Round 5 of the Red Bull Global Rallycross Championship took place at The Dirt Track at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Fans surely got their money’s worth after a long day of racing that saw the sport’s most popular driver claim a superb victory.
Got dirt? Tons!
The course was 35% asphalt and 65% dirt along with its friends: mud, rocks and dust. All that dirt made for spectacular slipping and sliding around the course, not to mention into other cars. On paper this surface should have been a blessing to seasoned rally drivers. Indeed Emma Gilmour gave Nelson Piquet Jr. a tough time during Semifinal Heat A, while Ken Block won in dominant fashion. There were some truly impressive saves but it’s hard to say who had the best one since the NBC Sports cameras were having a hard time keeping up with everything especially when the field split and worse yet when dust clouds engulfed the race course. However Rhys Millen, Steve Arpin, Tanner Foust and Sverre Isachsen deserve mention for some wow-worthy sideways sorcery.
None of the vehicles came away without some kind of damage – none. Some were superficial but others not as Washington DC winner, Patrik Sandell, suffered a broken left-front driveshaft after ending up in a water barrier during Semifinal Heat B. Despite a valiant effort by the Olsbergs MSE team, the Ford Fiesta wasn’t ready by the LCQ so the Swede had to call it a day. It was a bad day to be a water barrier because Foust also collided with it, and then it ended up on the raceway where Isachsen and Austin Dyne drove over it bringing out a red flag to clear up debris. During the final Nelson Piquet Jr. ended up hitting the water barrier in the same spot but he was able to continue. Austin Dyne made it to the final via the LCQ but was ultimately undone by a broken suspension. Brian Deegan also ended the day with a DNF. While a tire puncture deflated Foust’s hopes for a second win this season as he limped to eighth place. His Andretti Autosport teammate, Scott Speed, fared a bit better finishing fifth but is having a hard time in the championship standings as Piquet Jr. is fortifying his lead.
There’s nothing funny about the Joker Lap
The joker lap sets rallycross apart from just about every other racing series on the planet. We’ve seen many races where a well-timed joker lap can mean victory or mind-numbing defeat but what is it exactly? The Joker Lap is a gift rallycross drivers can and must use only once within a race. There is a small section of the course called the Joker Lane which provides one slightly shorter lap. When drivers come out of the lane, they often find themselves with a better track position. Sometimes they can take a win and there’s nothing their competitors can do about it. That’s how Nelson Piquet Jr. won the LCQ in Charlotte. He saved the Joker Lap during the Semifinal Heat A but it wasn’t enough to do better than fifth, but during the LCQ he nailed the timing perfectly. His Joker Lap during the final snatched third-place away from Joni Wiman, who just couldn’t catch the Brazilian afterwards, but not for lack of trying. The only way a joker lap can’t ruin a race leader’s day is if they’re having a perfect race and so far out front that nobody can catch them, which is increasingly rare as all the GRC drivers gain experience, but does happen.
Rocking Block Party
How do I succinctly recap Ken Block’s race weekend in Charlotte, North Carolina? He won everything. Block won his heats, semifinal heat and final race with an untouchable lead. He raced so well that his car hardly got dirty, while the rest of the field was in a terrible state. Cars lost pieces of bodywork at every lap, which reminds me of the level of destruction we saw there last year. Drivers were flying from the dirt jump-off and landing awkwardly. It was melee at every turn – but not for Ken Block. Granted his starts weren’t all perfect but it’s like he was on a different level and it was beautiful to watch. This victory puts him fifth in the championship standings, 72 points behind Piquet Jr. If momentum means anything in this series, he’ll surely be one to watch heading into the next four rounds.
