Rallycross D Essay 2013 Nissan

Before YouTube, we just hadthatWRC video. Every time my high school friends got together, at some point we’d inevitably end up crowding around a PC and watching three and a half minutes of rallying set to Linkin Park. For the fiftieth time. It combined everything we loved and aspired to — masterful driving, exotic locations, and insanely-modified performance cars that looked like cool versions of our own rides. It was so good that we were willing to put up with music from a quasi-Nu Metal band fronted by a man named “Chester.”

FIA World Rallycross takes the factors that made that video connect with so many people — the jumps, the cars, the dirt and the talent — and puts them in a more intense, super-concentrated form. Instead of a course that runs for miles through a remote forest, World RX sets up in an urban center. You’re not limited to seeing your hero fly past just once, because you can watch drivers lap after lap, race after race, and watch them adapt to the circuit and fine-tune their cornering arpproaches. Dramatic wheel-to-wheel racing, open access to the paddock, and a variety of entertaining support series events make this an extremely fan-friendly form of motorsport.

When I arrived in the paddock in Trois-Rivières, Quebec, for the Canadian round of the FIA World Rallycross Championship, all the thrills from that old rally video came back. Petter Solberg! Sébastien Loeb! An RS-model Ford! Marcus Grönhom’s….son! I was surrounded by rallying greatness. There were WRC champions, tons of manufacturers, and the international prestige that an FIA World Championship carries. It struck me that this is a series on the ascent, and I was eager to soak it all in.

The cars, up-close, are fascinating machines. They’re front-engined, 2.0-liter, 600-hp AWD monsters that can reach 60 mph in less than two seconds. The radiators are in the rear to minimize being obstructed by dirt, dust, and contact. The ducts, bodywork and fender extensions look like they were done, one-off, by hand, because they were. Massive suspension travel makes it so the cars appearance changes throughout the lap: slammed low under heavy braking, and tilted back with the nose in the air under hard acceleration. The abuse that these cars endure makes their fascias rough, chipped, and pockmarked. Once the weekend begins, it doesn’t seem to matter how they look, only how they perform.

2016 FIA World Rallycross Championship @ Grand Prix de Trois-Rivieres – Photo: Kevin McCauley

2016 FIA World Rallycross Championship @ Grand Prix de Trois-Rivieres – Photo: Kevin McCauley

The event kicked off with a Friday evening driver’s parade through the center of town, where fans and curious passersby were welcome to check out all the cars and interact with drivers up close. Ford Performance brought me to Canada to get a taste of FIA World RX and to see the brand new Ford Focus RS RX in action, fresh from winning the previous two events in Europe.

In 2013, Ford Fiesta ST R/X emerged out of a collaboration between Ford Performance, M-Sport, and Ken Block’s Hoonigan Racing Division. The package was extremely competitive, and was eventually offered to other teams. Now, Fiesta R/X cars can be found in rallycross paddocks all around Europe and the world.

This year, Ford, M-Sport and Hoonigan have raised the bar higher. Whereas the Fiesta looked like a widebody, modified Fiesta with a wing, the Focus RS RX resembles something like a DTM car with ground clearance. It’s a much more complex shape, meaner, sharper, and flatter looking than anything else on the grid. Part of me wonders if this is the start of a new arms race of wild, unlimited rallycross cars from manufacturer-supported teams — time will tell.

The car’s eye-popping livery was created by street artist Felipe Pantone, and looks like nothing else in this series, or any other. The jagged black and white lines set off the key hits of fluorescent and simulated chrome. I like to think of it as a vaporwave-drenched tribute to World War I “Dazzle” camouflage.

