As 2020 finally comes to a close most series have completed whatever races they could have, crowned a champion and begun hibernation before hitting the track again in Spring next year. However, the 2020 British Rallycross Championship stretches beyond this year. Despite this, an end of year review is needed to properly dissect what has happened both on and off the track
Note: This article was published days before the final round was cancelled.
The 2020 season kicked off in November 2019. This may sound confusing but it was because of an important announcement. On 14th November it was announced Lydden Hill Race Circuit would take over management of the series. With it the series made whole host of changes. Every event became a 2-day affair with 1 round for Supercars and a mix of single and double header rounds for support categories. The series put forward a return to Scotland, Ireland and continental Europe. The 2020 British Rallycross Championship 5 Nations Trophy was, as the name suggests, going to be racing in 5 different countries for the first time since 2004.
4 qualifying sessions would be run at each weekend with qualifying points the same as World Rallycross. Championship points would be awarded for semi-final and final positions, rather than at the end of the weekend. This all brought the series closer inline with the premier rallycross championship. Entries were flooding in for the first round in April. Then everything was put on hold.
On 16th March the UK went into the first of a series of lockdowns. As with every sport around the world, motorsport and specifically rallycross were put on hold. Within a day, the series' organisers confirmed the calendar would be delayed. It wasn't until May a new calendar was announced with 4 rounds in 4 different countries, the European trip being struck down for obvious reason. By the time August rolled around the grid was looking as healthy as ever. This was despite the many previously announced drivers pulling out. Big names like Julian Godfrey, Ollie O'Donovan and Steve Hill confirmed their entries early on and were joined by Oliver Bennett in his World RX Mini. In the end 12 Supercars made it to the opening round at Lydden Hill with over 70 cars amongst all the classes.
On a sunny Sunday morning the cars made their way onto track for the first rallycross race in Britain since March. Bennett set the pace late in practice with rookie, Mark Donnelly the leading Championship runner. 6-time Olympic Cycling Champion Chris Hoy made only his second rallycross start but immediately was let down in practice with a technical issue. Mike Manning suffered the same fate after a rear hub broke leaving him stranded on track.
Qualifying started soon after and in the first race of the year, Mark Flaherty jumped the start. At the restart the English driver's car saw smoke coming from under the bonnet. Marshals were quickly on the scene to douse the flames. While only a small fire it destroyed the engine manifold and with no replacement to hand, this put Flaherty out of the entire weekend. Bennett used pole position in his race to top Q1. O'Donovan claimed second ahead of Hill and Roger Thomas.
Chris Hoy struggled with his Citroen C4. After missing practice he was required to complete 3 practice laps before Q1. After running those laps he formed up on the grid. However, warm and therefore sticky tyres gave him took much grip and he stalled on the line. This was then compounded when he ran out of fuel with a 2 laps to go and he pulled off before the race's end. It was a tight schedule and there wasn't time left in the day to run Q2 which left 3 qualifying sessions and the finals to be run on Monday.
Bennett managed to win every session on Bank Holiday Monday to secure the top qualifier spot. However, there had been rumours of not using the right fuel from the start of the day. It wasn't until just minutes before the semi-finals that Bennett was disqualified from qualifying and was therefore unable to start the semi-finals. It gave O'Donovan pole position with Thomas and Godfrey alongside.
O'Donovan had been the top championship runner all weekend and had been making sure Bennett knew he was there at the start of each race. Donnelly recovered from engine misfires in Q3 to slot in 3rd overall and was promoted to pole in Semi-Final 2. Thomas hadn't put a foot wrong all weekend, barring starting Q1 in neutral, to go 4th with Hill coming back from a puncture in Q2 to go 5th. Godfrey had been having a bad day, with slow launches off the line and a spin in Q4 cementing a poor weekend. Mike Sellar and Mike Manning were locked into a battle for 7th, with Manning showing better pace but suffering from reliability issues.
The last 3 in qualifying all missed a session, effectively putting them to the bottom of the standings no matter what. The leading driver of these was Tristan Ovenden. In a newly acquired Citroen DS3 the owner-racer showed good pace which ended with 4th in Q4. Hoy also missed a session trying to solve issues with his Citroen. Dom Flitney missed Q1 after needing to refit his transponder and then ran near the back during the other sessions with his recently upgraded Subaru Impreza.
For the first time all weekend, O'Donovan made a poor start. It gave an open door to Thomas to take the lead with Godfrey diving to the joker lap. Suffering with a technical issue slowing him down, O'Donovan couldn't mount a challenge to the leader and dropped behind the reigning champion when he took his alternate route. Thomas was also unable to keep Godfrey behind when he jokered and let the GB1 car take the first championship points of the season. Manning was set to take the last transfer spot but a broken front right slowed him and Hoy managed to snag 4th place on the final lap.
The other semi-final started in a ball of smoke as Flitney's car let out a plume. A misplaced oil pipe into the turbo to blame for the smokescreen and the Subaru driver pulled off immediately. For the first time all weekend Donnelly had clear air and used this to his full advantage. He set a blistering time and beat Hill by 5 seconds. Ovenden came home 3rd ahead of an improving Sellar with Flitney the only retirement.
In the last race of the weekend Donnelly held off Godfrey at the start. The pair were nose to tail the entire race and both jokered on the penultimate lap. Donnelly then stretched his advantage to claim his maiden rallycross victory in only his second Supercar race. Behind, a mistake slowed Godfrey and put him within striking distance of O'Donovan. The London-based Irish driver was recovering from 5th on the grid. He tried to pass but wasn't able to and finished less than half a second behind. Hill was third out of turn one but had jumped the start and needed to complete 2 joker laps. This dropped him behind both Ovenden and Hoy come the end of the race.
Sellar was the last driver running with Thomas the only retirement. He had jokered straight away and was set to challenge for a podium but on lap 2 he suffered an engine issue and pulled off the track. All of this left Donnelly on the maximum of 14 points with Godfrey right behind on 13 and O'Donovan on 10.
The next round in Knockhill was scheduled for late September. However, a week before the event it was called off. An imminent announcement by the Scottish government looked set the cancel the event so the organisers pre-emptively made the decision giving competitors advanced notice. In Wales it looked like any motorsport would be unable to take place with strict rules on all sports in place. Just 30 people were able to be at any sporting event, no matter the type of sport or size of the venue. This killed off any chance of racing in Wales throughout the year. Finally the Irish round was put on hold. With only 3 Irish based competitors able to make it to round 1 it looked like the British contingent would struggle just as much to go across the Irish Sea.
A new calendar was announced with 3 more rounds across 2 weekends, both at Lydden Hill. A double header in Kent in November and a near Christmas finale on December 19th. Both events were set to be run under floodlights due to the time of year. This would be for the first time since 2011 that the British Rallycross Championship would run at night.
As we drew closer to November it looked less and less likely the event would take place. Then just 5 days before racing was set to take place another lockdown was introduced. This meant only Elite sports were able to hold events. The championship organisers managed to get elite status for the series just days later but the November meeting had already been postponed. Instead an early December, and very cold, meeting would take place. The finale was pushed back to January and expanded to 2 days running.