History was made last night at Irwindale Speedway as the very first Gymkhana GRID event was held. Although the GRC events have been almost impossible to predict this year, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt, which driver was going to win. Now if only I had the sense to put some money on it.
There were only eight competitors. Unlike rallycross racing, this wasn’t about brute force as the focus was finesse and superior driving skills. Any mistake meant instant downfall and cars would have to work perfectly. Ken Block cooked up one heck of a race course and at least he has that pleasant thought to hold on to, but more about the Hoonigan-In-Chief later on.
The first quarterfinal was all Ford with Tanner Foust versus Brian Deegan, and at first I thought that The General was a lamb being led to slaughter but not so! He was quite impressive, especially when you consider who he was up against. His second run was much better but not enough to overcome the man who won the very first Gymkhana Invitational in 2010, which by the way was a thing of beauty.
Then came the night’s big upset in the very exciting second quarterfinal that saw Liam Doran in his Mini RX car face off against the Gymkhana master, Ken Block in his Hoonigan Ford Fiesta ST. In the first run Block was ahead until they reached the 540 Container. At that point, Doran gained the upper-hand and took the win. However, it was best out of three and Block barely scraped a win by the skin of his shiny tooth, forcing them into a tie-breaker. I really didn’t expect Ken Block to lose so early, but he did.
“Today was a big win for my Gymkhana GRID series, but a disappointing loss for me. My team and I were struggling to find the fastest gymkhana setup on my car (which is a very different setup from what I use for my videos), going from too much wheelspin (which = lots of tire smoke!) to falling below the powerband. Because of that, I got knocked out during the main @XGames GRID event, which SUCKS. But, at the end of the day, I’m really stoked about GRID as a whole: big crowd, awesome driving and super close competition. I’ll be back, now I just need to perfect a better race setup! #winsomelosesome” – Ken Block via Instagram
The next face-off was Subaru Rally Team USA’s David Higgins against Anton Marklund. Earlier in the day, Driving Sports TV shared a very cool video of Higgins doing a quick and tidy practice run. Could the curse of the zombie cat finally be broken by the English rally pro? Alas, no. The nimble Polo finished the first run 2.42 seconds ahead of the WRX STI, which suffered a technical failure during the second run. Incidentally, the Volkswagen Polo hemorrhaged fluid on the course causing a delay as work crew cleaned up the mess. This did not bode well for the Swede.
Another international duel followed as Swedish OMSE Ford driver, Patrik Sandell was up against Frenchman Stephan Verdier, in his own Subaru WRX STI. Earlier in the day, these two had contact exiting the course and tied during seeding that followed; so this should have been a terrific match. Unfortunately, Verdier’s brake handle, broke during the first slide, taking him completely out of the event and giving Sandell a pass to the Semis.
Smoking Hot Semifinals
The first battle was between Monster Energy’s Liam Doran and Rockstar Energy Drink’s Tanner Foust. They’ve tangled many times on ERC and GRC rallycross circuits, but then Doran revealed that his left hand was badly damaged after a collision with the container during practice. Would this affect his ability to fend off Foust? It certainly seemed that way, as Doran crossed the finish line first but hit two barrels during the first race, which incurred a four second penalty. On their second try, Foust suffered a serious lapse in concentration and went off course, straight toward disqualification, handing Doran a chance in the tie-breaker.
Both drivers needed to deliver perfection in order to secure a slot in the Finals and that’s exactly what Foust did. Doran hit part of the 180 Box and was subsequently hit with a four-second penalty. He was understandably irate after the race, but this could serve as impetus for his return next year. Marklund and Sandell were up next but the Volkswagen Polo was smoking terribly and spewing oil. The officials weren’t having that and the car was sent off for mechanical issues, setting up a Foust/Sandell showdown for the gold. As a result Liam Doran automatically won the bronze medal, causing the cheeky smile to return.
Foust Reigns Supreme
Ford Racing execs must have been giddy over the embarrassment of riches in the Gymkhana GRID final. Foust and Sandell together thrilled journos on Media Day this past Friday, and were now set to duke it out for X Games gold in this brand-new event. Believe me, champagne would be flowing no matter who won. However, our concern is who actually won and that honor fell to Tanner Foust, my pick since the event was announced.
Sandell performed admirably but Foust outclassed him in every way with a convincing victory in runs of 1:01.16 and 1:01.28. It was a flawless victory for the forty year-old Colorado native and his first gold medal since 2010. This has been a disappointing year for the current GRC champion who’s only managed one podium finish so far and that was for third place.
Although this was very different from GRC rallycross, which boasts the largest group of drivers yet, including first appearances by Rhys Millen, Stephan Verdier and David Sterckx. Along with both Travis Pastrana in his Dodge Dart, Timur Timerzyanov (this time for Marklund Motorsport) and this year’s juggernaut, Toomas “Topi” Heikkinen. Can Foust keep up the momentum, making this into another golden weekend for him at the Irwindale: House of Drift? Tune in to ESPN on Sunday August 4, 2013 at 5:00pm EST to found out. You can also check back here for official photos and videos because we’ll be watching too and when we know, you’ll know.