Marcus Gronholm's Olsbergs' Ford Fiesta was the "In Focus" star of of the September 2012 issue of RACER. (Rick Graves photo)
Andreas Eriksson runs Olsbergs MSE, the Swedish company whose American arm is based in Huntington Beach, Calif., and runs the five front-running Ford Fiestas in Global Rallycross. He's also created a proposal for Super Car Lites, a 320hp feeder formula into GRC. And unlike many motorsports people with strong engineering backgrounds, he's not afraid to admit that in rallycross, the cars are not necessarily the stars: it's about drivers.
RACER: What is the appeal of Global Rallycross, and is it especially important to attract attention while the World Rally Championship is going through traumatic and uncertain times?
AE: I don't want to say that one branch of the sport can replace another, but I do believe rallycross does combine the best bits of other branches of the sport. To get to Formula 1 today, the road is very hard and also very expensive, and so many people don't reach it because it not only requires talent and money but also things like you need to be the right size! It's like trying to be a supermodel: there are many gorgeous girls out there but there aren't many that get to be models and real stars.
Rally is tradition and I think rally will be with us forever; but I think it will need to go back to what it once was, where it was always an adventure, a big journey, and the teams and drivers found it really tricky. There is an image problem, and to improve your image you need to create stars, and to create stars, you need people following it. You can't create stars in World Rally because people don't follow it as much as they did. Sebastien Loeb is the biggest name but he's not a huge star – not like the stars of rallying in the '80s or '90s. But in my eyes, rally drivers are the best in the world when it comes to combining skills.
Now, on the American side, you have the IndyCar guys, the NASCAR guys, the off-road truck guys, motorcycle riders and then also regular rally drivers, and what GRC can do is take all these guys and put them together and see who's the best. That can make rallycross big. Another important thing is that rallycross is a sport where you can show all of a driver's skills, not just one element. You can be a really good driver just because you think and analyze. You can be a really good driver because you're extremely fast on asphalt and you know the lines and you're consistent. You can be a really good driver because you're extremely fast on gravel. Rallycross combines these demands.
R: How significant is manufacturer support for this as the globalization of brands – Ford is a prime example – means the Focus and Fiesta are being heavily pushed here as people downsize on engines and cars?
AE: It is very significant, and I am surprised it has taken this long for small cars to really catch on in this country, because the internet has helped people understand life all around the globe. For Ford and all manufacturers, taking part in motorsports is all about selling cars. The truth is that there are no bad cars on sale today, so to influence people's purchase requires brand awareness. Ford recognizes this, and recognizes that it needs star drivers to help them with that. Well, to get stars, you need to be involved in a sport that creates stars. Rallycross has been going 45 years, but now its evolution is catching up with the commercial demands of the auto industry as a whole. In four or five years, it will be really interesting to see where we are.
R: How much coverage is GRC getting in Europe?
AE: When we do anything with Marcus Gronholm, it gets more coverage than World Rally! Higher than DTM, higher than anything except Formula 1, I think. So having European stars is important. They write about Ken Block quite a bit because they know about him and his videos and WRC efforts. I would say every motorsport media outlet knows about GRC, and the X Games really caught on, too. I took Tanner Foust to Europe and he did well and showed the European drivers that Americans can drive, and now they want to come and beat him on his home ground. So there are some big names – manufacturers and drivers – who are going to be coming in the next year or two years. And now the FIA has approved for IMG to be the promoter of rallycross, the FIA Rallycross championship will replace the European Rallycross, and the idea is for it to become a world championship status. To be honest, that has come one year earlier than I thought. That's how big the enthusiasm for rallycross is.
R: And are you satisfied with the entertainment factor within GRC?
AE: Well, there is always room for improvement in any sport. But I want to say that this is the closest to Group B rally cars that you can come. I want to recreate the Group B era but in controlled form on the track. And you can create really great tracks; if you have enough room, you can have cars that can slide 1,000ft without problem. I know what people love to see because it is what I love, too!
R: What do you think should be GRC's priorities now?
AE: I think we need one IndyCar driver to prove the series' reach; we need one NASCAR driver for the same reason. I think we need a winter series where people can test drive and get some feeling for it and then we also need the young guys coming up. GRC needs good drivers; not just drivers with a big name. The defining quality for success is not the best cars but the best drivers. I know Petter Solberg, for example, and I think he would be good for the series – he's very fast, he's a showman. The rally guys who are ending their careers are big names and they help the profile of the championship, no question, but we also need the young guys starting their careers. If we get that mix, then we're looking good.
Next page: Inside the new Super Car Lites class.