Only one week after closing the book on this year’s X Games, the Global Rallycross Championship (GRC) season continued at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Georgia. A 40% dirt course was constructed suing the front-stretch of this NASCAR track. While the layout was more than acceptable, containing a water feature, dirt chicane and big dirt jump; the dirt itself presented an interesting complication. It was very loose, causing competitors to sometimes slip, slide, crash and roll uncontrollably. So it was a pretty typical rallycross track.
Rough and Tumble Round 2 Heats
The GRC’s competition structure gives fans many chances to see their favorites battle it out on the track. All of the races are important but as the season is nearing its end, this second round is getting hotter and hotter. Sweden’s Patrik Sandell suffered a blown engine early in the day. The Olsbergs MSE Team managed to change it out; and had the car ready for the Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ) in an incredible 1hr 15mins. Unfortunately it seemed like the #18 Ford Fiesta ST was destined for misfortune, as he was knocked right out of the event (no, seriously). It was a sad end especially after such a valiant effort to remain in the competition.
Rally veteran Henning Solberg filled in for Bryce Menzies; and his team of mechanics also had their hands full to get him ready for the LCQ. He displayed great chutzpah in Heat 3 engaging Brian Deegan, until his #99 Dodge Dart simply couldn’t keep up with yet another Olsbergs MSE-prepped Ford. Interestingly enough, Solberg’s last move before complete failure was bumping into fellow Norwegian, Sverre Isachsen – an act that sent Patrik Sandell’s car flying.
The other Dodge Dart (#199) saw hard times as well, with Timur Timerzyanov in Travis Pastrana’s place. After calamity during the Practice and Qualifying session, the entire front-end had to be changed out. He didn’t finish Heat 2 but managed to squeeze into the final via a thrilling LCQ. The Russian was doing well, until Dave Mirra made a rash move in the last lap to take the heat.
Speaking of rash moves, I’m genuinely surprised that the front row of the LCQ was occupied by the Subaru Puma Rallycross Team. They proved themselves to be real contenders throughout the heats. Isachsen was black-flagged in the first for a maneuver that put Toomas “Topi” Heikkinen on two wheels. “The Viking” would have probably done quite well if not for that penalty.
“I was really mad because I have been (in) this business of fifteen year. I have almost a hundred European round. I have three black flag in my whole career, so I know what is right and wrong.” – Sverre Isachsen to ESPN’s Alyssa Roegnik
In the second heat, Bucky Lasek was very quick on the heels of another Ford Fiesta ST; this one was driven by Steve Arpin. The American X Games veteran struck water barriers twice along the course and this severely affected his overall performance. He didn’t even leave the LCQ’s start line. Unlike the rest of the field which became an all-out slugfest, but saw his team mates secure spots in the final race. The underdog team claimed their second podium finish in as many races through Sverre Isachsen who placed third.
The Golden Boys
While some drivers spent the day trying to ice skate uphill, other cruised to victory. Ken Block and Tanner Foust finished their heats with clean cars. Heikkinen had a hard time initially but was impossible to catch once Isachsen was serving his time out. However, the final race can be the great equalizer, and what an exciting race it turned out to be! Ken Block, who was celebrating his many heat victories, was the first to fall with a terrible start. Heikkinen and Foust sped off while the rest fell into melee.
On the first turn, Canada’s Steve Arpin crashed out of the course. While Heikkinen flew well ahead, Tanner Foust stayed right on him, even following the twenty-two year-old Finn through the Joker Lap. Scott Speed turned his fellow American Dave Mirra on the second lap, earning himself a stay in the penalty box. He never rebounded from this and ended the race with a DNF. The next and last driver to exit the race was Brian Deegan. I noticed that he landed quite had on the big dirt jump, so that may have caused his car’s mechanical issues.
He wasn’t the last Ford driver to have trouble with his race car. Just when it looked like Tanner Foust was closing the gap with Heikkinen, the Top Gear USA host lost his left-front tire. Against all odds, he pulled a “Liam Doran” and finished the race anyway; with a very respectable second place to boot. In a repeat of the X Games Los Angeles round, the top three were Heikkinen, Foust and Isachsen.
Once again, Heikkinen climbed atop his Ford Fiesta ST to celebrate his victory, much to the delight of the last crowd. He made history with an unprecedented fifth consecutive win. Despite the earlier contact with Isachsen, he raced clean and stayed out of trouble. From the season opener in Brazil, there is a clear improvement in his all-around skillfulness. It looks like he’s grown up and although Foust is still in the hunt for a third championship, there’s no denying that the biggest star to come out of this year’s GRC season is Toomas “Topi” Heikkinen.
The next stop is Charlotte Motor Speedway on September 22, 2013 which is scheduled to be broadcast on ABC from 4:30pm EST. According to GRC, the course layout is “a mix of dirt and pavement, as well as a crossover jump that makes the track into a more challenging figure eight.” Will the first gap-jump for the season be dirt or metal? When we know, you’ll know.
Photo Credit: © Jakub QBA Nitka/ERC24.COM