WRX pits petrol against electric tech in 'Battle Royale' for 2024

Rallycross News

The World Rallycross Championship could be set to turn the racing world on its head by pitting electric and combustion engine cars against each other in its top class – two of its stars, Kevin and Timmy Hansen, explain what it means for the sport

WRX Hong Kong 2023

Two versions of rallycross beast will lock horns this year in WRX

Red Bull

There are racing series for electric cars, and there are racing series for petrol-powered cars. Now, for the very first time there’s one championship that pits both against the other.

For the very first time, this year’s World Rallycross Championship will put cars powered only by electric motors against those with combustion engines, in what it’s calling the “Battle of Technologies”.

It could also be seen as a battle for the future of racing: the FIA World Championship series has retreated from its decision to go all-electric in 2022 and reopened the door to older-generation Supercars with 590bhp four-cylinder engines running on sustainable fuel to minimise their carbon dioxide emissions.

These will compete with the newer generation of RX1e cars with dual electric motors producing 670bhp.

2 WRX Hong Kong 2023

Petrol-powered ICE cars will go head-to-head with electric machines

Red Bull

The new format follows a tumultuous last season, which was already low on numbers, with just nine cars in the top class field before a battery fire at Lydden Hill which destroyed the entirety of Sebastien Loeb’s Special One team equipment and threatened to cancel the series.

Prior to the blaze, the top class field was comprised of just under ten electric cars: two Team Hansen Peugeots 208s, the Lancia pair, two Kristofferon Motorsport VW Polos, two Volvos and one SEAT, with a few one-off entires sprinkled across the championship.

“I have been for this idea the whole time” Timmy Hansen

For 2019 champion Timmy Hansen and race-winning brother Kevin, who are both once more competing for their family team run by 14-time champion Kenneth and race-winning mother Susann, this new move to increase the number of championship competitors is welcomed.

“I have been for this idea the whole time,” says Timmy. “I’m for opening the sport up even more, making it like the old days to allow everyone to race everywhere, even for the [American electric rallycross series Nitro] FC1-X car to come and compete. The world champion should be the best across any discipline.

“And it’s more interesting for the fans: for example, when we go to Portugal, that will be one place where maybe the electric car is stronger, because that’s at altitude. But at other places, where it’s more heavily focused on braking, maybe the combustion car will be faster.

From the archive

“You don’t know who will be quickest – it’s very exciting.”

“We really tried our best to have the full electric series, but the market has changed,” adds Kevin. “I think we were looking good, but the fire was too big of a setback. We have to move forward, and eight electric cars for a top championship simply wasn’t good enough – and we have to look beyond to the future as well.

“Things are very different now, and we have to appreciate what’s around us: there’s now this big push for sustainable fuel, and companies are looking at hydrogen too. By allowing different technologies, we tick a box for the fans with the sound of petrol cars – everyone loves the history of the sport – and listen to companies who want to showcase sustainability and do it in rallycross.

“It’s right allowing different technologies and focusing on sustainability, not just electrification – because as a world we need more solutions. As a sport, our goal is to extract maximum performance from any technology and really show off its power.”

3 WRX Hong Kong 2023

The old Supercar WRX monsters will be eligible for the top class again

Red Bull

However, though the championship calendar has been set for July 6 at Höljes in Sweden, a solution to battery supplier Kreisel’s safety issues have yet to be announced.

Timmy asserts though that he’ll have no qualms come the opening round.

From the archive

“I wouldn’t feel at all a problem with jumping into an electric car,” he insists. “If anything we’ll be learning from that, and it will be more safe.

“If it didn’t happen in our category, it was going to happen at some point somewhere, wasn’t it?”

“For sure the fire was unfortunate,” says Kevin. “You see Formula E having a fire but they almost ‘got away with it’ much easier than we did, as we were the first first one to have it.”

Part of the WRX’s “Battle of the Technologies” announcement from series CEO Arne Dirks was also telling in its wording:

“We have all seen and enjoyed the electrifying power and potential of RX1e over the past two years, and we have also witnessed a lot of passion for combustion-engined cars in Euro RX,” he said.

That “passion” has been channeled through loud grumbles by diehard rallycross fans – perhaps heard over the whine of the electric battery cars – that they wanted the old ear-splitting supercars back.

It could represent a new shift for both the motor sport and road cars. With the WRC considering ditching hybrids, 20-time rally winner Thierry Neuville recently told Motor Sport “in the future racing will stand for entertainment, not technological development.”

In the non-sporting world, Aston Martin yesterday announced that it would delay its first electric car until 2027, because customer demand simply isn’t there, and carry on making V12s in the meantime.

3 WRX Lydden Hill 2014

WRX is looking to keep its core fanbase happy with the move

Red Bull

While rallycross is largely far-removed from the airs and graces of a British sports car brand, there are similarities to be drawn.

WRX has forged ahead with an electric series which doesn’t appear to have done anything for its popularity, led to a drop in entries, and now it’s gone into reverse slightly – with sustainable fuel.

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It all suggests suggests ICE cars aren’t as dead as could have been imagined – the power of the people has spoken.

“I think we listened to the fans in doing this,” says Timmy. “And I hope that this will make them happy again, want to come to see the race again.

“There’s a lot of negativity, and I’m a bit disappointed in the rallycross fans to be honest. It’s so focused on [the fact that] they don’t like electric powertrains but, actually, the cars are incredibly fast.

“I do understand the point that it was entertaining with the sound though, and now we’ll get that back.

“If you remember a good race from the past, it’s the battle that you think about – but the sound is part of the experience in a weekend.

“The fans are who we drive for at the end of the day, we drive for the people who watch it and that’s it. If no one wants to see it then we don’t have a place in this world.”

WRX Hong Kong round 9

Will changes help boost the field?

Red Bull

At the same time Timmy recognises the importance of keeping manufacturers and sponsors happy through electrification – it’s a juggling act, but says “rallycross is the perfect series for this.”

In the bigger picture, the emphasis is about getting WRX back to full strength. The ever-positive Hansens don’t doubt it.

“I’m the biggest fan of rallycross,” says Timmy. “I live through this sport. I love this sport.

“I think it’s perfect for the social media era: short races, it’s easy to take in. We listened to the fans – I hope we’ll make them happy.”