'This is the F1 car of rallycross' – how Nitro RX plans to conquer motor sport

Rallycross News

A 1,000bhp electric car, zany circuits designed by an extreme sports star and an F1 champion on the grid – can Nitro RX make the jump into motor sport mainstream and beyond?

Nitro Rallycross FCX-1 car Barcelona

Nitro RX's new all-electric FCX-1 can do 0-60mph in 1.4sec – will it provide the required thrills?

Nitro RX

There’s a slight ringing in my ears as I stare blankly at the rain drops hammering down in the pitlane, waiting for my turn – I’m not sure if it’s the general tension rising, or the whir of the new 1,000bhp FCX-1 electric rallycross car, which is currently screaming round the back end of Circuit de Cataluyna, giving a few journos a lift one by one in the pouring rain.

The few square feet of garage I’m stood in must, for today at least, have the highest concentration of diverse racing talent in the world.

Formula 1 world champion Jenson Button to my left, former WRC star Kris Meeke to my right, and a bevvy of world class rallycross drivers to boot, all here to test what one of them – young American Connor Martell – says is the “F1 car of rallycross”.

This FCX-1 is the spec machinery required for the burgeoning Nitro RX championship, described by many as “rallycross on steroids”. Now in its second year, the series was an all-American affair last season, but now it’s going global with a world series – and will start on June 18 at one of rallycross’s spiritual homes, Lydden Hill.

Jenson Button in Nitro RX testing at Barcelona, 2022

Jenson Button is Nitro RX’s big-name signing

Nitro RX

Nitro doesn’t just have its sights set on leaving the rival FIA-sanctioned World Rallycross Championship – which is also going electric this year – in its gravel-chipped wake, it aims to do so with a thrilling format combining one on one battles and multi-car knockout heats held over the most extreme circuits the sport has seen – featuring huge jumps, swooping turns and fierce race long battles followed, broadcasting by drone cameras zooming in and around the action.

These tracks now have the machinery to match – the car I’m about to jump into has an electric motor pumping out 800kW through four wheels, taking it from 0-60mph in 1.4sec when fully unleashed (it could apparently do under a second with a few tweaks), 30cm (12”) of suspension travel (more than WRC) and a max torque of 811lb-ft.

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I don’t really have time to dwell on the stats though, as off-road ace Kevin Eriksson glides into the pit box and I’m strapped into the (for now) silent machine.

We do a handbrake turn to exit the pits – I assume this is de rigueur in rallycross – then once on the start / finish straight, Kevin puts his foot down.

We undergo an acceleration which one can only characterise as ‘violent’, before slamming on the brakes as we take the circuit’s final corner, and head – following it in reverse – onto a mini rallycross course made out of the grand prix track’s final few turns and gravel traps.

We powerslide and handbrake our way round the rain-soaked course, tyres squealing and juddering as they protest at what Kevin ask of them. The driver experiences 3g under full acceleration, and though the engine has been turned down a bit due to the rain, it’s still all I can do to keep this morning’s breakfast down.

“There’s no grip!” the Swede exclaimed on our way back in, but he seemed to be doing OK to me.

Set up by extreme sports star Travis Pastrana, Nitro RX’s progress has been meteoric.

From holding one off events in 2018 and 2019, in 2021 it became a US-based championship held for just one year, and has now has expanded to hold a ’22-‘23 world championship which will take in the UK, Scandinavia, North America and the Middle East.

Nitro Rallycross FCX-1 car Barcelona

1070bhp, 811lb-ft torque, 30cm suspension travel make this a rallycross beat like no other

Nitro RX

Nitro aims to put what it does across through revolutionary broadcasting techniques (drones et al) plus racing battles ready-made for memes and viral social media posts, with the hope of capturing viewers more diverse than the causal motor sport audience.

However, Nitro is entering what can only be described as a crowded marketplace. The WRX championship has attempted to market itself in a similar manner: bumper-bashing racing action packed up as a family-friendly day out, accompanied by American stadium style-pyrotechnics and grid girls.