2016 FIA World Rallycross Championship @ Grand Prix de Trois-Rivieres – Photo: Kevin McCauley

 

Based on the Focus instead of the subcompact Fiesta, the Focus RS RX has a longer wheelbase than the outgoing car, which presents advantages as well as challenges to its drivers, Ken Block and Andreas Bakkerud. Ken admits he’s had to adapt his driving style to the car, which has more stability and grip on tarmac but has less of the oversteer that he prefers. But the potential benefits, once the package is dialed in, should keep the competition awake at night. In the German Final at Hockenheim, while all the other cars drifted through the fastest tarmac corner, “I just drove around them on the outside,” Block tells me. He finished third, earning the first podium for the Focus RS RX. Block’s teammate Bakkerud followed that up by winning in Sweden and dominating his Norwegian home race, becoming the first driver to ever win in all 4 Heats, their Semi-Final and the Final in one weekend.

2016 was supposed to be a development year for the team, the first step in a three-year agreement. The car wasn’t ready until April, and since the team had precious little pre-season testing, there were some teething issues in the early rounds of the season. But as the car became more sorted, it’s shown its strength in the mid-season, and Bakkerud now sits third in the FIA World RX championship.

The GP3R circuit (short for Grand Prix de Trois-Rivières) is a semi-permanent street circuit in the center of town. It’s less than a mile in length, with a mix of 59% asphalt to 41% dirt, and has the longest straightaway on the FIA World RX calendar. Fans are intimately close to most of the action, and if you’re fortunate enough to have photo access, you can get even closer.

I was set up outside the turn 9 and 10 double-apex sequence when I first saw the cars on track Saturday morning. Peering through my lens, I must have flinched and stepped back the first fifteen times a car came around. They were so close, sliding towards me and drifting past the barrier where I stood. You hear it, and then a storm of furious energy and tire-squealing comes from around the corner. You’re close enough see the driver’s eyes, focused sharply on the next corner ahead.

It was here that I observed the differences to how the drivers approached the corner, how the cars handled differently, and which setups were working or not working. One car after another clipped the apex in Turn 9, crunching over a sharp grade change in the pavement, forcing the left-front of the car into the ground under extreme suspension compression. And then Sébastien Loeb’s Peugeot 208 WRX came through the corner. He was already sideways as he entered Turn 9, as if the nose was already pointed to enter Turn 10. He slid just outside the grade chnage, unaffected —  the car stayed flat through the entire arc. It was beautiful. In the next running group, more drivers picked this up, and the precision of the oversteer from Petter Holberg’s line in his Citroën DS3 was even more spectacular, and more sideways.

In what other form of racing can you clearly see the drivers working like this? Sports cars and formula car drivers are trained to perform like metronomes. Rallycross drivers manage chaos. It was even more spectacular during the Heats and races on Sunday, when three or four cars would manage this same corner sequence nose-to-tail.

The weekend opens with some practice sessions, and then there are four Qualifying Heats, with five cars in each Heat. The low car count keeps the competition tight, and makes it possible to race on dirt — any more cars, and two-thirds of the grid wouldn’t be able to see in front of them. The quickest drivers in the Heats move on to two Semi-Finals, where the quickest three in each of those races moves to a six-car Final showdown on Sunday. The races all start from a standing start, arranged side-by side. During each Qualifying Heat and race, the drivers must take a “Joker Lap” once in the race, which is a longer corner in the dirt section.

I won’t presume to know why the rules are organized the way they are, but I think the idea is to get a lot of cars on track, in a lot of different sessions throughout the entire weekend, so there are plenty of chances to see wheel-to-wheel action from the top-level Supercar class.

In between the top-level World RX Supercars heats and races, there are supporting events during the day. The RX Supercar Lites are 310hp, mid-engined Fiestas that offer up-and-coming drivers a place to compete. Formula Drift Canada put on an exciting show that was a thrill to photograph. And Supercross bikes utilized special dirt-jump section in the middle of the course.

Over the course of two days of running, Drivers may radically change their lines through some corners and they build familiarly and as track conditions change. Asphalt gets rubbered in and dirt and dust gets dispersed further throughout the circuit. That corner sequence that I shot from on Saturday became a lot dustier on Sunday, and passing cars shot dirt and debris towards all the crews lining up for pre-grid at the next race.

