Friday Video | Even closer to the edge – Ken Block’s Climbkhana

What’s the best way to tackle the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb? With a 1,400hp twin-turbocharged Ford Mustang, obviously.  
KB Climbkhana (C) Hoonigan Racing

ESM doesn’t quite know what to make of Ken Block. Here’s clearly an immensely talented driver, and proficient businessman, yet success in top-level motorsport has eluded him.

Maybe it doesn’t matter. He’s built up an empire from DC Shoes, and created a number of toys to play with, like the latest Hoonicorn V2 Mustang.

In his latest video in the Gymkhana series, Block reenacts the epic Climb Dance short film created in 1988. In it, legendary WRC driver Ari Vatanen set a new record at Pikes Peak, when the course was still predominantly loose dirt and gravel.

Kenny B had the benefit of Pikes Peak being paved all the way to the top, but that doesn’t stop it still being an epic drive. Climbing some 4,720ft along a track measuring over 12 miles, Pikes Peak requires skill and concentration to master. Oh, and bravery, for when you get a little too close to the edge:

Is it more dramatic than the record-setting run by Sébastien Loeb in 2013? Undoubtedly. Is it as achingly cool as Ari Vatanen’s 1988 effort? Hmmm, we’ll let you be the judge of that…

Image: (C) Hoonigan Racing

Editorial | Volkswagen to end World Rally Championship commitment

Another week, another Volkswagen Group motorsport project gets canned. After the end of Audi’s Le Mans campaign, now comes the closure of VW’s highly successful rally programme. ESM’s Editor reflects.


Just three days after winning the 2016 Rally GB, along with more World Championship titles, Volkswagen officially that there will be no 2017 WRC campaign. The official reason is that the brand must ‘realign’ priorities in the face of enormous challenges. Whilst the statement from Volkswagen is at pains to avoid any reference to last year’s emissions scandal, this is clearly a knock-on effect from dieselgate.

With litigation and product recalls requiring Volkswagen to set aside billions of euros, continuing an expensive motorsport campaign in the WRC becomes a difficult thing to justify. In addition, it may well be that the Volkswagen brand wants to keep a low profile until the fall-out from dieselgate is completely sorted. It’s worth noting that VW-branded cars didn’t appear in this year’s latest Forza Horizon 3 game on the Microsoft Xbox, due to undisclosed licensing issues. Having been paraded through the global media as a cheat, perhaps Volkswagen wants to avoid rubbing noses in the dirt. Literally.


What’s more depressing is that Volkswagen Motorsport’s campaign with the Polo R WRC has been nothing short of flawless. From entering in 2013, to now, Volkswagen has taken 42 rally wins from 51 entries – that’s more than 83%! It means the Polo R WRC has notched up four drivers’ titles with Sébastien Ogier, four co-drivers’ titles with Julien Ingrassia, and four Manufacturers’ championships. Whilst cynics and critics will point to contemporary WRC being at its lowest ebb in generations – they’re not wrong – it’s still an amazing performance.


Opinion – Should we get that excited about the 2017 WRC Polo?

With changes afoot for the 2017 World Rally Championship, why is EngageSportMode’s editor failing to get excited about the prospect of a 380hp Polo?

2017 Volkswagen Polo R WRC Concept

Here’s the deal. I’ve owned five different Volkswagen Polos in 14 years, including an R-Line and two different GTI versions. As such, it’s fair to say I’m something of a fan of VW’s supermini offering. I’ve also been into rallying since I was – to engage James May mode – a small boy, and have been mightily impressed with Volkswagen Motorsport’s complete domination of the WRC for the past three years. So why on earth am I not excited and entranced by the 2017 Polo WRC Concept show above?

The press release details should be whetting my appetite, even if the artwork rendering isn’t. The promise of more power – up to 380hp – in a lighter, wider, more extravagant body should be welcome news to any petrolhead. They’ll even be allowed to use an electronic centre differential to control the transmission of power, and the overall aim is to make the cars far more spectacular than before. With huge spoilers, flared arches and a ginormous rear wing the promise is certainly there. But what does that mean for us mere mortals who have to drive normal roads cars, and don’t get to play with WRC machinery? Probably very little. (more…)

EngageSportMode Awards 2015 – Part Two

The EngageSportMode.com Awards for 2015 continues. No, we still don’t care that it’s now 2016, so just sit back and read which people and things caught our attention over the preceding twelve months. If you need it, you can find part one here.

