The first round of the re-invigorated Global Rallycross Championship made its debut at the X-Games in Brazil last weekend. Quite a few drivers are committing to the full GRC season this year, as well as a number of one-off drives. Notably missing are Rhys-Millen and Hyundai after Hyundai pulled out of all motorsports in the USA at the end of last year. Also missing was the Subaru Puma team. It appears they are doing only the American events and skipping the more expensive long distance events.
So who was down in Brazil? Well of course we had Tanner Foust and Brian Deegan with their Olsberg MSE Ford Fiesta STs, Ken Block with his Hoonigan Racing Division Fiesta ST, and Travis Pastrana back with the Red Bull Discount Tire Dodge Dart. Other returns from last season were Toomas Heikkinen also with the Ford Olsberg MSE team, Liam Doran in his Monster Citroen, and Bryce Menzies who is now officially a teammate to Pastrana and will compete in all rounds of the GRC in the Dodge Dart.
There were some new faces as well. Anton Marklund brought the VW Polo T16 to the party as well as a temporary teammate of former Indy 500 winner Buddy Rice. Olsberg MSE added a second squad that included Canadian Steve Arpin and NASCAR Sprint Cup / former F1 driver Scott Speed. Swedish rally driver Patrik Sandell also made an appearance. Finally Brazil got a few local drivers into the action with Edu Marques and Mauricio Neves in Peugeots and Nelson Piquet Jr. in a Mitsubishi EvoX.
We asked for more dirt, and boy did we get it. A few short weeks ago the 1/2 mile race course was actually a corn field that was tilled up and leveled out. The entire route was red clay except for a short concrete section that served as the start / finish. The jump returned, but it this time was made of dirt instead of the steel car killer of last year. They also made the jump a table top style instead of a gap jump, and made it wide enough that two cars could go over it side-by-side.
Heat 1 Liam Doran was pushed at the start into the inside infield as Ken Block and Toomas Heikkinen dove for the inside of the first turn. Blinded by the dust wake behind Heikkinen, Block was never able to catch him but still made it into the final.
Heat 2 had Brian Deegan and Travis Pastrana as well as Nelson Piquet Jr. and Bryce Menzies Piquet jumped the start and after the first lap had to pull into a new “penalty box” feature for a stop and go. It was good to see some sort of rules enforcement that didn’t require the race to be restarted every time. Deegan’s Fiesta slid into second and then got the lead as soon as Piquet went into the penalty. Pastrana followed close behind in the dust cloud making it to the final along with Deegan.
Heat 3 was dominated by of course Tanner Foust followed by Steve Arpin, the two Brazilian Peugeots couldn’t keep up.
Heat 4 was by far the most interesting with Scott Speed coming out on top after being pushed sideways by Anton Marklund and Buddy Rice into the first turn. Speed was in third spot but his clean straight line driving style vs. the sideways sliding used by Marklund and Rice allowed Speed to narrow the gap and get passed both drivers to make it to the final.
Last Chance Qualifier – 7 cars with 4 laps with the top 2 making into the final. You can imagine the mayhem going into the first turn. Heck, the mayhem began before the first turn. Liam Doran stalled on the start and Menzies ran right into the back of him taking them both out. Buddy Rice came out in the lead when Sandell went too wide in the first turn. Nelson Piquet Jr. in the Evo was surprisingly catching Sandell, but didn’t have enough laps to get the job done.
The Final – 10 cars and 10 laps. A melee into the first turn, and out of the dust cloud Heikkinen was in the lead with Scott Speed in second followed by the VW of Marklund. Foust was spun almost backwards but continued behind Marklund but was tagged in the rear by Pastrana. By lap 4 Block, Pastrana, and Foust were missing from view and a red flag was thrown due to broken cars littering the race course. A replay of start showed Ken Block move quickly to inside and clip front end of Buddy Rice making him go off. Pastrana was way wide into turn 1 where the looser dirt sucked his car into the corner markers. Block, Pastrana, and Foust all had suspension damage.
With a red flag that means an unfortunate restart, however new rules for this year stated that on a restart cars can have only the most minor of repairs done. This would include fixing bodywork with gaffer tape, or at most replacing a flat tire. No mechanical repairs are allowed. At first I thought the X-Games might bend the rules because this meant the 3 most well known drivers were out. However I was surprised and impressed that they stuck to their regulations, which was once obvious as the cameras focused on Foust walking quickly away from the paddock with a very upset look on his face.
The restart included the six cars of Scott Speed, Brian Deegan, Toomas Heikkinen, Steve Arpin, Anton Marklund, and Patrik Sandell. I could describe it, but instead you are better off watching it for yourself. Here’s the final Part2 via GRC YouTube
As you can see a great drive by Scott Speed who had never driven a four wheel drive car before this past week, let alone jumped one. It was a great final race even if the big names were missing. Scott Speed proved that clean driving like he was used to doing in F1 is faster than going sideways on slippery dirt. A well deserved win for Speed and once again Ford was dominant.