All weekend long, anticipation among rallycross fans in the US has been building for this event. Okay, who am I kidding? It started right after Ken Block’s Ain’t Care spectacle at the 2012 final in SEMA, Las Vegas. International fans must be chomping at the bit for the new X Games events, but I digress. The Global Rallycross Championship (GRC) did an admirable job keeping fans informed via their YouTube channel. They also re-launched their website on Friday night and it’s gorgeous, but I’m a European Rallycross fan. I am spoiled for information and want to know everything, all the time and immediately. I couldn’t find either a straightforward drivers list or practice times online. All was not lost however, because the official X Games iPhone app had all the details. I recommend it highly and you can’t argue with the price. Yes, it’s free.
Rallycross fans love dirt, we really do. So, brace yourself for this next sentence. I think there was too much dirt. Perhaps the problem was in the type of dirt? It had a very high clay-content. If you haven’t taken a pottery class, then let me tell you: when raw clay dries, its super fine dust will get into and onto everything. There was a truck to spray water on the track, in order to control the dust. However on practice days, the track became clouded after a lap, with only one or two cars in play. The lack of visibility that started out as an issue unfortunately became a very real problem, for some very famous drivers.
The top ten lined up on the starting grid as follows:
Just in case you’ve never seen one of these races, most of the scrambling happens at the very start because all the drivers are fighting for the hole-shot. In any kind of racing, it’s best to get out in front and stay there. Now that doesn’t always guarantee victory in rallycross, but it definitely doesn’t hurt. Mostly because Turn One is usually where all hell breaks loose…and did it ever. There was one collision after another, as an enormous dust cloud kicked up from cars careening off the course. Tanner Foust’s Ford Fiesta was in reverse at one point, but he quickly righted himself to take third place for a little while.
“Turn 1 mayhem… I’m the one backwards in the middle. Exited corner 3rd but damage from the first corner hits was too much. Was a bummer after a great weekend to that point and qual 2nd but I’ve been on the lucky side of the fence too, can’t complain to much. Thanks everyone for the amazing support!! @fordracing @rockstarenergy #globalrallyx #foustlane” (Sunday April 21, 2013)
Those who outran the melee, continued to race as all the survivors got their bearings, before doing the same. Topi Heikkinen from Finland and USA’s Scott Speed had shot out to the front, from the very start. They were soon joined by Sweden’s Anton Marklund, who held onto third place for dear life. Speed and Marklund both tore along the course, and tore their cars apart until the red flag came out at the fourth lap. This negated the partial race they just ran, but a new rule caused an impassioned response in the paddocks. All the teams now had an opportunity to perform light repairs to body work and tire changes, but nothing more. Any car that required in-depth work couldn’t compete any further in this round. An abbreviated final went on without Travis Pastrana, Tanner Foust, Ken Block and Buddy Rice.
Despite a thinner starting grid, the action wasn’t diminished in any way. Brian Deegan (USA) took an early lead, but lost it to Heikkinen, who deftly moved to the inside, bumping doors with Scott Speed. The lone Canadian, Steve Arpin slipped into third place, followed closely by Deegan and Swedish former WRC driver, Patrik Sandell. Heikkinen extended his lead over Speed by taking the joker lap, but he just couldn’t shake the American. The top two cars remained in the same order, but the rest of the pack shuffled about, after taking their joker laps.
At the white flag, it was Heikkinen in first, then Speed and Sandell; but Speed was yet to take the joker lap, and that changed everything. The course was quickly being engulfed in dust. It didn’t look like they could race anymore without completely losing visibility. Heikkinen took the table jump with Speed hot on his tail. At the final turn, Scott Speed entered the joker lap. All the speed in the world couldn’t save Heikkinen, as Scott Speed blasted past him to take the checkered flag! ESPN’s commentators were shouting, the crowd was screaming and X Games Rallycross now had a podium full of first-time medalists. It was an incredibly thrilling race that set social media on fire. Scott Speed drives the NASCAR #95 for Leavine Family Racing, and news of his win broke through ESPN’s coverage of the STP 400 on Twitter.
Fans of the sport who were excited to see “the big guns” duke it out in a cornfield-turned-rallycross-track, were treated to something quite different. With a field full of rookies and young drivers hungry for victory, it was a ferocious race. With all but the fearsome “General” Deegan out of the way, each man knew in his bones, that this was his chance to make a mark on an international stage. Even more importantly, prove himself on as near a level playing-field, as there has ever been since the sport’s X Games debut in 2010. We may not see a race like this for a long time, if ever again. Sponsors certainly won’t stand for their star drivers getting eclipsed by upstarts. Yet, I believe this first 2013 GRC round was a beautiful thing. It showed the world (and future rallycross drivers) that once you have the skills and the chutzpah, then you too can take home the sport’s top prizes. Let’s hold on to that and never let it go. Congratulations to the winners and well-done to all the participants, because nobody left the race track in an ambulance. Next stop, Barcelona!