Editor’s Note: Here’s the latest in a series of fan-submitted commentary on the Global Rallycross Championship from Mike Shaw (@oregonwings). We hope you enjoy it as much as we here at OpenPaddock have.
The X-Games was over. Loeb returned to France, Toomas Haikkenen is recovering with his broken ankle after a gnarly collision with the jump ramp, and Marcus Gronholm was still out after his bad concussion. Round 4 of the GRC was going to New Hampshire, and I was beginning to lose interest in this new take on a European sport, but I recorded it on my DVR anyway. I was pleasantly surprised that the New Hampshire Motor Speedway seemed to actually have an exciting setup. It was the longest circuit so far this year, and they added a couple of new features. Back was the gap jump, a slippery water feature, a section of dirt, and the “joker” lap. They also added a small jump right after the start, one under the “car wash”, as well as bigger table-top jump on the back stretch.
Additionally they came up with a unique way of crossing over the 4 foot tall pit wall. The solution was an elevated hairpin turn ramp. This ramp created a challenge because if you cut the corner on the inside too close, you risked clipping some of the pit wall. However, if you went too wide you could end up sliding off the outer edge into a catch fence. Ken Block found that out during a practice session. They had just added in the dirt for Ken’s practice and he didn’t realize how much stuck to his tires. He had a lot less grip approaching the hairpin and couldn’t slow down enough which had him slide off the edge and into the catch fence. Lesson learned.
Heat 1 featured the always quick Tanner Foust in his Fiesta, Stephan Verdier in the Hyundai Veloster, David Binks also in another Fiesta, and the “Viking Warrior” Sverre Isaachsen in the Subaru. Right after the start Isaachsen clipped Binks as the cars lined up to go through a chicane made of barriers and he spun out of control. My eyes rolled as once again GRC seemed to have more wrecks than racing action. Amazingly Stephan Verdier who was right behind Isaachsen was able to get by with minimal damage. So three cars through clean, one stuck on the side of the road, and thankfully no red flag restart. Soon it was obvious that the Hyundai Veloster I saw at X-Games was not the same this time around. Apparently they have a new engine package and it showed. The Hyundai was just as fast as the Fiesta, and Verdier was actually gaining ground on Foust and Binks. Unfortunately, in the end it still ended up being a parade with the Fords going 1-2 and the Hyundai in 3rd. The Hyundai is showing some promise now though.
Heat two was a 5 car grid featuring MWRT driver Ken Block on the pole, fresh after the release of his fifth Gymkhana video which reached 10 million views on YouTube in just a few days. Yeah, those videos are simply bad ass and this one was the best yet. Next to him was Brian Deegan and David Mirra. This time they had a second row which added Pat Moro in an older Subaru and Andy Scott who was now infamous for punting Travis Pastrana at X-Games. At the start it was pretty even, but Block and Deegan had the advantage being on the outside going into the chicane. Scott, once again with too late of braking hit the left rear of Block sending him into the tires and ending his run. Maybe Block will get another shot in the LCQ. This one was red flagged and restarted. Only three cars on the grid for the restart. Brian Deegan, Dave Mirra, and Pat Moro. Ken’s windshield was smashed (along with the rest of the front end) and Andy Scott had some bent suspension and was unable to continue. LCQ for these guys.
The restart had Deegan easily jump to the lead in the Fiesta, however surprisingly Pat Moro was amazingly quick with his privateer Subaru. He likely wouldn’t last too long in second position vs. the factory cars, but a great show of his skill at the start. Even though this Heat was an easy pick for the winner (Deegan), it was still great fun to watch. The most exciting wasn’t the big gap jump, but instead the little table-top jump on the back stretch. The drivers are going flat out and flying through the air completely clearing the ramp on the other side. As they land on the hard asphalt you can see the suspension compressing to the max and almost bottoming out the car. The cars fly straight and level and immediately tear off again as they land. It’s just great to watch. So yeah, Deegan won and Mirra in second even though he had a left rear flat that he got on the last lap.
Heat 3 we get to see Travis Pastrana in a pole position for the start next to Samuel Hubinette in the SAAB and finally Liam Doran in the Citroen C4 on the inside. Second row had Bucky Lasek for Subaru and privateer Richard Burton. Hubinette jumped the start causing a red flag and restart. Even though Hubinette was forced to be 3 car lengths back on the re-start (one car length behind the back row), he quickly caught up to Travis Pastrana. On the back stretch they were door to door and jumped side-by-side on the table-top. Hubinette got into the ramp-hairpin first, but there was just enough room for Pastrana to duck inside of him with only a few taps of body work. Great driving by both to keep it as clean as possible. Off the back side of the hairpin Pastrana got on the gas first and accelerated away and from there was able to drive a cleaner line and hold on to finish in first. Really? Did I just see that? Pastrana actually made it through clean and into the final! About time.
On to the LCQ we had a front row of Stephan Verdier, Pat Moro, and Bucky Lasek. Second row of Block and Doran, and in the back of the pack was captain punter – Andy Scott, and finally Sverre Isaachsen. This was the best start yet of a 7 car grid. Everyone got out clean with Stephan Verdier in the Veloster really pulling ahead with Ken Block close behind. Unfortunately for those taking the joker on the first lap, Sverre Isaachsen stalled his car mid corner causing everyone else to go around him. Back in the front on the second lap Verdier takes the joker to split up the fight between him and Ken Block. Lap 3 and Block takes the joker and slides into 3rd behind Liam Doran in the Citroen C4. Verider, Doran, Block, and Andy Scott who ended up in 4th move on into the final.
Of all people to be on the pole was Travis Pastrana. Next to him was Foust with Deegan on the inside for the first row. Second row had Binks and Hubinette. Row three had Mirra, Verdier, then Doran. And finally in the very back was Ken Block and Andy Scott. 10 cars combining to make over 5,000 hp. Amazingly there was a clean start. Mirra had slightly inched up for a jump start, but held back when it actually went green causing no penalty or red flag. Foust got the jump into the lead with Pastrana hot on his tail followed then by Deegan. Samuel Hubinette led an even split of 5 cars taking the joker on lap one, while the rest took the standard route. Lap 2 and Pastrana caught up to Foust in the pit wall hairpin. He gave him a little tap, and for some reason Tanner’s car hesitated as if it missed a gear. Pastrana sped away before Foust got going again taking the lead. Binks even got around Foust taking second away from him. The battle for second between Foust and Binks slowed them down allowing Hubinette to wedge in between them at the pit-wall hairpin on the next lap. Foust and Hubinette scraped fenders back and forth with Foust finally getting in front through the chicane. Foust took the joker to avoid more battle damage, but it was no use as Hubinette had already taken the Joker earlier and was then well ahead of Foust. Meanwhile Pastrana was all alone up front. He took the joker on the final lap and still came out ahead of Hubinette who finished second, with Brian Deegan edging out Foust for third and Tanner Foust finishing fourth.
Summary – By far this was the best GRC event yet. It had good bumping and grinding without so much “punting” into barriers as previous events. In most places there was enough room for cars to drive side-by-side, which is the point of RallyCross anyway. The multiple jumps looked great as did the combo of dirt / tarmac. Especially enjoyable was that the cars are getting more equal. The well developed Ford Fiesta is no longer the dominator in GRC. The Dodge Dart of all vehicles proved just as fast and maneuverable, and the new Hyundai Veloster upgrades seemed to make a big difference as well. Team Subaru has a lot of work to do though. In every event they seem to be lagging behind. I’m hoping that Subaru can make similar gains as was noticeable from Hyundai and get back in the fight.
The final GRC round is at Las Vegas in September.