The FIA-backed WRX series hoped to make the crossover and bring in new audiences but this has only had limited success: YouTube viewing figures for race clips in the thousands and comparable to national series like DTM.

Part of this issue is WRX isolating itself its own pay-per-view channel, whilst Nitro has been shown on BT Sport.

One of the masterminds behind the Nitro, Joe Carr, CEO of its parent company Thrill One Entertainment, explained why he feels a new philosophy could make the difference.

“We’re trying to be younger and cooler than your ‘grandfather’s motor sport,’” says.

“We’ve built this from scratch, not only the car, but the series itself, the idea being ‘How can you attract a broader audience – not just across motor sport and rallycross – and how can we make it the most entertaining property possible?’

“So if you think about how we’ve designed the tracks, the jumps, the big turns, even the format with ‘battle brackets’, and head to head races to build the drama and rivalry, we’ve definitely been taking things from a ‘zero’ basis, in order to make it as exciting as we can.”

However, Nitro also wants to combine the hype with real sporting integrity – Jenson Button has signed up, former F1 racer Scott Speed already joined the championship last season and Kris Meeke’s piqued interest shows a variety of stars could be attracted, with the Solbergs Oliver and Petter expressing their interest at this year’s Race of Champions where the FCX-1 was demonstrated.

In this instance, the incredible new car really is the star. With twice as much power as a WRC machine – and at 1,245kg weighing only slightly more – the thing can seriously shift.

“There were really no words for it,” Martell enthused of his initial drive. “The first thing I said was: ‘It’s the F1 car of rallycross.’ I’ve never been in a car so fast – it was shocking.

“It handles so well, it does everything you want it to do. It’s super easy to drive.

“Usually you hear speed. With this, you can actually see it. Having six of them on track is going to be unreal.”

All the other drivers back up Martell’s compliments, with Button describing the amount of power available as “insane”.

The FCX-1 has been designed with the EV market in mind, with Nitro RX hoping to ride that wave by creating a spec machine onto which manufacturers can put their own body kits – making it attractive proposition for car makes to join.

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Nitro RX general manager Chip Pankow explained to Motor Sport the technical approach it hopes will lead the series to success.

“The car looks the way it does for a very specific reason,” Chip Pankow, he says. “We’ve scanned 21 vehicles, to make sure other EV body shells can be adapted to this design. A lot of manufacturers have been really great working with us on this to make sure it works.

“You’re going to see an explosion in EV sales. Right now, electric vehicle sales make up for about 5 per cent of the global market share. Within five years, that number will be at over 50 per cent.”

“We’re talking to pretty much everyone [in terms of car manufacturers], there’s been a tonne of interest,” Carr says. “Not only are manufacturers going electric, but I think the crossover SUV model and body type [we use] is an important initiative for them in the US.

“The ability for them to actually market real street vehicles with their body type is a huge game changer.”

Jenson Button in Nitro RX testing at Barcelona, 2022

Will Button’s smooth style suit the FCX-1’s monstrous power?

Nitro RX

But which driver will be able to master this beast? Previously Nitro RX has had various designs based around Subaru, Peugeot and Audis models – made to rallycross Supercar rules – competing against one another, but now a full roster of FCX-1s which all teams in Nitro’s have to use means a level playing field.

It seems all the drivers welcome this development, but the car might suit more than others.

“I think a Scott Speed – someone with a smooth style – would do really well on this car,” says Martell. “Modulating the throttle and controlling tyre spin is going to be crucial in getting a car this powerful to go as fast as possible.”

Button is of course too famed for his driving finesse, but Kevin Eriksson thinks it might not be so straight forward.

“Rallycross, especially with this car and with the Nitro championship, is so open to various driving approaches,” he says. “We have the big jumps where all the dirt bike riders have a big advantage whilst guys coming from racing have a bigger problem and more respect for it.

“Then we have the tarmac where guys like me that have more of a dirt background will have a disadvantage towards Jenson Button who has F1 experience. That’s the beauty of rally cross and especially Nitro because it’s added even more elements. There’s no perfect driver because you need to use so much different experience. Everything can work.”

It appears the Nitro RX series really is now set for lift off.