Unpredictable is the word which best describes this Global Rallycross Championship (GRC) so far. It began with an upset in Brazil, was followed by cold, wet disappointment in Spain; but then there was a magnificent weekend of racing in Germany. Firstly I cannot say enough about this track. It was 40% asphalt, 60% roadbase and handled the weekend’s rains quite well. This translated to a wet but not waterlogged circuit. (Take notes, Barcelona.)
You may have heard this before (probably from me) but dirt is a part of rallycross. The gravel material on the Ford Rallycross FröttmaRing was muddy but not mucky. So although the cars slipped and slid, there was some degree of control for the seasoned drivers to really work this course. The only jump was an especially long tabletop and I don’t recall seeing many cars clear it cleanly. The pace was hectic from the very first heat, even though only four cars were running at a time and these same cars would have to be raced again the next day. It quickly became apparent that it was going to be a matter of ‘whatever was left of the car’ would race the next day. Bits and pieces were falling off and almost everything was caked with mud. Just another day in rallycross!
One Bad Man in the Mini
Liam Doran competed with a Monster Energy Mini RX car by Prodrive for the very first time at these games; and beat the heck out of it, along with the rest of the finalists. He blasted through the first day’s heat and drove like a force of nature to claim the gold medal. The left rear tire was lost on the fifth lap; and one would think that would slow him down, but no! The British Bomb just kept on going for three more laps without missing a beat. On paper, the Mini isn’t as powerful as most of the other cars but it was light and handled incredibly well. His performance continued into the next day as he secured another podium finish. This time it was a silver medal, behind a young driver who’s become the man to beat in the GRC.
Topi on Top!
Toomas “Topi” Heikkinen is the latest ‘Flying Finn’ to sit atop the Driver’s Standings with three podium finishes this season. He follows in the footsteps of Marcus Grönholm who was dominating the series last year, until an accident during practice at X Games Los Angeles took him out of the sport indefinitely. Heikkinen had crashed during a practice session for that event as well but managed to return to the series, for an appearance at the SEMA Las Vegas finale. His aggressive style has drawn some criticism but also delivered results, especially this year. Another aggressive driver is Doran. Watching the way they were banging doors during the final races makes me think, that he may be the only one to match or beat Heikkinen. They won’t be racing against each other until the fifth GRC round in Bristol and I can’t wait to see how that battle unfolds.
Curse of the Zombie Cat?
Poor, poor Subaru Puma Rallycross team. My goodness these guys went through the wringer during this weekend’s races. Sverre Isachsen’s car gave out on the tabletop during the first day’s heats and he wasn’t able to compete until Sunday. In the meantime, both Bucky Lasek and Dave Mirra ended up in the LCQ but neither one of them survived to reach the final. Mirra was actually doing quite well until spinning out and then his team mate did the same. The next day, it was Mirra’s turn to be plagued by mechanical problems while Lasek was surprisingly successful in his heat. That is up until Sverre Isachsen passed him and then Lasek fell to the rear of the pack as usual. In a surprising turn of events, Isachsen was knocked out of the competition by Ken Block in the final. Although Block was disqualified for the offensive maneuver, the damage was done and the Subaru element was once again rendered inert.
Photo Credits: Red Bull, ERC24.com, Global Rallycross
Big Stars Took A Big Beating
Once again, the stars came out for the X Games and went home disappointed. Only Ken Block and Tanner Foust snagged medals despite qualifying strongly, while the rest of the field fell by the wayside. Travis Pastrana was spared since he was in fulfilling his duties as a NASCAR Nationwide Series driver for Roush Fenway Racing, and that may have been a good thing. Are we witnessing a change in the GRC’s pecking order? The series isn’t even halfway through the schedule so the big dogs have time for redemption; that is if the young pups will let them.
The GRC picked a particularly potent group of guest drivers this time around. 2012 ERC champion, Timur Timerzyanov drove fiercely and the Pastrana’s Dodge Dart was in a shambles at the end of each race day. Brazilian Dakar Rally veteran Guilherme “Guiga Spinelli threw himself into the event with varying degrees of success. It seemed as though he was having a bit of trouble adjusting to the course and style of driving on the first day, but by the second he was a definite threat. I was quite impressed by IndyCar’s Townsend Bell. He also needed some time to get his bearings but when he did, the California native put on quite a show. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him participating in future GRC rounds. Then there’s Mattias Ekström who turned out to be a beast of a rallycross driver. He didn’t just make it into the final races, but gave the experienced racers a serious run for their money. I’m looking forward to his next rallycross appearance and wouldn’t be surprised if there wasn’t a podium finish in the Swede’s future.
What’s the bottom line?
The international fixtures for the series are over and we’re going to see rounds taking place at a number of NASCAR tracks. This raises questions like: will the dreadful metal gap jump return? Also, will we see any NASCAR or IndyCar stars try their hand at rallycross? The sport is growing but in popularity but still suffers certain indignities. For example, the race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway is over. Coverage was broadcast live on www.espn3.com (for US audiences only) and fans will have to wait until Saturday July 13th at 7:30 pm EST to see the race on ESPN. I for one, tried to watch the race live but there was an error that stopped the stream. Naturally, the results were all over social media so there’s now little or no chance for surprise. It’s not the GRC’s fault. As a matter of fact they’re doing an admirable job making lemonade from the lemons they’ve been thrown. However, the lack of live TV coverage shows their struggle and how much they need the fans’ support. We’ll scour the web for the best videos and photos from Loudon, as soon as they become available. Remember that at My Life At Speed, when we know, you’ll know.