The first ever all electric rallycross season kicked off in 2020 in support of the World Rallycross Championship. Natalie Barratt wrote the history books by becoming the first ever champion in the shortened season.
Projekt E was first announced in April last year after a failed attempt to turn the World Rallycross Championship electric by 2021. The powertrain was made in collaboration between STARD and World RX promoter IMG. The series made the test car public in September 2019 with testing throughout the winter. A 5 round calendar was announced but this was cut back to 4 due to COVID-19. However, after the second round, the final 2 events were cancelled. This left just 2 events with just 6 drivers taking part across the 2 races. Back in August the series made its debut in Holjes, Sweden. The series attracted only 3 cars to the first round with another car joining the series in Latvia. The Ford Fiesta was the car of choice until a Citroen C3 was brought to the second round.
The Fiesta was the testing car used by STARD and won against conventionally powered Supercars on its racing debut.
The opening round saw Hoonigan racer Ken Block take the win. The opening day of action started with a bang. Block and Hermann Neubauer ran side by side into turn 1 and the pair made contact. This spun the American driver into the gravel with a second trip through to get going in the right direction. Barratt who had had a slow started jokered. She exited the joker lap and spun across the track with Block narrowly avoiding her. Neubauer was given a penalty for moving in the braking zone and spinning out his fellow Ford racer but the Austrian came back to win Q2. Block bounced back to win Q3 and Q4 to become the first top qualifying on the championship.
He followed this up in the final with a flawless drive from lights to flag. Neubauer was hot on his heals until a technical issue slowed him. Barratt used her joker to avoid the ailing driver and went on to secure second place. Block scored maximum points of 24 because the semi-finals were not run. However, Block would not return for the second round with Neubauer also absent.
Instead 3 new drivers joined the series in Latvia. Cyril Raymond gave Citroen their first ever electric race start in the adapted R5 spec car. Local driver Janis Baumanis returned to the cockpit after losing his World Rallycross drive due to budgetary issues. The pair were joined by Svein Bjarte Holten in his return to rallycross. Mads Ostberg had been set to drive the Citroen at the opening round but travel restrictions meant the Norwegian wasn’t able to attend.
Baumanis and Raymond shared the honours in qualifying on day 1 with Holten and Barratt behind. Come Sunday Raymond was able to take the advantage with a pair of victories to take top qualifier. Baumanis suffered a retirement in Q3 but made a great start in Q4 to lead the field. He wasn’t able to hold position through the joker strategy and finished 2nd in the race and in qualifying. Holten qualified 3rd ahead of Barratt with the pair having close battle throughout the 4 sessions.
Come the final it was Raymond who once again led the way. The Frenchman used pole position to hold off Baumanis through turn 1 and stretched his advantage to win and like Block, score maximum points. Baumanis was forced to settle for second while the battle for the final podium spot was intense. Barratt tried to use her joker to get past Holten but wasn’t able to leap frog him. She spent the rest of the racer on the bumper of the owner-driver but couldn’t make a pass.
After the series was officially ended Natalie Barratt was crowned champion. The female racer scored 35 points out of a possible 48. Ken Block and Cyril Raymond came joint second with 24 each. Baumanis, Neubauer and Holten finished on 20, 19 and 18 respectively after a podium finish for each. The legitimacy of Barratt’s win has been questioned by some. She was the only competitor to compete at both rounds and due to the current points system was mathematically guaranteed to win the series even with last place finishes. Even if another round had been held with similar driver numbers she would still lead the series. The European Rallycross championship was not able to crown a champion as both the Super 1600 and Supercar categories held only 2 round each. However, as Projekt E is an FIA International Series they were able to crown a champion.
2021 and Beyond
Last month World RX promoter IMG announced they would not run the series next year. This has left the main championship and its support categories hanging in the balance. A new promoter and calendar is expected to be announced later today at the FIA World Motor Sport Council. Projekt E is expected to run next year before the WRX turns electric in 2022. Both championships will use different powertrains but it is uncertain if Projekt E will continue. The current cars are only around 2-3 seconds off the pace per lap even with their limited testing. They are much cheaper though, with WRX engines being as expensive as the Projekt E cars.
Next season the RX2 series will be replaced by an electric equivalent called RX2e. Henrik Krogstad won the finale ever RX2 event to win a free round of next year’s championship. It will follow the world championship with a 6 round calendar.
Extreme E, an all-electric off road series begins in March next year. The series was set up by Formula E founder Alejandro Agag and will race at 5 locations around the world. It has already attracted a number of World Rallycross drivers including Johan Kristoffersson, Mattias Ekström and Timmy Hansen. A pair of drivers will pilot each car, with a female and male driver in each team. It shows that the future of rallycross is electric and that Natalie Barratt has become the first of many to make history.
Feature Image Credit: @ProjektESeries