Extreme Rallycross, a brand-new Australian motorsport series, has been previewed this week with the help of our country's most successful rally driver, Chris Atkinson.
Expertly sliding a circa-230kW/300Nm custom-built all-wheel-drive machine around a specific course is a task few can handle with ease, and even fewer while smiling almost the entire time.
One man who has no trouble at all is former Hyundai and Subaru World Rally Team driver, Chris ‘Atko’ Atkinson – in Sydney this week to give local media its first home-grown taste of a motorsport craze that’s been taking the world by storm: Rallycross.
Mixing traditional-style rallying with the craziness of Supercross and the stadium format of circuit racing, Australia’s new Extreme Rallycross series is due to make its official debut in Queensland on August 4.
Though a list of competing drivers is yet to be announced, Atko was on hand at Sydney Motorsport Park to demonstrate the capabilities of the one-make series’ Supercar Lites racers.
Sneaking in a quick word with CarAdvice just prior to the event, the 35-year-old loose-surface wizard said he was excited about the upcoming series.
“I don’t know if I’m racing in the series or not yet… it’s still early days but [the series] has got huge potential,” Atko said.
“I think it’ll be great. I think it’s just something different for Australian motorsport and it’s a way of getting a rally-style sport to the people.
“It really is a crossover sport between circuit racing and rallying, which is pretty cool.”
Growing in popularity and audience world wide, the sport has the backing of world motorsport’s governing body the FIA, in the form of the Word Rallycross Championship, and has been thrilling American fans since 2011 under the guise of the US-based Global Rallycross (GRC) series.
Having already attended rounds of GRC while in the States, Atkinson said the US events are “a real party atmosphere”.
“There’s action and music non-stop, lots of different heats and racing and it’s short and compact. And I think that can draw a lot of people.”
Giving himself an early indicator of the Supercar Lites and the future Australian series, Atkinson last week scored seat time in an 1100kg (with driver) competition car around a short dirt track at Queensland’s Willowbank Raceway.
“I think the car’s really good,” Atko said about his initial experience in the purpose-built Olsberg car.
“It looks awesome and its not too different performance wise to a World Rally car.
“Obviously it’s a naturally aspirated engine [instead of a turbo] so it doesn’t have as much torque but it still has very similar horsepower so it’s good fun to drive and it’s actually really well balanced and you can play around with it.
“It was a really fun car to drive, which is good, and you can image when you get eight or 10 of them on a track, it’s going to be pretty entertaining.
“It’d be good to get a good high-level group of drivers and a competitive group of drivers and that’s what’s going to make a good show and plenty of action.”
Still an ambassador for Hyundai Australia, Atkinson, a former Hyundai Motorsport WRC driver, says he thinks Rallycross and the South Korean manufacturer would be well suited to each other.
“It’d be great to get a manufacturer involved in this sport, and I think it’s a really good fit for Hyundai personally. But that’s not a decision to be made by me and we’ll be having discussions with them about what possibilities there are moving forward to be involved with the series, along with my other partners, and see whether we head that way or do something different.”
Despite the car maker having no official confirmed involvement in the Extreme Rallycross, Hyundai Australia public relations manager Guido Schenken told CarAdvice,"Entering the sport officially is definitely something we'd look at considering down the line."
"At this stage we're just really excited about the series and we're happy supporting Chris' interest in it," Schenken said.
Planned to comprise a seven-round championship series, Extreme Rallycross’ debut season is expected to wrap up with a final round held in February 2016.
Apart from Atkinson, early names circulating for potential starts in the series include Alister McRae (yes, the younger brother of the late great Colin McRae), stunt rider Matt Mingay and Australian Rally Championship (ARC) regulars Brendan Reeves and Jack Monkhouse.