They don’t call it Thunder Valley for nothing, as the Global Rallycross Championship (GRC) took over the Bristol Motor Speedway for its fifth round. History was made as Toomas “Topi” Heikkinen scored the very first GRC hat trick; as dark clouds of disappoint hover over defending champion, Tanner Foust who again walked away empty-handed. However we’ll get to that soon enough, let’s talk a bit about “Bristol, baby!”
That’s a tagline for one of the most popular NASCAR tracks in the USA. This March, Foust officially unveiled his Rockstar Energy Drink Ford Fiesta ST there and thrilled the crowds by tattooing the track with burnt rubber. If there’s one thing race fans love, it’s burnt rubber on a track. I wondered what kind of course they could possibly build in the ½ mile concrete oval. Who could have imagined that it would have turned out to be a good one?
Firstly, there were no metal jumps of any kind. Then again when you have 30° banks, adding a metal gap jump is sheer lunacy. The big jump was a tabletop made out of dirt and topped with gravel, which also covered a third of the course. The Joker Lap wasn’t longer this time but had a chicane for added difficulty. (Honestly, it’s not rallycross without added difficulty.) Turn 1 (as usual) was rough unless you got the hole-shot. After that it’s “drive it like you stole it” and try not to hit wreck yourself along the way.
Hot, Hot Heats!
The GRC Bristol ESPN broadcast was an orchestral crescendo that began with Round 2. The first heat’s front row looked like a final with Foust, Ken Block and Brian Deegan; while Heikkinen and Bucky Lasek rounded out the group. With only two competitors going through to the final, it was anybody’s guess who would be accompanying Lasek to the Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ). As fate would have it, Foust struck the outside wall and blew both his right-side tires, taking him out of contention. The battle for second was quite intense as Deegan and Heikkinen spent most of the time trading paint. Eventually Deegan’s Ford Fiesta suffered serious damage. So as Heikkinen followed Block straight to the final race, Deegan was following Tanner Foust to the garage.
Heat 2B had only four cars and only one American among them in Dave Mirra. The rest of the field was comprised of the UK’s Liam Doran, Sweden’s Patrik Sandell and Russia’s Timur Timerzyanov, who was filling in for Travis Pastrana due to a NASCAR Nationwide Series commitment in Chicago, Illinois. Sandell took the front early on and kept it. Liam Doran was hot on his heels but never managed to get the upper hand. Timerzyanov was in control but only briefly, as he spun out while taking the Joker Lap. The time he took to regain his bearings, secured his trip to the LCQ. Mirra didn’t finish the race because of tire problems.
The final heat was full of drivers who are struggling to find solid ground in this series. With the exception of Scott Speed who won the season opener in Brazil, Bryce Menzies, Steve Arpin and Sverre Isaachsen have been struggling. Scott Speed held the lead for a moment before contact between Isaachsen and Arpin knocked him out of the race. Those two eventually secured spots in the final, while Menzies was heading to the LCQ with Speed. That was a fierce field and Deegan nailed the blessed hole-shot, while Timerzyanov and Foust were blasting behind him. They kept the pressure on, but he never lost his cool and kept his lead until the end. There’s no denying that he’s an incredible talent who’s transferred from two wheels to four magnificently.
Al fine con forza, maestro!
Fans at Bristol Motor Speedway definitely got their money’s worth with this final’s line-up. They were four wide going into turn 1 and while the cluster of cars were battling each other for position, Heikkinen took the inside line and tore past them all. By the midway point, Arpin and Foust were out. Block chased Heikkinen hotly around the course. Near the end, they lapped Isachsen and Sandell! The former was bumped out of the way by Heikkinen, who was driving for his life with the Hoonigan-In-Chief on his tail. The GRC Bristol 1-2-3 was Heikkinen, Block and Deegan.
The Little Rallycross God of Thunder
Anybody can learn to drive, or even race; but you’ve got to be born to win. At only twenty-two years of age, Finland’s Heikkinen is surely born to win; but, he still has a lot to learn. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, “Show me a race car driver with no ego and I’ll show you a race car driver who doesn’t win.” They can be mild-mannered nerds anywhere else, but had better turn into Superman when they get behind the steering wheel. Heikkinen’s making a name for himself in this series to be sure, but it comes at a cost.
Liam Doran slapped him upside the head after the race in Munich and Brian Deegan (who avidly trains in MMA) was more than prepared to deal with him during this race, if presented with an opportunity. It’s only a matter of time before the diminutive Finn has to face the music for some of the stunts he’s pulled during these events. At the very least, he should try to work towards balancing his vigorous driving style with some much-needed finesse. Scraping artwork off each other’s cars may be a part of rallycross, but this isn’t a demolition derby, not yet anyway. We look forward to seeing what the future holds for this remarkable young man. Next stop, X Games Los Angeles!
Photo Credit: © Jakub QBA Nitka/ERC24.COM