I can sum up in just a few words what Red Bull GRC Seattle at DirtFish Rally School was like. DirtFish DEFINED rallycross. Simple as that.
Why? Well, as you have heard me say time and time again, it is all about the track. The grounds at DirtFish were a perfect venue for the sport. The cars started on tarmac, switched to gravel around the long turn 1, then back to tarmac as they went into the covered planar building, then back to gravel into turn 10, then to a short bit of tarmac coming out of turn 10, gravel in the final turn and over the jump/finish, and finally back on tarmac on the front straight. All that in ONE lap!
Then there was the weather. The Pacific NW in the spring and fall is notorious for changing weather, and this weekend was no different. The week leading up to the event the area was pounded with rainfall, so much so that the track wasn’t quite 100% finished in time on Friday. The delays made it even more interesting as the practice and qualifying started out wet, but then dried as the day went on. This caused an even bigger challenge for teams to create an optimal setup.
After the first practice when the track was still soaking wet, we noticed something quite intriguing with the times. The top 4 drivers, Block; Higgins; Foust; and Sandell all had stage rally driving backgrounds. By the time the second practice ran, the track was much drier and appeared to fall away from some drivers and come to others. Notably Austin Dyne, Steve Arpin, and Scott Speed seemed to struggle over the weekend as they adjusted to the slippery conditions.
I had a chance to speak with a number of drivers about what they thought of the track at DirtFish after the event, and in every single case they said it was the best track yet. Emma Gilmour felt more comfortable than she ever has in her Hyundai Veloster Turbo, especially when it was still wet. When the track dried, dust clouded her results, but she still had a lot of fun on a track that played well with her stage rally roots.
Hyundai teammate Rhys Millen also expressed his enjoyment with the track, saying that tracks like this are what the sport was meant for. Rhys also said that his last time in Seattle with David Higgins as a competitor was 2002 when he battled Higgins in the Olympus Rally. Rhys won that battle in 2002, and came out in front of Higgins again at DirtFish.
3rd place finisher Brian Deegan was quoted “…this is the most fun track right here. This is the track where the real drivers are laying it down, getting through, being fast, and picking lines to find traction. I think this is rallycross, right here. In the end it made for a great race the whole time—just watching the cars go around the track was so entertaining, to see the guys and the driving talent out there. And car setup here, I think it was the most important track for car setup. It was a challenge for everyone.”
Red Bull GRC Lites Champion Mitchell DeJong said “This is an awesome track – you get to slide. I think the biggest thing on this track is you really have to pitch into corners and get it rotated early, but not slide too much or get too much wheel spin. It’s a hard balance, but it was definitely my favorite track of the year, and I hope to be back next year.”
The fan turn out also seemed to solidify the enthusiasm of a return to predominantly dirt and gravel track. It was a sell-out crowd for Red Bull GRC Seattle, showing that a well promoted event and a strong Pacific Northwest rally culture can bring crowds out of the city to a well constructed track even if it’s 30 minutes away.
The event wasn’t perfect by any means and has room for improvement, most notably in track visibility, but overall I think the fans that came out were happy they did. I’ll be posting up more photos, some fan accounts of their experience at the event, as well as some behind the scenes interviews in the coming days.
Finally, in this first posting I have to say congratulations to Subaru Rally Team USA and Sverre Isachsen who won their first Red Bull GRC event after years of development and hard work. The Norwegian “Viking Warrior” was so excited that he danced on his rooftop after a series of victory donuts. I had to laugh a little because Sverre speaks English quite well, but he was so excited that he was almost unintelligible for a while. That’s okay Sverre, we all got the gist of how happy you are. Congrats to you and the whole crew at SRTUSA!