2015 Awards p2

Person of the year – Max Verstappen
Max Verstappen 2015

You don’t need EngageSportMode to tell you that Formula 1 in 2015 was a pretty dire affair. Whether it was the comically tragic debacle of McLaren-Honda, the constant money worries for Lotus, or Lewis Hamilton wrapping up the title virtually unchallenged, there was little to be positive about. Apart from one young Dutchman in his debut season. Yes, Max Verstappen was by far and away our highlight of F1 in 2015.

Having a father like Jos Verstappen clearly helps, and it meant the rookie Toro Rosso driver wasn’t flung blind into the F1 arena. He topped the list of most overtakes in a season, making some quite astounding manoeuvres to pass 49 cars in total. For comparison, the driver average was just 26.8 passes. His only major mistake came at Monaco when he tangled with Romain Grosjean, but rare is the young driver who manages perfection throughout an entire season.

At ESM we hope Max manages to maintain the same momentum in 2016, as he clearly has a huge amount of raw talent. Whilst saying he is a potential championship winner might be a little too hasty, with his youth and the correct management, there’s no reason why he couldn’t do it one day. Providing the Red Bull driver programme doesn’t spit him out the other end with no seat, as has happened to others before.

(C) Ferrari Media

We also had to tip our hat to a previous winner of this award: Sebastian Vettel. Having suffered a torrid 2014 at Red Bull, the four-time World Champion joined Ferrari and instantly seemed revitalised. Taking three wins and a host of other podium finishes, he outshone teammate Kimi Räikkönen substantially, whilst also looking to be actually enjoying himself again.

Honourable mention – Sebastian Vettel

BTCC Driver of the year – Matt Neal (chosen by ESM’s BTCC Correspondent)
BTCC 2015 Snetterton

ESM’s BTCC driver of the year is, once again, not an easy decision or clear-cut. There were many stand-out drives over the season that caught the eye, but consistency was naturally the key. Drivers deserving a place on the shortlist include Josh Cook, with a staggering 22 JST wins out of 30, and Tom Ingram. Both had outright podiums of their own including a brace of seconds for Ingram. Despite their final championship standing only being 2 places apart, Ingram scored significantly more points so you would favour him as ‘young gun’ of the year, although he doesn’t claim driver of the year. (more…)

WRC – Second generation Hyundai i20 rally car is here

Although the World Rally Championship has already finished for 2015, Hyundai have got the jump on their rivals by showing off their new 2016 car now. 

2016 Hyundai i20 WRCWe were always a little unsure as to why Hyundai began its second attempt at the WRC using a car based on the first-generation i20 model. Credit must be given to the original version though, as it allowed the team to battle for second place in the Manufacturers Championship all the way until the final round this year. The 2016 season kicks off at the Monte Carlo Rally in just six weeks, and the three-car Hyundai Motorsport squad should be in a strong position, having completed some 8,000km testing with the new machine this year.

As much as EngageSportMode is a fan of the Volkswagen Polo, and the all-conquerieng dominance of WRC by it for the past three seasons, it would be good to see the Germans have a real challenger. Plus, with Citroën withdrawing factory support for the DS3 WRC, Hyundai should be able to sew up second place, at least. (more…)

Friday Photo – Colin McRae 20 years ago

Right now the cars competing in the 2015 Wales Rally GB are probably somewhere around Special Stage 3. But on this Friday Photo we’re looking back to the final round of the World Rally Championship two decades ago.

World © LAT Photographic

Back in 1995 rallying was teetering on the edges of still being an endurance motorsport, with the Network Q RAC Rally covering some 317 competitive stage miles that year. It followed a route that ran from Chester, to Leeds, up into the Scottish Borders and then back down to Wales; a total distance of almost 1,500 miles across four days. Compare that to the 192 stage miles that the Wales Rally GB will cover this year.


More importantly, the 1995 RAC Rally saw Colin McRae battle teammate Carlos Sainz to take victory and with it claim the World Rally Championship. It was the only time McRae would ever win the title, although he would finish runner-up on three other occasions. But it wasn’t just winning the Championship, but doing it in the UK, in a straight fight with twice World Champion Sainz that made it even more special. Throughout his career McRae was susceptible to throwing away victories from pushing too hard but, somehow, he managed not to that year.