In an amusing turn of events, the rest of the podium was shared with Isachsen in second and Piquet Jr. in third. Remember how many times those two dudes got into each other with cars and words since the Vegas final last year? Now they were all smiles and enjoying the spotlight. Then again, Isachsen put Subaru in the headlines again and Piquet Jr. is on a run for the championship so why wouldn’t they be happy? Still they have to watch their backs even more now as the schedule begins its latter half and I have a couple questions for the motorsports universe. My inquiring mind wants to know the answers to questions like:
When will we finally see the Volkswagen rallycross Beetles?
Will we ever see Sarah Burgess compete? She was on Spotters Guides for New York, Charlotte and was supposed to debut at the X Games Austin but has not raced yet. I repeat, has not raced yet.
Can Kevin Eriksson possibly overtake Mitchell DeJong for the GRC Lites championship?
Should Nelson Piquet Jr. be on the GRC Lites Championship Standings at all?
From Red Bull GRC:
Red Bull Global Rallycross Race Recap: The Dirt Track at Charlotte
IN BRIEF: Ken Block was absolutely untouchable in Red Bull Global Rallycross Charlotte, qualifying first and winning all of his heat races on the way to a dominant victory at The Dirt Track at Charlotte. Sverre Isachsen earned a career-best second place finish, while Nelson Piquet Jr. extended his points lead with a third place result.
HEAT RECAPS: Under the lights on Friday night, five drivers (Ken Block (twice), Bucky Lasek, Sverre Isachsen, Brian Deegan, and Steve Arpin) earned heat victories in Charlotte, while Block and Tanner Foust took home the two semifinal victories. In a stacked last chance qualifier, Nelson Piquet Jr. and Scott Speed—not only Charlotte natives, but also the top two in points—led Austin Dyne and Bucky Lasek across the line.
MAIN EVENT RECAP: Block, Foust, and Arpin comprised the front row of the main event, which got off to a wild start when drivers hit the inside barriers of turn one and multiple cars stranded in unsafe locations necessitated a red flag. A broken suspension eliminated Austin Dyne before he could pull back onto the grid, meaning that nine vehicles would make it to the main event.
The restart saw drivers cleanly slide two and three cars wide through the Charlotte banks. The entire field made it cleanly to turn four before contact sent Brian Deegan, making his return to the series after a two-race absence, off the track and into the infield. Block checked out in the lead as drivers attempted to sort themselves out for top five spots in the running order, with Foust, Joni Wiman, and Isachsen running behind him early on.
A tire puncture caused Foust to plummet through the field just as Isachsen got by the rookie, while Piquet used the joker to perfection to make his way into a podium place. Wiman, Speed, Lasek, and Arpin would all make it by last weekend’s Volkswagen Rallycross NY winner, causing him to settle in a disappointing eighth.
UNOFFICIAL RESULTS: The results from Saturday’s Red Bull Global Rallycross Charlotte, the fifth round of the 2014 Red Bull Global Rallycross season:
Ken Block, #43 Hoonigan Racing Division Ford Fiesta ST
Sverre Isachsen, #11 Subaru Rally Team USA WRX STI
Nelson Piquet Jr., #07 SH Racing Rallycross Ford Fiesta ST
Joni Wiman, #31 Olsbergs MSE Ford Fiesta ST
Scott Speed, #77 Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross Polo R
Bucky Lasek, #81 Subaru Rally Team USA WRX STI
Steve Arpin, #00 Royal Purple Racing/OMSE2 Ford Fiesta
Tanner Foust, #34 Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross Polo R
Brian Deegan, #38 Rockstar Energy Drink Ford Fiesta ST
Austin Dyne, #14 Barracuda Racing Ford Fiesta
Rhys Millen, #67 Hyundai/Rhys Millen Racing Veloster Turbo
Emma Gilmour, #27 Hyundai/Rhys Millen Racing Veloster Turbo
Patrik Sandell, #18 Olsbergs MSE Ford Fiesta ST
QUOTES: A selection of quotes from Saturday’s Red Bull Global Rallycross Charlotte, the fifth round of the 2014 Red Bull Global Rallycross season:
Ken Block, Driver, #43 Hoonigan Racing Division Ford Fiesta ST: “For me, most of my career has been on gravel and dirt, so I wish more of these GRC tracks were like this! I enjoy the tarmac stuff, but it just isn’t what I grew up doing. We were very quick to get the car setup right, the team did a tremendous job getting my Ford Fiesta out to the front. We just got the starts and in the final we left everyone behind us. That’s another thing about this weekend—the gravel gives us so much more of an opportunity to find different lines and try different stuff, and the track constantly changes. I love that—I grew up racing dirt bikes, and to be able to go inside out and find a different line, try something else, that’s just something you can’t do on tarmac tracks. I hope they start dumping more gravel on these tracks, because it favors me and what I do with the car!”
