool
Speaking of people behind the scenes, in 2021, Arne Dirks was appointed as the Managing Director of Rallycross Promoter GmbH.
Dirks has a wealth of experience in Germany’s sports industry dating back almost 20 years.
“Who is Arne Dirks?... Arne Dirks has beeen working in sports management for 20 years, almost. I've worked in several different sports, such as football, volleyball, basketball, etc. and now working in motorsports for two and a half years. And, I really enjoy it,” he tells Slipstream SA.
“I worked together with one of our shareholders in the German Volleyball Federation, working on the German beach volleyball tour. And it sounds maybe a little bit strange, but beach volleyball is about entertaining. The matches are really important, but so is everything around. And we actually follow a similar concept. You know, it's not only about the races, but the fans should also be entertained. And you can see this already, if you look at what the CE Dealer Team have been doing, how they engage with the fans. We can do a lot more on that side to make it a great weekend for everyone coming out (to races).”
The key to growth and success is adaptability, as with everything, change is something that no-one really likes, but with time, change becomes a norm. Met with some resistance, the World Rallycross Championship switched from soul vibrating anti-lag internal combustion engines to electric powertrains in 2022.
But, much like, Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” electorial campaign, the World Rallycross Championship is in the phase of rebuilding, and as Dirks says, the championship “absolutely” has the potential to be great again 9.
Having survived the withdrawal of manufacturers after the 2018 season, World RX still remains as competitive, as it ever was. However, there is work to be done, regarding growing within the sport, as well as fan engagement.
“I think not many people in the world actually know what World Rallycross is,” Dirks says. “If you attend a race, if you see it, then I think you drawn in, and want to come back to future events. As, I say, these races are so short, there's so much action. It's not a 90-minute football game that is not nil and nil at the end. You know, there's always something going on.”
In recent years within the motoring industry there has been a major push to electric, hybrid and hydrogen powered vehicles, but with the world championship going fully-electric, there hasn’t been any involvement from any manufacturers yet, however, Rallycross Promoter have assured us that they are working on it.
“Of course, we want the manufacturers back in the sport, and I actually do believe that we will succeed on this. We have a couple of good talks at the moment. I mean, it hasn't been an easy start for us, with the pandemic and building the sport,” he says.
“(Cape Town and Hong Kong) was the first overseas race, the incident in Lydden Hill, obviously the fire, so there were couple of drawbacks, but we still absolutely believe that the sport is great. It has everything that especially, I believe younger generations are also looking for, with very short races, always action, and head-to-head racing, etc.”
“What do we need to make it bigger, make it larger? I think we are on the right track at the moment. We saw a growing field already this season. Again, the fire from Lydden was problematic. I think appointing Mattias Ekström, as our sports director will make us progress and look towards a brighter future. As he has many, many ideas, obviously many contacts, not only to manufacturers, but also the existing teams. It's really fun working with him. So, I'm not worried, but I know we have some more work to do,” he added.
|The first-ever Asian pacific round of the World Rallycross Championship in Hong Kong.
PHOTO CREDIT: Red Bull Content Pool
Dirks believes that it’s essential to “keep some of the iconic locations in Europe, like Höljes" because, “as you know, there are 79 people living in Höljes, Sweden, and when we visit there are 25,000 spectators. It's just unbelievable! But we also see a future in city centres, and we are very much looking forward now to the first ever city centre race in our history in Hong Kong. We also have so much potential now that we are a sustainable championship.”
He adds that the championship “could look into ice races, but as I said, cities are very, very important, alongside maybe festivals, etc. So there are certain ideas where we could run and working on different ideas.”
In addition to bringing new ideas, and a format change to the world championship, Rallycross Promoter along with sister company WRC Promoter introduced an OTT (over-the-top) streaming service for avid rallycross and rallying fans – Rally.tv.
Some would argue that watching or streaming World RX has become challenging, if not difficult, as it’s hidden behind a paywall, but Dirks says that's “not true” citing “yes, we have our own OTT channel, which is Rally.tv, and I believe that it is a fantastic model for the future, as we show WRC and Rallycross. So, we have over 30 weekends per year where rally fans can watch the action.”
“On the other hand, we do sell the rights to broadcasters all around the world. And in South Africa (in particular), we have broadcasters carrying live coverage. So, it's definitely not our model to just put everything behind closed doors. But we do absolutely believe in Rally.tv. We also believe in working together with nationwide and worldwide channels all around the world. And for example, even this year already, all the races are shown live on SVT in Sweden,” he added.
As the championship continues on an upward trajectory, with a promoter focused on the success and growth of the series. The sustainability, and use of electric powertrains, should be a draw factor for manufacturers who are looking to develop their powertrain technologies for future implementation on our roads.
“I absolutely believe that we are at the point of bringing manufacturers. I mean, especially when you look into EV, I think World Rallycross is a showcase for what an electric cars can actually do. You can go flat out and really can show that it is more than just small cars running through the city, that actually even motorsport is fantastic using EV technology,” Arne Dirks explains.
|UK's Patrick O'Donovan makes strong case for rookis, as he achieves a podium on debut in Hong Kong.
PHOTO CREDIT: Red Bull Content Pool
Dirks says that “we need to make the sport cheaper”.
“It is absolutely our ambition that if you win the RX2 competition, which is a series for younger drivers to develop their talents. That you have the chance to step up into World Rallycross, but at the moment, that is a massive step to make,” he explains. “We had a couple of talks with the former RX2e winner, and it wasn't possible. So, we need to work on making this sport and especially World RX cheaper to compete in.”
As a new season fast approaches, there is no information regarding the Lydden Hill investigation, however, the FIA World Motor Sport Council, who met in Baku earlier this month, announced that sustainably-fuelled combustion-engined (ICE) cars would now be eligable to contest the pinnacle of rallycross for the first time since 2021, on equal terms with EV's, in what the championship has billed the "Battle of Technologies", which heralds a new era for World Championship.
*Italicized number included for competition to WIN a cap signed by all the World RX starts. Stay tuned to @JunaidSamodien_ on X, and Slipstream SA on Facebook for more information.