There are already some increasingly successful electric-only motorsports, with Formula E and Extreme E the highest profile. But so far very few have swapped over from petrol to electric, and none of the main FIA-accredited series. That has now changed as World Rallycross has become the first to make the leap, with its initial race last weekend in Hell, Norway. WhichEV went to Hell to see just how hot this new electric racing really is.
Although rallycross was invented by someone from the British ITV channel in 1967 to lure television audiences, it has found its spiritual home in Scandinavia. It’s a hybrid motorsport that is part rally, part track – hence the name. The circuits have slippery gravel portions and tarmac sections. So drivers need to be skilled in both surfaces, and most of the best drivers are from Scandinavia. That makes it particularly fitting that the first ever main series electric World RX race would take place in Norway, where people have really loved the sport for years.
World Rallycross, or World RX as it’s known, has been an FIA-accredited motorsport since 2014. It is now promoted by a joint venture between Red Bull and KW25 but was previously with IMG Motorsport until 2020. There were plans to go electric back in 2018, but the change in promotor delayed this until this year. The details around this chain of events are hazy and seem rather political, but they appear to be in the past now as World RX has taken its main series electric with no plans on going back to fossil fuel ever again.
However, unlike non-FIA-accredited rallycross series Nitro RX, World RX decided to retrofit its existing cars with EV powertrains. Some rallycross enthusiasts have criticised this decision, but it has enabled the manufacturers to use existing chassis that they are used to, meaning only the powertrain will be new. The drivers also find handling similarities, although rallycross drivers tend to race in multiple series during the season so experience a range of car types – and some also race in Extreme E.
The powertrain is shared between all cars, however, and comes from Kreisel, which also provides the powertrains for X-Shore’s electric powerboats. The World RX Kreisel powertrain for the new RX1e cars combines a 52.65kWh battery and 500kW (680bhp) motor driving all four wheels, delivering 880Nm of torque. These are monster figures, although the Nitro RX car goes even further with 1,070 bhp. The RX1e’s batteries are cooled with dielectric (non-conducting) fluid flowing across the individual cells. This allows the system to deliver the most electric power across the entire power range, and there are conditioners in the pit-lane garages to optimise performance. World RX claims the packs will last at least four years of heavy racing thanks to the thermal management.
Performance figures are incredible, with World RX claiming a 0-62mph sprint of under two seconds, making these cars much quicker than any World RX car previously. They are a little heavier, but still only weigh 1,330kg. That’s only 30kg more than the 2019 World RX petrol car. The latter had 552bhp and 850Nm of torque, but the power doesn’t come fully in until you hit 6,000rpm, whereas the RX1e will deliver all its power and torque immediately. It also has a lower centre of gravity, which will mean less body roll in the corners.
There are still petrol World RX series called Euro RX1 (2,000cc) and Euro RX3 (1,600cc). These raced in different sessions at the Hell track. World RX has also had an electric series for a couple of years already called RX2e, which will continue. This uses a 30kWh battery and 250kW (335bhp) motor with 510Nm of torque and is also all-wheel-drive. This year’s RX2e series was notable for including Norwegian skier Aksel Lund Svindal, with two Olympic gold medals to his name and five World Championship golds. He is considered the best Norwegian alpine skier ever and is now hoping to mirror that success in rallycross.
For our video, we talked to Arne Dirks, Executive Director of FIA World Rallycross, about the journey to electrification and where it would be heading in the future. We discovered details about the powertrain from Kreisel’s Alexander Karr. We also learned what handling these monster electric cars is like from the drivers themselves, including Timmy Hansen (who also drives for the Andretti Extreme E team), Ole Chrisian Veiby (World Rally Championship driver since 2014) and Klara Andersson (a 22-year-old who has been racing since aged seven). Andersson is particularly notable because she is the first woman to have a permanent team seat in World RX’s top series.
Electric World RX is just starting out, and still has a few teething problems. The series was supposed to begin in Höljes, Sweden in early July, but the cars weren’t ready. Nevertheless, drivers tested the prototypes and one even beat the track record. So there is plenty of promise for the new electric World RX to be faster than ever before. It’s the perfect series to showcase EVs, because the races are short (just five laps) so BEV range won’t even enter the picture, and the racing style benefits from power and torque, which electric cars have in spades. We can’t wait to see how it develops.