Countdown to WRX of Spain (CEST)

27 Feb 2013

PR: Rafael Lobato

Category: Press Releases Posted 27.02.13 19:41 by

Rafael Lobato, a 15 years old Rallycross driver from Portugal, wrote up what he experienced during his JRX test drive weekend at Lydden in England.


At last, here I am to tell you my friends how my experience with the JRX car went on the FIA European Rallycross Championship Official Test event, which took place last Friday at Lydden Hill Race Circuit in the south of England.

This last week had been a complete frenzy as I spent the entire Tuesday at Lisbon on an event organized by Autosport, the most prestigious motorsport magazine in Portugal, where I was awarded the “Most Promising Young Driver” in 2012. At the same time I got the invitation to travel to England to test the JRX car and only on Thursday evening we had everything ready for the trip.

I must confess being a bit nervous and excited to meet some of the big Rallycross stars and share the track with them. Ok, I must admit that having to fly to London also kept me very awaked the previous nights, LOL! As for the test I just wanted to drive the car and see how it handled because I knew it was quite different from anything I drove before. There was no pressure to get any results or to show any lap times. Most of all I wanted to enjoy myself assess both my capabilities and the car alike and find out if the JRX was what I was looking for.

Once at London airport, both I and my father still had 150kms ahead of us before getting to the circuit where we arrived at 11 AM, the time scheduled for the event to start. The car trip to the track was one of the most stressing moments of the entire day due to the constant attention needed in order to avoid driving the car on the for me wrong side of the road and cause a collision with the upcoming traffic.

After arriving at the circuit we met the JRX team and went to the Monster Energy tent, main sponsor of this championship, to get the necessary documentation and administrative checks. With an outside temperature of 0 ºC, a strong wind that made it feel like it were maybe -5 ºC and snow falling from time to time, the heated tent was the most inviting place to be at Lydden Hill.

Outside we could see all the Monster Energy logistics that will be present at every championship round with his entire party environment, full of animation, music and beautiful girls, and some of the Super1600s and SuperCars for the 2013 season. Some absences were noticed due to illness of the drivers or because the teams were still building some of the cars.

Shortly after the welcoming speech by IMG representative and the driver lineup presentation for next season, it was my time to get behind the JRX’s wheel and listen to one of the team’s engineers explaining the controls and some mechanical features of the car. It was my first time driving a 4×4 car and using the sequential gearbox, but felt no problems with those. More complicated was the steering wheel requiring a big effort to use at low speed or when parking the car in the team’s tent. The steering is direct and has no power assistance so I was given a wonderful gym session completely free at Lydden Hill, LOL!

The other aspect I felt less comfortable with was the engine. I was alerted that needed to accelerate hard to get the car moving because of his 2 stroke architecture. I must confess I let him stall once when leaving the tent. The fist laps were made at a moderate pace to get used to the car’s behavior and learn the track. Shortly after I started to increase my pace and making my first impressions. Each round was necessarily short because the fuel tank’s capacity is small and the beating I got in my harms didn’t allow me to stay much more time at the car’s wheel without a break to regain  my energy. I managed to make no mistakes and returned the car in one piece and the team seemed pleased with my performance. The test’s goal was only to have a first contact with the car but I really felt I could be very fast on it after some time of practice and be competitive.

The impressions I have after driving the JRX car are that it’s a very nervous car concerning his chassis especially on the gravel or at bumpy sections. His insertion at the turn is excellent but once inside it, any bump on the track or steering wheel snap makes the car’s rear loose traction suddenly and the necessary correction by the wheel must be made quickly or the car will spin. Maybe the explanation for this behavior is on the car’s short wheelbase or a too stiff suspension setup. Or maybe I needed to change my driving style to adapt to the car’s characteristics. The car I drove in 2012 was a lot more predictable and didn’t transmit as much of the terrain bumps to my body as the JRX did. The JRX car handles a lot like a kart, very nervous and reactive to any inputs. I sure needed more time to be able to explore its full potential.

The gearbox was an item that didn’t pose me any problems and quickly got used to using it. As said the steering is direct, fast and very responsive with the counterpart of demanding a lot of effort to move it even when racing. To make the most of the car’s potential one needs to be in an excellent physical condition specially at the upper body.