Shooting the action on the dirt was the best. They approached over the hill, you took your shots, and than ducked behind the well as the dirt, rocks and dust flew over you. Since the track is less than a mile in length, it wasn’t long before they were back on the next lap (the quickest lap time of the weekend was just over 0:47 seconds). A local Québécois photographer I spoke with told me that at this event last year, a rock managed to hit the glass on his lens, which did $600 in damage. Racing Is Dangerous, as they say, and there’s few places you can stand where that’s more clear!

Petter Solberg put on a dominating performance throughout the Qualifying Heats and his Semi-Final, but struggled in the Final. In the end, Timmy Hanson took victory in the Peugeot 208 WRX, with Andreas Bakkerud’s Ford Focus RS RX picking up second place.

The FIA World RX season resumes for the seventh round in Lohéac, France on September 3-4. I will definitely be tuning in, and I’ll probably recommend that a few of my friends from high school watch it, too.

Ford Performance flew us out to attend the event and get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of FIA World Rallycross and the Ford Performance Team

FIA   Ford   Hoonigan   World Rallycross

2016 FIA World Rallycross Championship @ Grand Prix de Trois-Rivieres – Photo: Kevin McCauley

2016 FIA World Rallycross Championship @ Grand Prix de Trois-Rivieres – Photo: Kevin McCauley

2016 FIA World Rallycross Championship @ Grand Prix de Trois-Rivieres – Photo: Kevin McCauley

2016 FIA World Rallycross Championship @ Grand Prix de Trois-Rivieres – Photo: Kevin McCauley

2016 FIA World Rallycross Championship @ Grand Prix de Trois-Rivieres – Photo: Kevin McCauley

2016 FIA World Rallycross Championship @ Grand Prix de Trois-Rivieres – Photo: Kevin McCauley

2016 FIA World Rallycross Championship @ Grand Prix de Trois-Rivieres – Photo: Kevin McCauley

2016 FIA World Rallycross Championship @ Grand Prix de Trois-Rivieres – Photo: Kevin McCauley

2016 FIA World Rallycross Championship @ Grand Prix de Trois-Rivieres – Photo: Kevin McCauley

2016 FIA World Rallycross Championship @ Grand Prix de Trois-Rivieres – Photo: Kevin McCauley

2016 FIA World Rallycross Championship @ Grand Prix de Trois-Rivieres – Photo: Kevin McCauley

2016 FIA World Rallycross Championship @ Grand Prix de Trois-Rivieres – Photo: Kevin McCauley

2016 FIA World Rallycross Championship @ Grand Prix de Trois-Rivieres – Photo: Kevin McCauley

2016 FIA World Rallycross Championship @ Grand Prix de Trois-Rivieres – Photo: Kevin McCauley

2016 FIA World Rallycross Championship @ Grand Prix de Trois-Rivieres – Photo: Kevin McCauley

2016 FIA World Rallycross Championship @ Grand Prix de Trois-Rivieres – Photo: Kevin McCauley

2016 FIA World Rallycross Championship @ Grand Prix de Trois-Rivieres – Photo: Kevin McCauley

2016 FIA World Rallycross Championship @ Grand Prix de Trois-Rivieres – Photo: Kevin McCauley

2016 FIA World Rallycross Championship @ Grand Prix de Trois-Rivieres – Photo: Kevin McCauley

2016 FIA World Rallycross Championship @ Grand Prix de Trois-Rivieres – Photo: Kevin McCauley

2016 FIA World Rallycross Championship @ Grand Prix de Trois-Rivieres – Photo: Kevin McCauley

2016 FIA World Rallycross Championship @ Grand Prix de Trois-Rivieres – Photo: Kevin McCauley

2016 FIA World Rallycross Championship @ Grand Prix de Trois-Rivieres – Photo: Kevin McCauley

2016 FIA World Rallycross Championship @ Grand Prix de Trois-Rivieres – Photo: Kevin McCauley

2016 FIA World Rallycross Championship @ Grand Prix de Trois-Rivieres – Photo: Kevin McCauley

2016 FIA World Rallycross Championship @ Grand Prix de Trois-Rivieres – Photo: Kevin McCauley

2016 FIA World Rallycross Championship @ Grand Prix de Trois-Rivieres – Photo: Kevin McCauley

2016 FIA World Rallycross Championship @ Grand Prix de Trois-Rivieres – Photo: Kevin McCauley

