The Global Rallycross Championship (GRC) returned to U.S. soil last Thursday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, New Hampshire with a slightly smaller field of competitors. Britain’s Liam Doran participated in the Gatebil Festival; and Anton Marklund of Sweden is also committed to the FIA Rallycross RX. The third car omitted from the field, was the other Marklund Motorsports Volkswagen Polo that was piloted by Mattias Ekström in Munich, Germany.
The day’s seeding runs were affected by heavy rains, which almost washed away the precious dirt that made up 35% of the course. That’s right, dirt at New Hampshire Motor Speedway! I couldn’t believe my eyes as I tried to stream the race live on www.espn3.com. The large course featured a big jump made of dirt. Could it be that the metal gap-jump is now a thing of the past? We dare to dream. However the low tabletop ramp and elevated hairpin-turn were made of metal. The turn is interesting because it stretches over the pit wall, in order to take the cars back to the start/finish line on pit road. It’s not the first time we’ve seen this particular structure and to be fair, it’s rather ingenious – that is, once you know how to get around it.
Be Aggressive! B – E! Aggressive!
Rallycross isn’t for wimps or wallflowers. This is the kind of racing where you lead, follow or get out of the way; and you do so aggressively. The drivers all claim to be having fun, but that doesn’t adequately convey how tough this sport is. That being said, the drivers in the Supercar division are turning into a ruthless bunch. Nobody’s been purposefully wrecked yet but Ken Block’s disqualification in the Munich final, shows that there is a line and punishment will be meted out to those who cross it. That doesn’t mean it won’t happen again. During the heats, a number of competitors were bum rushed and I wonder if it’s all just too much for some of them. The Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ) was a wild affair as Travis Pastrana, Brazil winner Scott Speed and (Surprise, surprise!) Bucky Lasek arose to the occasion. Lasek has been noticeably stepping up his game. Whatever he’s doing is working and if this improvement continues, this X Games veteran may finally put Subaru on the GRC podium again.
Tanner versus Topi
It was a classic GRC final with Tanner Foust out in front and all the rest chasing him. His strategy was sound. This course featured a very long Joker Lap that could cost you the lead, if you’re too close to the field when you take it. He kept out front in the clean air and drove his laps tidily, until the very last one. His car hit some gravel coming up to the hairpin turn and he collided with the guard rail. In the moment that it took for him to resume racing, Toomas “Topi” Heikkinen, Patrik Sandell and Brian Deegan already passed him. It was a bitter loss for the defending champion, who’s only been able to manage a bronze medal in Germany. I’m not sure that Heikkinen ‘pressured’ Foust into making a mistake, since Sandell was more of the threat throughout the race, until he took his Joker Lap. That was when Heikkinen passed him and really took off after Foust. It would have been a close victory for the Top Gear USA host; but it just wasn’t meant to be this time around.
What’s the bottom line?
Heikkinen still has a commanding lead in the Driver Championship standings, but Foust and Deegan are finally in play, holding the next two spots respectively. Head Hoonigan, Ken Block, the only other established GRC driver to scrape a podium finish so far this season is seventh. There’s no doubt that Heikkinen is a strong competitor. He has youth, vigor and a stroke of mad genius on his side. Let’s not forget Patrik Sandell, who battled mercilessly with Heikkinen during this final. The Swede wants to snag a win and isn’t afraid to push the envelope. The only question is how far he’s willing to go. The Subaru Puma Rallycross team is still struggling and I don’t know how much more failure X Team Racing is able to withstand. Another team that’s having a very hard time is Pastrana Racing. Bryce Menzies is still learning but Travis Pastrana has been harangued with mechanical failures. Things are tough all over for the less successful competitors in this series.
Tomorrow, Saturday July 20, 2013 the GRC caravan goes to the Bristol Motor Speedway. This is a NASCAR track that’s known for carnage, controversy and confrontation between drivers; and they’re having a GRC rallycross round there? Liam Doran will be racing and Timur Timerzyanov will be taking Pastrana’s place in the #199 Dodge Dart. The field will still be short of one as X Team Racing will not be participating in this round. Their Mitsubishi Evolution rally car has gotten only so far on the drivers’ skills; so this isn’t unexpected. ESPN will be broadcasting the event live from 4:30pm EST. If you’re setting your DVR’s then wise to record whatever follows just in case. It’s great that the sports network is giving this event some priority in their schedule. Even if you plan to watch it live, I recommend that you record it anyway because with these guys in the “Last Great Coliseum” you might need to rewind and watch it again. Don’t worry if you still miss it because we’re going to have the best videos and photos here for you to take it all in, as soon as we can. When we know, you’ll know.
Photo Credit: Global Rallycross