This weekend, Lydden Hill in Kent, long regarded as the 'home of rallycross', will host the second round of the newly created FIA World Rallycross Championship, the AUTOSPORT World RX of Great Britain.
International rallycross returned to British shores in 2009 after a break of a decade, but no UK event - then or since -has featured a line-up of drivers quite like the one for this weekend's showdown.
No fewer than 38 of the headline four-wheel-drive, 600bhp Supercar machines will line up on the grid for Britain's inaugural World Rallycross event. And while the total number is big, more impressive is the quality, with over 80 per cent of the field capable of making it to the finals.
Why rallycross is on the up
At the end of 2012, sports marketing giant IMG took over the promotion of the European Rallycross Championship, which for 2013 featured permanent drivers, live television from five of the nine rounds and a huge increase in exposure and promotion.
The sport also attracted big names: Petter Solberg signed up for a full season, Mattias Ekstrom finished on the podium at his home round in Sweden, and rally legend Sebastien Loeb competed at his home race in France in front of 72,000 people. Showing the competitiveness of the sport, Loeb failed to make it to the final...
Video: Lydden European Rallycross highlights 2013
At the end of last year, the FIA granted IMG permission to create the first FIA World Rallycross Championship. The 12-round series includes nine events in Europe with flyaway events at former Formula 1 venue Istanbul Park in Turkey, Trois-Rivieres in Canada and the season finale in Argentina.
Fifteen permanent drivers will contest every round of the championship, but adding a new dimension to the sport is the introduction of the 'Team Championship'. Six two-car teams are contesting the full series, and most significantly of all, three of those have manufacturer support. OlsbergsMSE has formed a partnership with Ford, while Marklund Motorsport has teamed up with Volkswagen.
Kenneth Hansen, 14-time European champion, has also joined forces with Peugeot to form Team Peugeot-Hansen, which will run a pair of brand-new Peugeot 208 T16s. For 2014, every event is live on television across the globe.
Format and joker lap
Each driver races in four, four-lap heats. Heats are timed, the driver who's been fastest across the four heats finishes top of the 'Intermediate Classification', where the top 16 drivers score championship points. From those 16, the top 12 qualify for the six-lap semi-finals, where championship points are again scored. The top three drivers from each semi-final move up into the six-lap final, the victor of which wins the event.
In each heat, semi-final and final, drivers must use the 'joker-lap' section. Based on a concept originally born in Swedish national races, the 'joker' is a longer route, usually around the outside of a corner away from the main racetrack that each driver must use once per race, before rejoining the main track.
At Lydden, the joker-lap section is around the outside of the first corner, Chessons Drift. Tactics of the joker lap can win or lose races, the general rule of thumb is that if you are at the back of the pack you take it early and try to catch back up with the field, but if you are out front then try and make as much space as possible between yourself and your opposition before taking the joker lap right at the end.
The are other factors, too. Fast cars taking their joker early can result in them being stuck behind slower cars yet to take theirs; the joker adds an interesting dynamic to the short, sharp races.
Who to look out for
Petter Solberg made his return to rallycross at Lydden at the start of last season, and struggled with a car that was far from ready. He wouldn't win an event in 2013, but after a season of development, the Norwegian won the opening 2014 round in Portugal earlier this month and will be a serious contender this weekend.
Fellow Citroen driver Liam Doran had a terrible first round of the series, blighted by mechanical troubles and will be hoping that his home circuit can help him get his season back on track.
The most prepared of the teams in the championship made the final in Portugal, OlsbergsMSE drivers Andreas Bakkerud and Reinis Nittis completed the podium behind Solberg, and will have benefitted from a day's running at the Lydden Hill World RX Media launch in April.
The pair is joined in the squad by current British Touring Car Championship leader Andrew Jordan (pictured above). The former British Rallycross contender hasn't raced a rallycross car since 2008, but has impressed OlsbergsMSE team principal Andreas Eriksson in testing and knows the Lydden circuit well. The Midlander could produce the surprise of the weekend.
Double European title winner Timur Timerzyanov topped the Intermediate Classification in Portugal but was unable to make the final in his brand new Peugeot 208 T16. The Russian retired from the final at Lydden last season with a puncture and will be hoping to make amends this time around.
Unfortunately, 'permanent' World Rallycross driver Jacques Villeneuve will miss Lydden due to his Indianapolis 500 commitments. He is replaced in the Albatac Racing team by Frenchman Davy Jeanney, who finished second in the European championship last season and is capable of a top result at Lydden.
Double Lydden Hill event winner Tanner Foust, the Top Gear USA co-host, makes his first of four appearances in the championship this weekend, as he joins the Marklund Motorsport VW squad, while British champions Julian Godfrey and Ollie O'Donovan will both be hoping to upset the order at their home event.
A tasty supporting cast...
Alongside the World RX event at Lydden Hill, fans will be treated to a fantastic display of demonstration races by some of the most iconic cars from the sport. Group B was king in rallycross in the 1980s and early '90s but it has been quite some time since a specific race was held for the monster machines.
Multiple British champion Pat Doran will run the Ford RS200 in which he won the French round of the European Championship in 1992. He will be joined by Stian Hafsengen driving the famous Glomma Papp-backed E2 version of the RS200, formerly raced by the late Jan-Arthur Iversen.
Rob Gibson and namesake Lawrence will run a pair of Metro 6R4s, while Olle Arnesson will bring his Audi Quattro S1. The on-track Group B action will be complimented by a static display of more of the legendary racers.
The European Rallycross championship also joins the world series at Lydden. Supercar drivers contesting the five-round European championship will race alongside their world counterparts and score their points at the Intermediate stage of the event.
As ever, Super1600 and TouringCar will be in action, and for the first time in the UK, the single-make Supercar Lites category will feature. The four-wheel-drive spaceframe machines produce 310bhp and set lap times around a second slower than their Supercar cousins to provide action-packed racing.
Video: How Solberg won the 2014 season-opener
Event timetable Saturday May 24 Time Activity 0900 Open practice, all classes 1115 RX Heat 1 and Heat 2: all classes Heat 3: TouringCar, S1600, RX Lites Heat 4: TouringCar, S1600 Group B Exhibition 1800 Track Closed Sunday May 25 Time Activity 1030 Morning warm-up 1130 Heat 3: SuperCar Heat 4: RX Lites Semi-finals: Touring Car Semi-finals: S1600 Heat 4: SuperCar 1430 Paddock Walk and Autograph Session 1500 Semi-finals: RX Lites Final: Touring Car Group B Race & Drifting Demonstration 1600 Semi Finals: SuperCar Final: Super 1600 Final: RX Lites Final: SuperCar 1700 Podium and Trophy Presentations