GRC – Event 2 Review: Texas

Another excellent contribution from rally fan and fan of, Mike Shaw (@oregonwings). Do you love motorsports as much as us? Why not contribute your thoughts and opinions? We’d love to post and share them!

Round 2 of the GRC takes place at Texas motor speedway in conjunction with the IndyCar event. A little bit longer course is laid out this time vs. the one in Charlotte. It is still 100% tarmac, but the one thing everyone is talking about is the return of the large jump. This time it is a 65 foot gap jump made of metal instead of the dirt jumps from last year. It is definitely a sight to see as cars will actually be jumping over the top of a section of the course that runs underneath the gap. In testing Travis Pastrana was a bit too aggressive and jumped too far and bottomed out his Dodge Dart at the base of the jump, breaking the suspension and who knows what else underneath the car. So that’s what happens if you go too fast, however going too slow could be downright deadly.

Round 1 – Heat 1
The starting grid from inside to outside were Marcus Gronholm in the Best Buy Ford Fiesta, Pastrana in the Red Bull Dodge Dart, Andy Scott in his privateer Saab, and Jimmy Keeny in an older Subaru WRX STi. Gronholm once again pulled away right from the green light. Getting a good start is key in Rallycross, and Gronholm is one of the best off the line. Scott barely edged out Pastrana into the first turn and from there they had to go single file as they went over a small table-top style jump, through a chicane, and then up and over the big 65 foot gap. Keeney was a bit underpowered in comparison to the other 3 cars and looked like he was trying to make up time at the jump as he went a bit long, but thankfully got his wheels down on the ramp and didn’t bottom out like Pastrana the day before. On the second lap Gronholm took the short shoot Joker while Scott, with Pastrana close behind, stayed on the longer run. Pastrana was closing the gap on Scott’s Saab when suddenly Keeney’s slower car came off the Joker right in front of Scott and Pastrana just before the gap jump. There was a “no overtake” zone just before the gap jump and Scott just beat Keeney to the braking zone forcing Pastrana to slow down and take the jump behind Keeney. Seconds later Pastrana got around Keeney in one of the hairpins, but a lot of time was lost. The next lap Scott took the Joker as Pastrana tried to make time one more time on the long run. It was all for not as on the final lap Pastrana’s couldn’t get in front of Scott at the Joker. Gronholm takes the Heat 1 victory with Andy Scott in second, Pastrana third, and Jimmy Keeney in fourth.

Round 1 – Heat 2
This time we have Ken Block- Monster Fiesta, Samuel Hubinette – Saab, David Binks – Ford Fiesta, and Patrick Moro in an older Subaru WRX STi. Ken Block’s Monster Fiesta had a horrible start and headed into the first hairpin in third position barely getting underneath Moro. Then suddenly Block spins in the hairpin and stops. Some serious bad GRC luck for Block. Binks takes the lead at this point with Hubinette in the well balanced Saab right behind. Binks took the Joker on lap one extending the amount of clear track in front and behind him, however that also meant a clear line for Hubinette in his Saab. Block tried to make up some ground, but his stall put him in a similar situation as Pastrana in the first heat. Moro slotted in front Block right before the jump slowing him down. Block wasn’t able to overtake Moro for at least half a lap causing him to lose any time he had gained back earlier. On the final lap Hubinette with his souped up Saab took the Joker and found that he had made up enough time putting himself just ahead of David Binks in the Fiesta. Heat 2 finishes with Hubinette taking the win, followed by Binks, Block, then Moro. Subaru USA team driver Dave Mirra was supposed to be in this heat, but his car was broke from a bad jump in practice earlier. He’ll have to make it up in one of the two Last Chance Qualifier runs.

Round 1 – Heat 3
Five cars in this run. We now get Liam Doran who is a well known Brit racer driving a French built Citroen C4, Brian Deegan – Ford Fiesta, Rhys Millen- Hyundai Veloster, Portuguese driver Filipe Albuquerque- another Dodge Dart to be teammate to Pastrana, and finally Stephan Verdier in a back row in the second Hyundai Veloster. Deegan got off the line the fastest, with Millen and Albuquerque right next to him. Liam Doran broke something or stalled at the start and didn’t get going until everyone else was at the other end of the long straight. Albuquerque out accelerated Millen from the hairpin and was able to edge him out into the chicane. Deegan took the Joker right away leaving Albuquerque to duke it out with Millen for second. Millen closed the gap and as they went through a small wet section Albuquerque suddenly locked up the brakes, possibly considering taking the Joker but braked way too late for it. This lost him precious seconds and he was now well back into third. No changes for the rest of the run. Deegan wins with Millen second Albuquerque third and Liam Doran actually getting fourth as Stephan Verdier disappeared from the course.

Round 1 – Heat 4
Tanner Foust in the pole with his Fiesta with youngster “Toby” Toomas Heikkenen – Fiesta, ERC champion Sverre Isachsen in the Puma Subaru, and finally Bucky Lasek in another Puma Subaru. Off the line it was the two Fiestas of Foust and Heikkenen, but going into the first hairpin saw an amazing move by Sverre Isachsen. Foust locked up his brakes, while Isachsen positioned himself to the inside and made a nice cut into the apex applying power expertly with optimal grip edging out both Foust and Heikkenen. Foust closed on Isachsen after the big gap jump, but couldn’t get around him. Isachsen chose to take the Joker while Foust chose to make up ground on the long way around. Sverre went wide on the Joker and partially into the grass losing some time, and of course the very next lap Tanner came through the Joker on his cleaner run and put himself back in front of Isachsen and in the lead. Toby Heikkenen closed up on Sverre after his Joker, but wasn’t able to bash his way around him like he did with the other cars in Charlotte. Heat 4 finishes with Foust followed by Isachsen then Heikkenen in third and Lasek in fourth.

