Jenson Button will miss three rounds of the upcoming Nitro Rallycross season — including the season opener at Lydden Hill in his native UK — owing to “prior contractual commitments.”
Five-time World Rally Championship event winner Kris Meeke (pictured above) will step in for the Lydden Hill event as well as the second round in Sweden and December’s trip to Saudi Arabia, driving an FC1-X in the one-make ‘Group E’ electric category for XITE Energy Racing alongside team boss Oliver Bennett.
“I’m really excited to join XITE Energy Racing,” said Meeke. “When Oli contacted me, I was really interested in every aspect: the team, the car and the championship.”
For Meeke, it will be his first foray into electric motorsport — something he feels is ideal for rallycross.
“Rallycross is a category of motorsport that suits electrification perfectly; it’s short, sharp racing with an incredible amount of power available instantaneously. If it’s managed well, this can certainly be a bright future and it’s really nice to be part of that with Oli and the XITE Energy Racing Team.”
Meeke has already tested Nitro RX’s FC1-X in Spain twice, and was impressed with the experience, despite his initial outing being hampered by rain.
“When I tried the car, the conditions weren’t perfect and it was very wet, but you could immediately see the huge potential not only with the car, but with the whole series that Nitro Rallycross is creating,” he said.
He added: “Other than a normal road car — my brother has a Tesla — I’ve never really driven an EV before. I’ve never raced one, so this is my first venture into this. There’s so much to learn. Driving your whole life with a combustion engine in motorsport, you know that elasticity of the engine, you get that intrinsic feeling of how it performs, whereas this is just something completely different.
“The car has instantaneous torque up to the equivalent of 1000 horsepower. It’s certainly going to be the future of rallycross. It’s [about] who can adapt to it in the shortest period of time, but that’s what we’re here to learn, and the first event at Lydden Hill (June 18-19) is not too far away.”
While a lot of the pre-season focus around Nitro RX and XITE Energy Racing has been centered around Button’s long-awaited rallycross debut, Bennett is pleased to have another high-profile motorsport star step in during the 2009 Formula 1 champion’s absence.
“Having another legend from the very top of world motorsport joining the team is really exciting,” said Bennett. “Kris brings a wealth of experience from his time in rallying, winning in the WRC and, of course, developing some of the world’s fastest rally cars.
“That experience will be invaluable at the first few events. He’s going to really help give Jenson and I a good car from the second or third round onwards,” he said. “This year is going to be amazing!”