Hyundai’s New Generation i20 WRC Car – Now due 2016

Although Hyundai has only been in the World Rally Championship with the i20 since last year, there’s already a new version on the way. It just might be a little later than planned.

2016 Hyundai i20 WRC 001It did seem somewhat strange that Hyundai would introduce a rally version of a car already nearing the end of its production lifespan. However, it’s safe to bet that Hyundai Motorsport intended to use the old i20 as a development car for the new version. Such development is taking a little longer than expected though – the team had wanted to debut the new car this year, but Monte Carlo 2016 now seems the likely date.

2016 Hyundai i20 WRC 002

Recent testing undertaken in Spain. Yes, it does snow in Spain.

But we do have initial pictures of the new i20 WRC car and, interestingly, they’ve gone for the five-door version. Although not quite as sexy as the three-door ‘coupé’ version, we imagine the five-door must have higher torsional rigidity. Or rally drivers just prefer the extra practicality for their shopping. Who knows.


Friday Photo – Toyota Yaris WRC

Yes, we know last week’s Friday Photo was a WRC car too, but this is an exciting new one. So here you are; Toyota’s return to the World Rally Championship with the Yaris supermini. Toyota Yaris WRC 001Don’t get too excited just yet; it’ll be another two years until the Yaris WRC officially hits the dirt in the 2017 World Rally Championship. For now, the excitement is purely the official announcement that one of the sports most successful manufacturers is making a comeback, having been absent since 1999. In fact, just to remind us all of how long it’s been, Toyota even included a photo of the new Yaris WRC car next to its forefather; the championship winning Corolla WRC:

Toyota Yaris WRC 002

Perhaps most striking is how big a modern supermini is, compared to a family hatch from 16 years ago.

The specifications are, of course, WRC standard with a 300 bhp 1.6 litre turbocharged engine powering all four wheels, via a sequential gearbox. Built in Germany by Toyota Motorsport Gmbh – who currently prepare the TS040 Hybrid sportscar racers – the Cologne workshops are also the place which services the Lexus LFA supercar too. As such, there’s no doubt that Toyota’s preparation for 2017 will be anything but meticulous. A number of European rally rounds will be entered in the coming two years, with Eric Camilli and Sebastien Lindholm being joined by Stéphane Sarrazin on driving duties.


Friday Photo – 2015 Volkswagen Polo R WRC in action

By the time you read this, the 2015 Rallye Monte Carlo will already be under way, with the cars somewhere in Special Stage 5 right now. After two years of dominance, Volkswagen decided to refresh the conquering Polo R WRC with a new colour scheme. Here are the photos of it in action on shakedown for the Monte earlier this week:

2015 VW Polo R WRC 001

After two years of white, blue and silver, the change to a darker colour palette makes the Polo R WRC look even more aggressive than it already was. The Red Bull sponsorship is also a lot more obvious than before, and there’s no mistaking what Volkswagen model it is with the huge ‘Polo’ emblem in the front air intake! It’s also noticeable that Volkswagen Motorsport has dropped the prominent ‘R’ branding from the car. Perhaps they’ve become sick of people, like ESM, asking why there’s no true AWD Polo R street version being made!

Either way, it’s still a very good-looking WRC car. Can Volkswagen make it three successful years in a row? We’ll just have to see!

Friday Photo – Skoda Motorsport Fabia R5 Concept

Skoda has developed a successful reputation in rallying, stretching back to the days of the Felicia and rear-engined 130RS, but also more recently with the Fabia Super 2000 car. Here’s their latest offering based on the third generation supermini. 

SKODA Fabia R5 Concept Car 001

At this year’s Essen Motor Show, Skoda is displaying the concept version of the R5 version of the new Fabia; the replacement for the old-generation S2000 car.

SKODA Fabia R5 Concept Car 003

Set to be homologated by mid-2015, the R5 uses a 1.6 litre turbocharged engine and five-speed gearbox, and weighs in at the required 1,230 kgs. Skoda Motorsport expects big demand for the new Fabia R5, given the prodigious level of success enjoyed by the S2000 model; winning nine championships around the world in 2014 alone!