Sunday’s penultimate Global Rallycross Championship (GRC) round at the Dirt Track of Charlotte Motor Speedway was a thrilling, violent and surprisingly controversial event. By the day’s end, three championships were settled, with a Flying Finn taking top honors.
Rainy weather over the weekend may have reminded GRC insiders of Barcelona, but it was going to be just like Brazil…only worse. The course was almost 70% dirt that was soggy, slippery and dusty. The rest of the course was asphalt, with a joker lap, water feature but no gap-jump. It’s worth noting that the course layout briefly went beyond the track’s outer fence and then back in again. In some spots, the track was drier making for a lot of dust that caused visibility issues for the competitors.
All Hail The New King of the GRC
Toomas “Topi” Heikkinen’s path to victory this year was clear. He’s dominated the field at every stop on the schedule, winning heats and many races. His rise through the GRC ranks has been meteoric and facilitated by an incredible talent. His major failing in the past has been excessive aggression, but his increased self-control this season has taken him to a new stratum; and the rallycross masters have been playing catch-up with the upstart all season long. The only other drivers to enjoy victory this season besides Heikkinen are Scott Speed and Liam Doran. Sorry, Tanner Foust fans but Gymkhana GRID was not part of this series. Other contenders for the championship have been doing so based on points, but their inability to win has really made this Heikkinen’s crown to lose. He managed to keep his nose clean and will be going home with lots of shiny hardware. Congratulations, kid. You did well and good luck because you now have a neon bull’s-eye on your back.
“It’s been a great year. Now we get the championship with the one point that we needed. But I’m still looking forward and want to win the last one. Of course I want to be on the podium still—that’s what I’m looking for, and that is our goal.” Toomas Heikkinen, Driver, #57 OlsbergsMSE Ford Fiesta ST
The Bigger They Are…
It was a ghastly day to be defending GRC champion, Tanner Foust. The worst part is that it started out quite well. He placed third in the closely contested Practice/Seeding but it all went awry during the second round heat 2C. A little roughness with team mate Brian Deegan, sent him into the water barrier and caused the car to roll onto its roof. The Olsbergs MSE team worked maniacally to ready the car for the LCQ. That round which we now refer to as the Loco Crazy Qualifier, fell into mayhem fast and hard, with Foust in the middle of it. What was initially perceived to be excessively aggressive driving affected a number of drivers, the most vocal of them being Dave Mirra.
Foust was penitent in a post-crash interview with ESPN’s Alyssa Roenigk, but that did nothing for Mirra who gave the Top Gear USA presenter a restrained tongue-lashing. The ABC Network censors didn’t get any work to do, but I’m sure they had their finger on the bleep button during his interview with GRC-TV and ESPN reporter Kate Osbourne. Mirra was emotional and understandably so. He had been performing well all weekend, secured the second-fastest seeding time and won his first heat. Mirra was clearly poised to make a name for himself in the Prodrive Mini Countryman for Liam Doran; and against his former Subaru Puma Rallycross team mates. Far be it for me to say his rage was misplaced but if indeed it turns out that Foust’s aggressive driving was a throttle malfunction, stemming from the earlier vehicular gymnastics, then all vitriol should be dead and buried by the time we all get to Las Vegas. Replay showed that it was Stephan Verdier who struck Mirra off the course.
Survival of the Speed-iest
When races fall into mayhem at every turn, any driver who makes it across the finish line with his mostly car intact should feel like a winner; but, there’s much to be said for the man who gets there first. Scott Speed was that man – again. His car control skills (and possible bath in unicorn tears?) saved him from the worst damage. He won his heat convincingly and shared front row in the final with Block and Deegan. Of those worthy adversaries, Deegan chased Speed the whole time. They both left the mayhem behind them and proceeded to make mincemeat of that track. They were eventually joined by Heikkinen for his eighth, consecutive podium finish. Well done Scott for shaking that monkey off your back. Now it’s time to start thinking about a championship.
“We were pretty solid all day. In these things, you can be fast—we were pretty fast at Bristol but we didn’t even make the final—so you’ve got to be lucky not to get in any crashes. We stayed out of trouble, got lucky, and were able to win again.” – Scott Speed, Driver, #77 OMSE2 Ford Fiesta
It really was like the rumble in the jungle all over again. Veterans were demoralized and egos were torn to pieces. The changing of the guard is in full swing; and in all likelihood, this is the last season for some drivers in the GRC.
Gentleman’s Racing? Dude…
During his impassioned monologue Dave Mirra asked, “Where’s the gentleman’s racing?” As a voice in the wilderness about the increasing ferocity being displayed in this sport, I can answer that question. If there ever was gentleman’s racing in the GRC? That ship has long sailed. Every turn in every event is strewn with broken car parts and misery. The racing is safer to a certain degree with the exclusion of the metal gap-jump, but when you take a look at this particular round – the level of destruction was ridiculous.
“We were pretty quick and I thought we could race well with these guys, and you know, give Ken and these guys a run for their money but it’s just straight-up bumper cars.” – Travis Pastrana to Alyssa Roenigk (ESPN)
There was so much damage that some of it wasn’t even mentioned in the TV broadcast. We saw Bryce Menzies’ right front-end race away from the rest of the car. The left front-end of his boss, Travis Pastrana’s Dodge Dart was trashed in the final after collision with just about everybody. Both eventual champion, Toomas Heikkinen and the most famous rallycross driver in the world, Ken Block both blew right-front tires, and then experienced the non-joy of finishing their races with three wheels. Another contender, Patrik Sandell, lost his front driveshaft in the first heat, and his right-rear tire in the second; before getting “Foust-ed” in the LCQ. Lasek, Arpin, Verdier and Moro, the list goes on and on. Even race winner Scott Speed, lost his front bumper-skin. This is the GRC and there is nothing gentle about it.
Our special thanks to Global Rallycross for the photos, and My Life at Speeders who participated in our live-tweet of the race.