WHEELER TO MAKE RALLYCROSS DEBUT
Rally driver Chris Wheeler will take on a new challenge when he makes his Rallycross debut in August. The Torquay-based youngster will swap his usual Citroen DS3 R3T for the Ford Fiesta MS1 he used to great effect until 2017 and will contest rounds of the BTRDA Clubmans Rallycross Championship, starting at Pembrey circuit in Wales on 8th / 9th August.
Wheeler will compete in the 1600cc Modified class, as his Fiesta is built to a specification that excludes him from entering the Production classes, where most first-timers start. “I am excited about the new challenge but under no illusions about being competitive first time out,” he says. “Rallycross is all about battling wheel to wheel with your rivals and some of the UK’s best drivers contest the BTRDA series. With rallying cancelled this year due to COVID-19, we looked at alternatives and Rallycross, with its quick-fire format of short races will certainly keep me on my toes.”
Motorsport UK recently gave the go-ahead for some forms of motorsport to restart under strict distancing guidelines. However, rallying is excluded due to risks associated with drivers and co-drivers sitting close together in competing cars. Wheeler originally planned to contest this year’s Protyre National Asphalt Rally Championship but has not driven competitively since lockdown began in March. “The advantage with Rallycross is that it is for drivers only, and by competing we are gaining valuable seat time. But I will definitely miss having my good friend and co-driver Shaun Layland alongside. We will probably have to wait until 2021 to renew our in-car partnership!
Writer: Ian Harden
Torquay rally driver Chris Wheeler put in a powerful performance at last weekend’s Bovington Stages Rally in Dorset, running sixth overall and outpacing a number of local expert crews until an electrical problem caused his early retirement. Despite the disappointment, he came away from Bovington confident that the raft of upgrades he made to his Citroen DS3 R3T over the winter will make his turbocharged machine extremely competitive in this year’s Motorsport UK National Asphalt Rally Championship.
The Bovington Stages, run on military land near the famous Tank Museum consisted of 80 stage miles spread over two days. Despite a treacherously wet track Wheeler pushed the Citroen to its limit from the opening stage. The upgraded machine performed superbly in the challenging conditions, with the engine’s wider powerband giving much greater speed than before, letting him slot into sixth overall and first in class, chasing multi-times Bovington Rally winner Andy Vey’s Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 4.
By stage five Wheeler was strongly positioned to take fifth overall when the Citroen suddenly stopped in-stage. Undeterred at the setback, he returned to the service area where his mechanics found a broken crankshaft sensor. With the problem fixed, he returned on Sunday and set several class-leading times in the Trophy event, for competitors who retire on day one.
At the finish, Wheeler enthused that the car had come through a testing weekend with flying colours. “The engine ECU upgrades and the larger turbo restrictor made the car more responsive, with far better acceleration and our new high-grade racing fuel made a massive difference to the engine’s smoothness. If we maintain that pace throughout the coming National Asphalt Championship season I’m sure we can be in with a shout for class honours.”
Wheeler and co-driver Shaun Layland begin their national series campaign at the North West Stages Rally in Garstang, Lancashire, on 21st / 22nd March.
Writer: Ian Harden