Sverre Isachsen, Driver, #11 Subaru Rally Team USA WRX STI: “The weekend was great. We had good cars last weekend, and we’ve developed the cars—the team is working really hard and the car is good. We can fight for first place. Yesterday I had a good practice, found good speed in the car, and we won a heat. The start was good today, but we broke something in the rear suspension in the car and could only make it to second place. But the weekend was really good, my Subaru team is working really hard, and I’m really proud to be part of it.”
Nelson Piquet Jr., Driver, #07 SH Racing Rallycross Ford Fiesta ST: “The weekend had a lot of ups and downs. Arriving here with the points lead, you need to have a more secure weekend and not take too many risks, to just try to eliminate risks over the weekend. I think that bit me a little on Friday, I had a second place and fourth place which didn’t put me in a good position for the semifinal. I ended up in the LCQ—we had a good LCQ and went to the final, but until the final it was a rollercoaster ride emotionally. We went from stressed to nervous to excited to angry. In the final, everything worked out well—obviously, in the first start I got thrown into the barriers by Scott Speed, but luckily the Ford car is very strong and we managed to keep going. The second restart was great, we gained a couple of positions, managed to keep calm and used the joker at the right time. I just kept my third place, I knew Scott was behind us and we were going to extend our lead in the championship. Our Haus Personal Vaporizer car was good this weekend, obviously there’s room for improvement, but I’m just happy to be on the podium with all my friends, sponsors, family, and everybody in my hometown. I’m really relieved to get third after not a good start.”
Steve Arpin, Driver, #00 Royal Purple Racing/OMSE2 Ford Fiesta: “We didn’t get the finish we wanted, but we had fun all weekend. We had a fast car—we made a lot of adjustments on our Royal Purple Ford, we came a long way from where we started, and we were competitive. We were really, really good. We just kind of got caught up in Tanner Foust’s overdriving during the main in both starts, and it kind of knocked us out. With the way the track conditions were, we were battling the sun and the heat here in North Carolina, but it’s borderline impossible to eliminate dust in an afternoon show. From that point on, we were kind of just along for the ride, hoping that people would kind of drop out and we could pick up a couple spots. All in all, I’m happy—I got to race in Charlotte on The Dirt Track, so it’s a good day.”
FAST FACTS: A collection of facts from Saturday’s Red Bull Global Rallycross Charlotte, the fifth round of the 2014 Red Bull Global Rallycross season:
This was Ken Block’s second career Red Bull Global Rallycross victory in 22 career Red Bull GRC-sanctioned event starts. He is the first driver under the new for 2014 race format (comprised of two heats and a semifinal) to qualify first and win every session in which he competed. He is the first driver to sweep a race weekend since Toomas Heikkinen in Atlanta last August.
Sverre Isachsen earned the fourth podium of his Red Bull GRC career, as well as his best finish in 19 Red Bull GRC-sanctioned event starts. This is the first time that Subaru Rally Team USA has put multiple drivers on the podium in a single Red Bull GRC season.
Nelson Piquet Jr. earned his fourth consecutive podium finish in Charlotte. He was the highest-finishing Charlotte area resident in the field.
Joni Wiman earned his fourth top-five finish in five starts in the 2014 Red Bull GRC season.