The quirky little 2013 Nissan Juke NISMO is more fun than any vehicle has a right to be. Although Nissan markets this sport hatch crossover as a street racing rally machine, it’s real fun factor comes in when you take it into the dirt.

Specs:

  • Manufacturer: Nissan
  • Year, Model: 2013 Juke NISMO AWD
  • Class: Sport crossover
  • Powertrain: 1.6L DI 4-cylinder, 197 hp, 184 lb-ft
  • Base Price: $22,990
  • MSRP as tested: $27,710
  • Availability: Now

Overview

The Juke is one of those vehicles that people either love or hate. I happen to really like the way the Juke looks and its quirky and endearing ways. My wife has the opposite thought, calling it “ugly.”  The Nissan Juke falls into that class of vehicle I call “Michael Jackson rides” because you either love ’em or hate ’em. Just like Mike.

The Juke NISMO is marketed as the sport-tuned, racing version of the little Nissan Juke. It debuted this year and turned heads, mainly because a hand-made “supercar” version of the Juke is available as the Juke R (selling for $650,000) and many automotive enthusiasts thought this would be a toned down version of that. Instead, it’s something very different.

Many of those have accused the Juke NISMO of being nothing more than a lame sport badge with nothing substantial added. The market reality is, people will not pay large sums of money for a vehicle like the Juke, so Nissan had to make choices. I think they made the right ones.

NISMO upgrades

The standard Juke is powered by a 1.6-liter, direct-injected, four-cylinder engine with respectable power output (188 horses) coupled to Nissan’s excellent continuously variable transmission (CVT). The platform the Juke is based on is Nissan’s B-series and is the global format several of the company’s high-selling vehicles are based upon. Given the Juke’s diminutive size and the engine’s high output, it has a great power-to-weight ratio.

For the NISMO package, 9 more horses were added and aerodynamic improvements plus a stiffer, sportier suspension were put on. This lowered the Juke’s clearance by about an inch and a half, but meant better road-hugging and a little more power under the hood to make up for the losses the aerodynamic down-force additions caused. The CVT was also tuned for a new Sport Mode to give it a more powerful feel while the steering (electric-assist) was given a little more resistance to make the driver feel more in control. Other improvements include the beautiful sport seating, leather-ish and swede additions to the interior, special NISMO packaging and aesthetic details, and a larger rear spoiler.

Compared to the standard Juke with the CVT and all-wheel drive package, the 2013 Juke NISMO AWD package looks, feels, and drives with more sport. The red accents on the outer body and interior are well-done rather than annoying (red has a way of hitting you in the eyeball if not well-placed) and the feel behind the wheel is definitely more sport-tuned. Whether or not this pans out in reality with better 0-60 times or higher speeds is actually irrelevant, in context. The idea wasn’t to make the car actually track-ready – it’s a crossover and no matter what you do, you will never make a crossover do well on the track – but was instead to make the Juke feel like it is track ready. Nissan hit that nail straight on the head.

The Mis-marketed Juke NISMO

Because they do not have an official company team racing offroad,Nissan couldn’t go the next step with their marketing of the Juke NISMO and call it what it really is: a dirt course rally champ. I honestly cannot name a factory stock vehicle I have had more fun in on the dirt track than the Juke NISMO. The only thing to come close was the Juke without the NISMO package.

Obviously, the 2013 Juke NISMO is not a go-anywhere offroad ride like the Nissan Frontier Pro4X or the Subaru Forester. It is, however, really, really good at dirt track speeding.

