Last week I spoke with Chris Leone of the Red Bull GRC and we summarized the season so far as it heads to the west coast. As the clock ticks down to this weekend’s double-header in LA, I came up with my opinion of where I think the drivers rank. Note that this doesn’t exactly reflect the championship standings as this isn’t just where they finish, but about their consistent speed and potential. I’ve jotted down a few comments about each driver, let me know if you agree or disagree with their rankings.
Don’t forget to tune into NBC at 2PM Pacific Time (5PM Eastern) both Saturday and Sunday to watch all the action unfold at the Port of LA!
1 – Ken Block – #43
Just like last year, Ken has consistantly been one of the fastest all season. He may have just one event win, but he has 7 Heat wins and 2 podiums putting him in second position in the championship. He tops my list due to his ability to consistantly finish well with few mistakes and for his ability to pull it back when getting stuck in the LCQ.
2 – Joni Wiman – #31
Joni is tied with Block in overall Heat wins this season, however small mistakes resulting in stop-and-go penalties have prevented this young protege of the great Marcus Gronholm from getting his first win. If Joni can keep it clean in LA he’ll finally reach that top step he’s been hungry for.
3 – Scott Speed – #77
With 6 heat wins and 2 consecutive event wins Scott Speed is already a proven winner. He’d be leading the championship if it wasn’t for being DQ’d on a technicality in New York. The shorter and mostly tarmac track in LA should serve him well in his Andretti Autosport VW Polo. Keeping it clean, consistent, and preserving the tires will be key to coming out on top.
4 – Nelson Piquet, Jr. – #07
Piquet Jr. is the definition of consistancy with 4 podiums, 2 top qualifiers, 5 Heat wins, and 2 semi-final wins in the first 6 rounds. He leads the championship in points, yet he still hasn’t won an event this season.
5 – Patrick Sandell – #18
Rallying is in the blood of all Scandinavians, and Patrik Sandell is no exception. Patrick has already shown his speed on the shorter tracks with his first win in Washington, D.C. back in June. Although he’s suffered from some bad luck since, Sandell has consistently made the final in all but 1 event this season and just missed out on another podium in Daytona. With 4 Heat wins in the season so far, Sandell’s short course skills could land him another win in LA.
6 – Travis Pastrana – #199
Travis has always been a proven contender. He’s extremely fast and isn’t shy about putting his car where nobody else would to get an advantage. Pastrana’s biggest challenge will be that he hasn’t raced since X-Games Austin and therefore doesn’t have recent experience in getting the most out of the new radial tires used this season. His key will be getting a good launch at the start, and from there he should be able to defend his position fairly well as the Subaru GRC is one of the bigger cars on the grid.
7 – Tanner Foust – #34
Arguably the best starter that Red Bul GRC has ever seen, the two-time Red Bull GRC champ has struggled this season with both mechanical issues and errors made on track. He does have 5 Heat wins and a win in New York, but his biggest challenge will be dialing in the new VW Super Beetle in LA. It’s an entirely new chassis and will take a bit of time to get the car just right for Tanner to get the most out of it.
8 – Bucky Lasek – #81
Buck yeah! Bucky has been by far the most improved driver in the paddock. Bucky has 1 Heat win and 2 podiums, but what impresses me is his clean driving and lack of big mistakes that has consistantly put him very close to the drivers ranked higher than him. Bucky’s smooth driving appears to be getting more out of the upgraded Subaru GRC than his more experienced teammate.
9 – Sverre Isachsen – #11
The “Viking Warrior” has been fast for sure, but has either been in the wrong place at the wrong time, or made minor mistakes preventing him from being ranked higher. Sverre get’s the most out of his Subaru GRC on the slippery stuff which is where he was able to get his first season podium at The Dirt Track in Charlotte. If he can tone down his wild style and preserve his tires, he could get eek out a podium in LA.
10 – Rhys Millen – #67
Rhys has been struggling with continued development of the Hyundai Veloster Turbo this season, but when his car is working it has been extremely competitive. The short courses have also been a bit of a challenge with the larger platform of the Hyundai, however recent upgrades have proven vital and Rhys pulled out a win in Daytona. If Rhys can get his car dialed in right, he is a contender for a top 5 at least in LA.
11 – Steve Arpin – #00
Steve’s constant smile has always been a fan favorite. His stats don’t quite reflect his competitiveness. Arpin has 2 Heat wins and a Semi-Final win so far this season, and has been improving all the time. This Royal Purple driver has potential, but he needs consistancy if he hopes to move up in the rankings.
12 – Austin Dyne – #14
He’s a rookie yes, but Austin has proven to be a fast learner and at moments is right up there with the top drivers in the GRC. Coming off of an impressive first semi-final win in Daytona, Dyne will surely be riding high and taking that confidence into LA. Podiums aren’t very far in the future for this young talent and if he keeps it clean it could be as soon as this weekend. If that happens, his ranking will surely jump up a few notches.
13 – Emma Gilmour – #27
The flying Kiwi, Emmmms has been constantly improving in her first GRC season. The concept of banging doors with other drivers is completely foriegn to any stage rally driver where it is normally just you and your co-driver against the clock all alone. Emma’s only last in this list because of the struggles she has had with mechanical issues and the continued development of the Hyundai Veloster Turbo. I think Emma will probably do best up at DirtFish where she will return to her natural rally environment with lots of gravel.