Bucky Lasek’s sixth place finish equaled his result in Charlotte from last season. He won the first heat of his Red Bull GRC career on Friday night, becoming the 24th driver in series history to win a heat race (not counting last chance qualifier events).
Rhys Millen failed to make the main event for the first time in his past 13 Red Bull GRC-sanctioned event starts.
Three drivers have made all four main events so far this season: Nelson Piquet Jr., Austin Dyne, and Scott Speed. Patrik Sandell had an incident in his semifinal that precluded him from competing in the last chance qualifier.
Ford currently holds a 472-293 lead over Volkswagen in the series’ Manufacturer’s Championship, meaning their “magic number” to clinch the title for the third consecutive year is 109. The maximum point swing in a single event is 72 (if both Volkswagens win both of their heats and finish 1-2, all other manufacturers beat Ford with all of their vehicles, and the seventh and eighth place finishers fail to compete in either of their heats).
UNOFFICIAL DRIVER POINTS:
Nelson Piquet Jr., 227
Scott Speed, 181
Steve Arpin, 164
Joni Wiman, 162
Ken Block, 155
Patrik Sandell, 120
Tanner Foust, 112
Sverre Isachsen, 109
Austin Dyne, 102
Bucky Lasek, 87
Brian Deegan, 85
Rhys Millen, 68
Emma Gilmour, 24
Pat Moro, 3
UNOFFICIAL MANUFACTURER POINTS:
GRC Lites Race Recap: The Dirt Track at Charlotte
IN BRIEF: It was back to business as usual in the GRC Lites event at The Dirt Track at Charlotte, as Mitchell DeJong took his third victory in four races over Olsbergs MSE teammate Kevin Eriksson. In only his second career GRC Lites start, 16-year-old Oliver Eriksson rounded out the field with a third place finish.
HEAT RECAPS: Friday night’s heats saw Oliver Eriksson make a thrilling last-lap pass to win one heat, while brother Kevin won the second heat of the night. Saturday was a return to normalcy, as Kevin Eriksson’s heat victory was matched by another heat win by Mitchell DeJong, his seventh in eight tries this season.
MAIN EVENT RECAP: A slam-bang final required two starts, the first attempt compromised after defending Charlotte runner-up Geoff Sykes saw his car stranded off of the side of the jump. On the restart, it was all DeJong, who pulled away from the pack with a series of impressive laps. Alejandro Fernandez, who led most of his first heat and seemed poised for the first podium of his career, couldn’t quite pull it off after Oliver Eriksson used the joker to perfection once again.
UNOFFICIAL RESULTS: The results from Saturday’s Red Bull Global Rallycross Charlotte, the fourth round of the 2014 GRC Lites season:
Mitchell DeJong, #24 Olsbergs MSE
Kevin Eriksson, #96 Olsbergs MSE
Oliver Eriksson, #16 Olsbergs MSE
Alejandro Fernandez, #126 Olsbergs MSE
Tyler Benson, #60 Rhys Millen Racing
Geoff Sykes, #6 DTV Solutions
Austin Cindric, #77 C4 Motorsports
QUOTES: A selection of quotes from Saturday’s Red Bull Global Rallycross Charlotte, the fourth round of the 2014 GRC Lites season:
Mitchell DeJong, Driver, #24 Olsbergs MSE GRC Lites: “I’m really happy with how today turned out. The track was really similar to last year, but there were a few differences, and I liked it a lot more. It was really tough where this morning, we had a lot more grip, and in the final it was very low grip. You had to change your lines quite a bit. I was very hard on myself after Friday—in turn one I had contact with someone else and it bent my steering quite a lot, so it was just trying to hold on for those laps and it was very frustrating. Fortunately, day two turned out to be a lot better, and I’m happy with the outcome!”