As for the engine it was the component that made me less enthusiastic about. It’s a 600cc Rotax engine similar to the ones you can find on snowmobiles delivering 140 hp. I felt it very blunt, delivering the power suddenly and with a short rev use margin but I didn’t feel the push on my back I was expecting.

Maybe due to being so different from what I’m used to drive or not being able to use the engine in the best way, I always felt it lacked power. That was more perceptible on the long uphill straight were I changed to 4th gear on turn out and didn’t feel the engine revving up or the car increasing his speed noticeably. The declared engine’s power is similar to the one I had on my Corolla but the JRX weight/power ratio is considerably better since my car weighs around 400kg more. Many times I had the feeling the engine revved up but that was not transmitted to the wheels. That was more evident to me on the last time I drove the car on the track, in the evening, when I felt engine revving up vigorously and increasing his noise but with no apparent gain at car’s speed. Even on the marked downhill main straight I felt the same so I guess maybe there was some problem with clutch slipping or a greasy drive-belt.

The entire event was awesome, the organizers welcomed us very well and we could notice the strong bet on the championship promotion that translates on the live TV coverage of 5 rounds for now but more news are expected shortly. The entire MAKS team, responsible for the conception, development, and promotion of the JRX Cup was unsurpassed in the way they treated me and the concern they showed on making all the effort to allow me to drive the car as much as possible. The same happened last year when was suggested my presence at the last two rounds in Finland and Germany. The car travelled from France for this event followed by 6 team members among technicians and PR officers. Once again I must thank them this fantastic opportunity and the overall experience they provided me and congratulate them on this excellent car.

Also I’d like to thank Kevin Hansen, Magda Andersson and family for the strong support and help with all the doubts we had.

With the end of the day reaching quickly and the temperature dropping even further it was time to go to the hotel for a well deserved rest and hot bath that reminded me that my hands and feet were still attached to the rest of my body. During the test many times I wasn’t able to close my fingers because they were so cold and numb.

A great dinner at the hotel followed and we spent some time chatting with some of drivers that stayed there, especially Andreas Bakkerud that strongly cheered me up to join ERX and hoped me to find the necessary budget.

It was time to go to bed shortly after. I was so tired with all the test excitement and with the anticipation on how it would go that I slept all night long. Next day we had to wake up early and made the return trip to London under a heavy snow fall at some moments which made me fear I had to stay away from home for a few more days.

As for the future of my career it’s all very cloudy. The budget I have so far is clearly insufficient to be present at the JRX seven rounds. To be honest not even the 2013 Portuguese Championship participation is secured and there a serious risk that I have to stop this year. But I couldn’t let pass this fantastic opportunity that JRX granted me to test a car that’s unique in the world and being next to some of the drivers I most admire.

Now it’s time to try to get the necessary support that allows me to keep racing this year and the years to follow but I have to be realistic and recognize that the European Championship is a dream almost impossible to achieve, especially in these times so difficult for the Portuguese economics where the sponsorships are scarce and of lower amounts. We will undertake one last effort to show the potential sponsors I can give in return much more than the amounts they invest in my career.

This is an aspect of my career where I’m very proud of the work done during the 7 years I’ve been competing and I’m confident none of my past or present sponsors is disappointed with the results I presented, not only on the sporting level but also on the most important item of the media exposure turnaround.

2012 was an exceptional year for me, achieving the national title for the second time in a row and becoming the youngest Champion in the history of Portuguese motorsport, at the age of 14. Even more important was the recognition of my capabilities by several of the most important sectors related to motorsports not only in Portugal but also abroad.

I’d like to thank all the support granted in all these years and was very pleased with the interest and enthusiasm that aroused from this test in England, translated into a vast number of news on the media, support and congratulation email messages and a huge amount of Facebook interactions.

Hope to get back to you with more good news from my career.

See you soon on a track near you!

A big hug,

Rafael Lobato


Photo: This was the JRX test car that was also driven by Rafael Lobato at Lydden Hill. © QBA/ERC24