In the AWD package, it offers three options. The 2WD (front-wheel drive) offers fuel economy for everyday driving and allows the Juke NISMO to retain the standard Juke’s 27 mpg average (25 mpg city, 30 mpg highway). As an everyday driver, the 2013 Juke NISMO is both fun and utilitarian. It has enough usefulness in the hatchback build to make it practical, but the small size, extreme maneuverability, and its quirky nature keep it fun.

The other two options are AWD-v and AWD. In AWD-vectored, the power is split evenly at 50:50 front-to-rear. In adverse weather or muddy offroad conditions, this is a decent option if you prefer control over driving options (AWD-v will make handbrake turns nearly impossible, for example). It’s a good spot for everday driving in weather. The forced AWD option allows you to switch off traction control and other things as you see fit and dynamically distributes the power to the wheels as required. When in Sport Mode driving for fun, this is the way to go if you’re in the dirt. In brake turns and power slides, it will stop sending power to the rear when the wheels are locked and on hills and corners, it will move power to the forward or outside to improve control and performance.

Sport vs Normal for Speed

In speed testing the 2013 Nissan Juke NISMO, I did my usual duo of freeway on-ramp and quarter mile runs. In Sport Mode, my three-run average up the ramp was merging at 90 miles per hour even. In Normal Model, three runs averaged 92 mph on the merge. The difference is in the shifting.

The CVT in Sport Mode will fake gearing to give the feel of a sports car accelerating. This makes sense, given the audience the Juke NISMO is aiming for, but for someone like myself who understands the strengths of a CVT, it’s distracting. The CVT in Normal Mode acts as it should, maximizing torque and horsepower at all times, which gives an edge (at least for me) on speed.

Quarter mile times were tested in the same way in both modes, with both averaging within a MPH of each other at 91 and 92 respectively.

Inside the 2013 Juke NISMO

The interior of the Juke is roomier than would be expected when viewing it from the outside. While barely seating four (the rear bench is best suited for small people or car seats), it is very comfortable in the front and has far more cargo space than most would think.

In the NISMO package, the front buckets are a sport bucket design with big side bolsters that hug the body securely, but which retain a high level of comfort. This creates some of the best seats I’ve ever witnessed and even my cynical wife said they were almost as good as those we’d had in the 2013 Nissan Altima earlier this year. In this segment or class of vehicle, you will not find better seating.

The interior for the NISMO package also sports some beautiful use of suede on the doors, steering wheel, and seat bolsters. Red stitching, a red stripe at the top of the steering wheel, a red-faced tachometer, and other NISMO-specific details are also found throughout the cabin. Otherwise, the layout is the same as the standard 2013 Juke with a nice mixture of storage, ergonomics, and control layout.

The rear seats fold to create even more cargo space, as needed, and the four door layout means easier access to the rear, though from the outside, many assume the Juke to be a two-door.

Finally, the optional, but highly recommended Rockford Fosgate ecoPUNCH premium audio system is phenomenal.

Competition

It’s hard to place competition on the Juke, let alone the NISMO package. The Toyota Matrix and Mini Countryman are probably the nearest, but the Juke is a decidedly singular vehicle that doesn’t really fit in any specific class. In the NISMO package, it definitely stands alone.

Strong Points

  • Nothing but fun in this package, the 2013 Nissan Juke NISMO is a good time on four wheels.
  • Rally racing happiness with good fuel economy and everyday versatility.

Weaknesses

  • Not everyone likes the look of the Juke.
  • A little pricey for the NISMO upgrades.

Conclusions

The number one thing to remember about the 2013 Nissan Juke NISMO is that it’s fun. Oodles of it. So much fun that you might have to stop occasionally to take a breather. Whatever you do when you drive one, make sure it involves dirt roads. This is where the Juke NISMO really shows its personality.

Test Period Length and Limitations
Vehicle was driven on the race track at a press event over the summer and again as a press loan from the manufacturer for a week. The Juke NISMO was driven both on and offroad, on highways, freeway, and in town for a total of nearly 400 miles over the week-long loan.

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