There will be two four-wheel motorsports in the mix at X Games for the first time this summer, with a new discipline called SuperRally joining the traditional big-air, big-thrill Rally Car Racing.
SuperRally is going to look a lot like rallycross, a sport that's been big in Europe since its debut in the U.K. in the 1960s. And it rocks. And rolls. And flips. And crashes. A lot.
"You see it on TV, you see it on the Internet and you just can't describe just how violent it is inside the cars," says Tanner Foust, a three-time X Games rally medalist and rookie driver in the European Rallycross Championship in 2010.
You see it on TV, you see it on the Internet and you just can't describe just how violent it is inside the cars.
-- Tanner Foust
I went to my first rallycross a few weeks ago in the U.K. to watch a round of the top-level European Rallycross Championship. Foust, the only American to ever take on this top-tier rallycross series, was competing there in his second rallycross competition.
"Rallycross is an exciting and aggressive sport with lots of contact, and I think the American audience is going to love it," he said before finishing a respectable sixth place overall. "The best way I can describe rallycross is like driving a vicious little 600 horsepower car through a real-life video game."
The track itself, the Lydden Hill Race Circuit, was the one where a TV producer and a couple of race promoters dreamed up the sport 40 years ago. Its dual claims to fame are that, at a mile long, it's the U.K.'s shortest road-racing circuit and that, in February 1967, the first rallycross was held there.
To get to the course is a pretty much a rally drive, through hedge-lined, one-laned roads, past picturesque villages, stone walls, horses, cows and manor estates. I still can't figure out how they all got there, but 12,000 people packed into the place to take in what has to be the toughest kind of racing there is.
In this format, cars are gridded up to start together, and at the drop of the green flag, they all scream toward the first corner. Drivers run a prescribed number of laps through a short course that usually features dirt and paved sections, and often includes jumps. Plus, drivers take an extra, longer lap known as the "joker lap" at a time of their choosing during the race, which creates an element of strategy. The fastest drivers work their way through a series of elimination heats to the final, where it's no-holds-barred competition for all the marbles.
At X Games, we'll see a short course through the Los Angeles Coliseum, and cars will grid up four at a time. Expect that the big gap jump will be in the joker lap. I was co-driving the car that flipped end over end at X Games 14, and we were the only ones on the jump at the time. I can only imagine what it's going to be like when a couple of guys are gunning for it at the same time ... let's just say I hope they don't try to swap places midair.
Speed off the line is critical in rallycross, and the strategy starts immediately. A slower starter might elect to go for the joker lap right away, to increase the gap to the rest of the cars and have a better chance of a clean run without anybody in the way. A faster starter will want to grow the lead by staying out front on the shorter course and save the joker for later.
The cars in the middle? Well, they're going to start muscling for the best position. And whoever's in the way can expect to get shoved. "It's a lot of contact," 2009 X Games Rally gold medalist Kenny Brack says. "It's difficult to know how hard you can drive into somebody without getting a black flag, and you have to be prepared that people will push and shove you."
I'm a rally competitor, and I thought rally was tough. When we're not racing around the short-course stadium at X Games, we race 100-plus miles over two days and encounter every obstacle you can imagine -- at 120 mph. But rallycross is just insane. It takes the jumps and the sliding and the high-strung cars that make rally so crazy, then adds a bunch of aggressive drivers and tightens up the course. It's basically compressed rally chaos. In a day and a half of competition, I saw more intense racing action than a rally season highlight reel. I saw cars flip over. I saw cars punted into tire walls. And I saw some drivers who are incredibly talented at maneuvering on two wheels -- a position they seem to find themselves in more frequently than any other type of racing I've seen.
The SuperRally field at X Games features just three drivers who have any significant recent experience in this knock 'em down, drag 'em out motorsport: Foust, who's running five European Rallycross Championship rounds this season; Brack, who ran the Swedish round of the championship for fun last year; and defending European Rallycross Champion Sverre Isachsen, who's been at this for nearly a decade. Watch for those guys to be brutal competitors in the new discipline this year.
Tune in to the U.S. television debut of SuperRally, live at X Games 16, Saturday, July 31 at 10:15 p.m. ET on ESPN, ESPN 3D and ESPN3.com.