One of the most exciting things to happen in this year’s Global Rallycross Championship (GRC) has been the launch of the much-anticipated GRC Lites class. Pegged as a training class for the next generation of racers, the GRC Lites has produced some of the most exciting races we’ve seen all year and the most talented drivers. My Life at Speed is please to introduce you to one of those rising stars, Geoff Sykes. He scored his first podium finish in Charlotte and has kindly agreed to share his experience with us.
In addition to making his name in the GRC, Geoff is also currently in first place of the United States Touring Car Championship (USTCC)’s GT class with a solid performance in the #60 BMW M3. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
GRC Lites Charlotte Scrapbook by Geoff Sykes
Race day morning. The #65 Global Rallycross Supercar Lite has no idea what’s coming today … and neither do we. It’s one of the fun parts of rallycross racing!
GRC Lites is quite an operation: 10 cars, several transporters, and loads of spare parts and tires. But all of us drivers still need to be hands on. There is limited time in between the heats, so if something needs fixing, we need to all jump in. The more familiar we are with the cars, the quicker we can get it done. And that can be the difference between making the race or not.
The #65 OMSE/Energy FX/Midnight Oil/RallyPro at the Firm car is just about ready for practice and qualifying.
It won’t stay clean for long though, and we need to clean both the inside and outside of the windshield and windows after each session because of all the mud and dust that gets kicked up.
Taking tires over to the tire trailer to get them switched out. We have an allotment of six tires for racing, so depending on the track, we move tires around to make sure we have the best grip on the hardest working corners of the car. Even though our races are typically six to 10 laps long, it’s really easy to tear a tire up, especially on the dirt to asphalt transitions.
Session times, schedule changes, track layout, rules clarifications: there is always some paperwork needing attention.
On deck for a radio interview from the track! I’m up next after Topi Heikkinen, the soon-to-be-crowned 2013 Global Rallycross Supercar champion, and Patrik Sandell. We are all part of the Olsbergs MSE team, the #1 team in GRC!
Pre-race interview on the “Down & Dirty Show” with Jim Beaver and Kate Osborne. I always try to give the fans some inside perspective on what it is like to actually race these cars, what it took to get to this point and how I juggle the different racing series. Interviews are an enjoyable part of the process for me.
Preparation is important. There are enough last-minute changes and uncertainty going on that you just want to make sure all the basics are covered. It always seems like a long time preparing, but then everything happens super quick.
The weather has been changing all weekend. From mist and light rain to torrential downpours, it has made the track unpredictable, put the schedule into constant flux, and thrown strategy right out the window.
Ready to race! These GRC Lites cars are all a spec class, so every driver has the same powertrain. We can adjust our own tire pressures, camber, ride height, etc., though.
Global Rallycross courses can include “water features,” but this is not what they had in mind. Overnight torrential downpours flooded portions of the track, but quick work by the officials had it cleaned up by race time.
Driver introductions. We all come from different backgrounds – NASCAR, BMW, Ferrari, X Games, world of rally, Swedish folk racing – it’s a complete mixed bag of experience, knowledge and age.
After all the days and hours of preparation, it’s time to buckle up and completely focus on the race. There is nothing like the feeling of adrenaline, excitement, concentration, and just being in the zone that takes over when the green lights go on.
At the start of the GRC Lites final, I took the outside line and passed a couple of cars in the first turn. Before each race, they always wet down the track surface, so you never know quite what the grip will be like. Since it’s the same for everyone, you just figure it out as fast as you can and take advantage of it.
The clay at The Dirt Track at Charlotte Motor Speedway … overall more grip than you would have expected and fairly predictable to slide on. That is, until it was wet, when it became diabolical.
The transition from dirt to asphalt in rallycross is fun and challenging. I did some training this year at RallyPro at the Firm in Florida, and it was a huge help. I gained some valuable knowledge and off-road experience.
Jumps are a big part of rallycross racing. The jump at Charlotte wasn’t particularly big, but it was at the turn coming off the asphalt outside the regular course back into the clay infield, so managing the loading and unloading of the suspension was critical.
Before the race …
After the race … I gave GRC Lites inaugural series champion Joni Wiman a little tap on the first lap, but I was never able to get around him.
Sebastian Eriksson, who was chasing me for most of the race, however, was a wee bit more aggressive in trying to get past me.
It was really good to get second place and a silver medal! This season has been a lot of hard work, with getting to know a new car, dealing with some bad luck, managing unfortunate racing incidents and just learning how to drive rallycross. It’s an awesome feeling to make the podium.
The fans are a huge part of Global Rallycross. They have full access to the pits, we drivers love to chat with them, and they love the photo opportunities. There’s not another racing series where you’d see this happening!