The Global Rallycross Championship returned to the United States this weekend. Before I get into the drama of New Hampshire, here’s a quick recap of what happened overseas.
First of all, I have been quite critical of the GRC organizers and their track designs, at least until now. The first event was at X-Games Brazil, and the track consisted of 90% clay dirt and a single concrete slab used as the start / finish. In Brazil the dust was a huge issue, so to combat that they added water to the track. Water on clay just turned it into an ice rink. In the end Scott Speed who had never driven on dirt before smartly drove to a win with a dramatic pass of Toomas Heikkinen when he took the Joker on the final lap. My full review which includes a video of that final race is here: http://openpaddock.net/2013/04/22/review-grc-x-games-brazil/
X-Games Brazil Results:
|6||92||Anton Marklund||Marklund Motorsport||VW|
|7||199||Travis Pastrana||Pastrana Racing||Dodge|
|9||43||Ken Block||Hoonigan Racing Division||Ford|
|10||29||Buddy Rice||Marklund Motorsport||VW|
From Brazil the GRC went to the next X-Games round in Barcelona, Spain. They tried the same kind of track design, but this time in their giant football (soccer) stadium. Unfortunately it rained, and again clay and water do not mix well. After a few practice laps with extra cuts added to their spec tarmac tires, it was still undriveable. The organizers delayed as much as possible, but then succumbed to mother nature and cancelled the event. The biggest bummer was that Spain was supposed to be the first round where Subaru returned with a redesigned and more competitive car, and VW had WRC legend Carlos “El Matador” Sainz as a guest competitor. So much for that.
Then two weeks ago GRC went to Germany for X-Games Munich. Munich was going to be a double-header with races on both Saturday and Sunday to make up for the lost round in Spain. The organizers apparently learned their lesson as the track design was dramatically different in Germany. They had 40% tarmac and 60% gravel, and no dirt made of caly. The track looked a lot better, especially when the rain came. Lo and behold the water drained away and the track was in great condition for the first event.
Event 1 in Munich was in the wet, but actually proved in my mind to be one of the best races GRC has had to date. I think a combination of the worry of the slick track and limited replacement parts available for the double-header made for cooler heads behind the steering wheels. X-Games gold medalist Liam Doran was back, but this time sporting a GRC Mini Cooper. Subaru was there now as well, but had major issues with their launch control having multiple stalls on the start line. The Red Bull / DirtFish squad was absent Travis Pastrana so they brought in 2012 European Rallycross champion Timur Timerzyanov to substitute drive the #199 Dodge Dart along side teammate Bryce Menzies. Unfortunately Timerzyanov spent too much time punting others and ending up in the barriers to be much of a factor. VW was there again with Anton Marklund and this time their guest driver was DTM Champion Mattias Ekstrom. The VW team was very competitive, but seemed to be just short of experience and missed the podium. Ford of course was still the dominant manufacturer on hand with the usual players as well as a guest driver this time being former IndyCar driver and NBC sportscaster Townsend Bell. Bell didn’t make it to the final, but said he had a lot of fun. In the end it was Liam Doran in his new Monster Energy Mini Cooper that came out on top, but it wasn’t without a dramatic finish as he got a rear puncture with 3 laps left. Toomas Heikkinen was trying to get around Doran, but forgot to check his mirrors. Ken Block ducked under Heikkinen with 2 laps left and grabbed 2nd. Ken was doing some of his best driving to date, and had their been another lap left he likely would have won the X-Games gold medal he so desires.
GRC Munich Event 1 Results:
|1||33||Liam Doran||LD Motorsports||Mini|
|2||43||Ken Block||Hoonigan Racing Division||Ford|
|4||92||Anton Marklund||Marklund Motorsport||VW|
|5||29||Mattias Ekstrom||Marklund Motorsport||VW|
|10||199||Timur Timerzyanov||Pastrana Racing||Dodge|
Event 2 on Sunday in Munich was much drier. This meant that drivers were much more aggressive, and unfortunately there were red flag restarts galore. Subaru appeared to have fixed their launch control issues, however they still didn’t seem competitive. The crew deserves an award though, as they were able to replace Mirra’s blown engine from practice in an hour and a half! Marklund Motorsport’s VW Polo and especially guest driver Mattias Ekstrom made a strong showing, but still missed the podium. The Dodge Dart showed it had speed, when it stayed on the track. The Dodge Dart / Red Bull / DirtFish / Discount Tire / America’s Tire crew (ridiculous number of names!) had a very busy weekend of car fixing as Timerzyanov made mistakes bending his car and Menzies had mechanical gremlins from power steering to gearbox issues. Again, crew deserves the award here. Ford unsurprisingly remained on top with Doran’s Mini also right up there.
As for the red flags, it all started in the LCQ. Menzies tried to go too far to the inside and clipped a water barrier halting the car abruptly and Mirra hit the Dodge Dart’s rear quarter panel, killing the Subaru and leaving it stranded in the middle of the track. Tough luck for Scott Speed as he had made it from the back row all the way to 2nd until the red flag was raised. Unfortunately Speed tried the same thing Menzies did earlier by going too far to the inside and smacks Marklund causing him to spin and then Marklund get’s hit by Sandell. Both Speed and Marklund out of the race and littering the course with more car fragments. This time the tough luck was for Dodge/Red Bull’s Timerzyanov and Ford’s guest driver Townsend Bell. Timur had the lead and Bell was in a strong second place until yet another red flag was waived. The LCQ finally finished but with more drama as Timerzyanov suffered a blown turbo and something broke on Bucky Lasek’s Subaru. That gave IndyCar’s Townsend Bell the win in the LCQ, and the Mitsubishi of Guilherme Spinelli were able to advance to the final.
So on to the final then. One would think the more experienced in the final would mean a bit less carnage right? Even though they have 10 laps to duke it out in the final vs. the 6 lap heats and 4 lap LCQ, it didn’t matter. Isachsen is pinched into a barrier causing his Subaru to go on two wheels for a bit, and Doran shoots up from the outside and bangs doors with Heikkinen who had the best start. No red flags, but plenty of “Rubbing is Racing” going on. Deegan was battling close with Foust but ended up with a front puncture and pulls off. Ken Block pulls into the penalty box after a jump start, dropping way back. In the end the top 3 of Heikkinen, Doran, and Foust stretch out a comfortable lead and finished in the same positions they were in after lap 1. Of note was Ken Block who was excluded for doing the police chase “PIT maneuver” on Townsend Bell causing him to spin.
GRC Munich Event 2 Results:
|2||33||Liam Doran||LD Motorsports||Mini|
|4||29||Mattias Ekstrom||Marklund Motorsport||VW|
|7||12||Guilherme Spinelli||X Team Racing||Mitsubishi|
|8||11||Sverre Isachsen||Subaru PUMA Rallycross||Subaru|
|10||43||Ken Block||Hoonigan Racing Division||Ford|
With the South America and European tour complete, the Global Rallycross Championship came home to the USA. The good news is that the track was just as good as the one in Munich. Even more interesting is the introduction of the new GRC Supercar Lites.