Last Chance Qualifier – Group A
The first LCQ was a 4 car grid because Moro didn’t have his car ready yet. Ken Block had the inside lane with Travis Pastrana on his right, then Jimmy Keeney as the man in the middle and Dave Mirra on the outside with his fixed Puma Subaru. Pastrana got the best launch off the line in front of Block, and interestingly Keeney’s privateer Subaru got off the line before Mirra’s factory backed machine and stayed ahead of him all the way down the straight into the hairpin. Block got right up on the bumper of Pastrana, but couldn’t quite get around him before the “no overtake” zone of the gap jump and tucked in right behind Pastrana. One would think second is good enough in the LCQ, but finishing first gets a better starting position on the final grid, so winning this one is crucial. Mirra made it around Keeney under acceleration between the hairpin and the chicane, but Keeney is pretty quick and was running close behind. After the jump Pastrana is squarely in the lead but makes a mistake at the hairpin, spins the car and stalls it just like Block did on his first Heat run. Everyone goes around as Pastrana frustratingly tries to get the car re-fired reversed and back on the track. The in-car camera of the dejected look on Pastrana’s face was almost painful to watch. It appeared that Pastrana might have something broke. He got his Dart going again, but the car was barely moving and he pulled it behind the wall. Block was comfortably in the lead and Mirra gained ground on Keeney and it finished just like that. Block, Mirra, and then Keeney. Pastrana’s day was done. In the post race interview Pastrana said the car was fine going into the turn, but admitted that he that he dislocated his shoulder and wasn’t able to “pop it back in” until everyone had already gone around him. Apparently Travis Pastrana thinks he is Riggs from Lethal Weapon and able to pop joints in and out at will. It wasn’t clear if the shoulder issue came while under hard braking into the hairpin, or if it came from impact with the tires after the spin. Either way I think he definitely deserves an award for most determined driver.

Last Chance Qualifier – Group B
The second LCQ featured 5 cars. Toomas “bumper buster” Heikkenen had the inside lane with Filipe Albuquerque to his right, Liam Doran in the middle, and Bucky Lasek on the outside. Stephan Verdier in his now repaired Veloster was in a singular back row. Off the line once again was a Fiesta, this time driven by Heikkenen. Right away Toomas took the Joker which is not allowed until the second lap and resulted in his disqualification. Liam Doran had a great start in his Citroen followed by Lasek, Verdier, and finally Albuquerque into the hairpin. The inexperienced Lasek was all over the back of Doran and gave him a little nudge coming out of the chicane. Doran put the power down a little hard fishtailing a bit allowing Lasek to come up alongside, but he had to brake hard for the no overtake zone. Lasek locked up his rear brakes and went only partially over the jump sideways and straddled a barricade with his Subaru. The replay looked like a skateboard rail slide down the water filled barricade. Unfortunately it didn’t work as well with a 3,000 lb rally car bending his suspension and ending his run. Seeing what was happening in front of him, Albuquerque also locked up his brakes and just stopped in front of the jump, something apparently broke in his car too. The next lap Doran who was comfortably up front then had a mechanical issue handing the lead to Stephan Verdier in his Disney Motorcity Hyundai Velosterwith nobody else running on the track. He completed one more lap and then was able to pull off early to save his car since there was no point in going around with nobody to challenge him.

The Main
Marcus Gronholm once again had the choice position of the inside lane. Tanner Foust was next in line with the Saab of Samuel Hubinette next to him and finally Brian Deegan on the outside. Row 2 had David Binks, Sverre Isachesen, Rhys Millen and Andy Scott. Row 3 featured Ken Block and Stephan Verdier. Off the line it was Tanner Foust in the lead with Gronholm taking the Joker right away. You are only allowed to take the Joker on the first lap in the final race, but none of the heats. The race made it only two laps when David Binks slowed his Fiesta too much on the jump ramp in front of Isachsen causing him to brake check and stop on the ramp. A red flag was raised to restart the event. The forced restart was unfortunate for Brian Deegan as he had taken the lead of the first pack due to a spinout that happened in front of Gronholm slowing him down. On the second attempt, the Saab of Andy Scott had jumped too far and went into the tire barrier, pushing tires into the part of the course coming back the other way and halting progress once again.

Final race version 3.0 – Hoping that third time is a charm, the cars lined up one more time. This time they were missing Andy Scott after his car breaker tire hit and Sverre Isachsen that broke something when he spun out in front of Gronholm earlier. Gronholm takes the immediate Joker followed by Hubinette, Millen, and Block to create a front pack of cars. The second pack continued down the straight braking hard into the hairpin, Foust locks up his brakes again and Deegan almost gets around him but he slides a bit wide at the hairpin and Foust reclaims the lead of the second pack. Lap two and already a car is missing, and it’s Ken Block with a mechanical issue. Lap 3 and second place holder Hubinette suddenly pulls off after Deegan just cut in front of him from the Joker short lap. Something broke on Hubinette’s car. Foust finally merged into the first pack on lap 4 taking the Joker, but was nowhere near Gronholm. He did overtake Deegan and the rest of the race finished single file from that point.

No big surprise a Ford Fiesta 1-2-3. Marcus Gronholm handily takes his second win in a row and Tanner Foust repeats for second. This time Brian Deegan rounded out the podium in third, making up for his DNF two weeks ago at Charlotte. I liked the return of the big jump on this event, but still prefer the dirt / tarmac combo courses over this all asphalt version. With all the mechanical issues, I’m beginning to think that the huge amounts of grip on tarmac with massive torque and lightweight components is causing a lot problems that might not have been anticipated ahead of time. The next GRC event is the big summer X-Games event in L.A. July 1st.

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