Kevin Eriksson, Driver, #96 Olsbergs MSE GRC Lites: “Today the track was really fun, and it was drivable. Last year I think it was too soft, the ground was really bumpy and it was not so fun, but today the guys were really good. Personally I liked it more this year, it was more smooth and not so stop and go all the time. Here, you need to drive your own race—unfortunately, after the restart, I got in safe mode on my car after five laps in for the final, and it didn’t rev as much. I think Mitchell and I would have had a tight finish but I lost too much with safe mode in the car car, so next time!”
Oliver Eriksson, Driver, #16 Olsbergs MSE GRC Lites: “It’s so much fun to drive on dirt. It was a little bit slippery in the final, but it was fun to drive. It was a little bit hard for me because I broke the steering in the first corner on the first try, but I managed to keep the car on the track and have a good place, so I’m happy. My strategy was me and my spotter—he’s quite new in the sport but he does it really really well, so I’m happy with him and happy with our strategy.”
FAST FACTS: A collection of facts from Saturday’s Red Bull Global Rallycross Charlotte, the fourth round of the 2014 GRC Lites season:
Mitchell DeJong’s third victory of the season also marked his sixth career GRC Lites podium, tying Joni Wiman for the series record. He has four podium finishes in four starts this season, as well as two podium results from 2013 in Los Angeles and Atlanta.
Kevin Eriksson finished second for the third time this season. He now has five career GRC Lites podiums.
Oliver Eriksson’s first career GRC Lites podium came in only his second career start. Other than drivers who started the inaugural GRC Lites event in New Hampshire last July, he becomes the sixth driver to accomplish this feat in only his second start or sooner, following Austin Dyne (Bristol, July 2013), Alexander Westlund (Bristol, July 2013), Eric Faren (Las Vegas, November 2013), Nelson Piquet Jr. (Washington DC, June 2014), and Pedro Piquet (New York, July 2014).
Alejandro Fernandez’s fourth place finish is the best result of his GRC Lites career. He has now finished second in each of his past three heat starts.
Tyler Benson’s fifth place finish tied the best result of his GRC Lites career, previously accomplished last week in New York. He earned two runner-up finishes in his heat races for the first time in his career.
UNOFFICIAL DRIVER POINTS:
Mitchell DeJong, 217
Kevin Eriksson, 207
Alejandro Fernandez, 115
Geoff Sykes, 111
Austin Cindric, 97
Tyler Benson, 95
Oliver Eriksson, 82
Nelson Piquet Jr., 75
Atila Abreu, 72
Pedro Piquet, 43
Colton Herta, 16
ABOUT RED BULL GRC: Designed to produce the fastest and most exciting racing in motorsports, Red Bull Global Rallycross pits small production-based cars against each other in door-to- door racing featuring dirt, asphalt, and tabletop jumps. With enhanced engineering and safety features, the cars produce 600 horsepower and can accelerate from 0-60 miles per hour in less than two seconds, and can also withstand 70-foot jumps and other vehicle contact. For more information visit www.RedBullGlobalRallycross.com.
A Final Word
The next round will take place at Daytona International Speedway on August 22-23, 2014. This is the very first time the series will be at the world-famous NASCAR track and Central Florida fans are looking forward to it. I should know because I am one. Two-day tickets are available for USD $35 for adults and USD $10 for kids aged six to twelve. Entrance is free for kids five and under. Paddock access is included and the race itself will be held on the infield road course. Get yours today!
On Thursday August 21, 2014 from 2:30pm to 4:30pm EST, a special event will be held at the nearby Speed Park Motorsports. GRC drivers will be racing in karts and dragsters, followed by an autograph session. This will be open for the general public. The GRC race will be televised live on NBC, Saturday August 23, 2014 at 2:30pm EST and re-air on NBC Sports Network, Thursday August 28, 2014 at 2:00am EST. You can connect with Red Bull Global Rallycross via the following links:
Official Website: http://www.redbullglobalrallycross.com/
Live Timing: http://www.mylaps.com/en/events/red-bull-global-rallycross/196022