The Global Rallycross Championship has returned to the USA and they wasted no time in stacking the events. 3 weeks ago they went to the New Hampshire Motor Speedway, and a week later were racing on the high banks at Bristol. After a short break, the 500+ HP “angry bees” (as Tanner Foust has been quoted) are back at it again with X-Games LA this weekend.
The Courses so far:
The organizers are quickly figuring things out. For GRC to be viable, they needed proper rallycross tracks. They got the ratio right at New Hampshire with 65% pavement 35% dirt and a big dirt tabletop jump. No more steel car / people killer over-under gap jump. New Hampshire was the first repeat event, and they brought back the “elevated hairpin.” The hairpin is essentially a 5 ft high turning ramp that bridges the race track surface and crosses over the infield barrier into pit lane. This time they beefed up the catch fence to instead be the “Block Barrier” as Ken Block last year during practice went too fast, was unable to stop, went through the fence, and careened over the edge on the back side. There is one weak spot in the design of the rallycross track at NHMS though, and that is the joker. For those that don’t follow rallycross that much yet, the joker is either a slight shortcut or a slightly longer section of track that all drivers must take at least once during their race. In the case of NHMS, the joker simply consisted of a small tire barrier farther up the race track from the transition from gravel to tarmac causing about a 2-3 second increase in time when you take it.
As for Bristol, it was a big disappointment. I understand they had to deal with the high banked oval of the short oval, but other than the tabletop jump it looked like a dump truck accidentally littered a small amount of gravel on the infield. In contrast to New Hampshire though, the Joker was better placed and made the exit back into the racing line much more interesting. For the most part though, if you had the advantage coming out of Turn 2, you won the race.
The US rounds sees the introduction of the new “Supercar Lites” which is a spec series for young up and coming GRC drivers. The cars are mid-engine Ford Fiesta’s with normally aspirated 2.0L 4 cylinder engines producing about 300HP. These aren’t the fire breathing monsters of the top class, but still fun to watch. The cars being equal means that it is all up to the driver. There was a close battle between Joni Winman and Sebastian Eriksson in New Hampshire with multiple lead changes. Joni eventually got around Sebastian for the win, but it was obvious that these two are closely matched and will provide some great action throughout the season. Joni is apparently a protege to 2 time WRC champion Marcus Gronholm, which would give any driver an edge over their competitors. Those two were at it again in Bristol until the other Erikkson, Kevin Erikkson, clipped a barrier and rolled his car red flagging the race. Sebastian Erikkson (not related) got caught up behind Kevin’s incident and was unable to restart. That left Joni Winman an easy victory with the sole front-row spot on the grid when it restarted. A fun support series, that hopefully we will see more up-and-coming drivers jump into.
Unsurprisingly the Olsbergs MSE Ford squad has been dominating. The Fiesta platform has been well developed over the years, and it has the best handling and acceleration. They have a stacked field of exprienced drivers, however the standout has not been Rockstar Energy’s Tanner Foust as most would have assumed. Minor mechanical difficulties and mistakes had placed Foust at the back of the pack where has had to make up large amounts of ground. Foust did lead at New Hampshire up until the very final turn where in dramatic fashion he braked too late and spun into the barrier on the elevated hairpin. That opened up the door for the points leader and so far GRC dominator Toomas Heikkinen to slide up underneath and take his 2nd win of the season. Toomas has been the driver to watch as he won again in Bristol completing a hat-trick of 3 GRC victories in a row. A big improvement for Toomas since his nasty accident last year where he didn’t make the steel gap jump and slammed square into the super-structure and broke not just the car, but a few bones as well. Brian Deegan also continues to finish well, even when starting from farther back in the field. He’s second in championship points, but only 4 points separate positions 2-5.
Ken Block and his Hoonigan Racing Division team have started out well on both events back home by having the best qualifying times at both New Hampshire and Bristol. His lap times were an impressive 1 second faster than the rest of the field. Unfortunately for Block, once he got in traffic he’s been bumped back. It all went wrong when he “hooned” the joker at New Hampshire and did a half spin eventually finishing 5th when all was said and done. Bristol was much more kind as Block fought hard for a 2nd place finish and did some of his best driving to date. He’s got the right car and the speed, he just needs to get the advantage at the all important first turn.
The Dodge Dart/Red Bull/Discount Tire/DirtFish (i.e. alphabet soup) squad of Pastrana Racing has had a dismal season so far. Being back on home soil hasn’t helped either, as they’ve only advanced to the final via the LCQ all season. Unfortunately, making the final via the LCQ means a back row start and that rarely if ever results in a good finish. Travis was able to drive at New Hampshire, but due to NASCAR Nationwide schedule conflicts, he had to have substitute driver Timur Timerzyanov drive for him at Bristol. Travis was a bit overzealous in the first turn, but did show good form by winning the LCQ. Still it was the best of the worst for the final, and he finished 7th. Teammate Bryce Menzies has shown glimmers of hope for the team, and made one of his best runs at Bristol where he led most of his heat race before being overtaken by Steve Aprin in a Ford and then lost second position to Isaachsen’s Subaru after his joker lap. It was heartbreaking to see him just miss out on a good grid position by such a close margin. Timur on the other hand has been quite disappointing for the team. If he hasn’t had mechanical issues, he’s been putting it into one of the barriers trying to dive the larger Dart into holes it doesn’t fit into. Although Timur has made it to multiple finals, he has always started from the very last position. Overall the Dodge Dart platform still shows promise, and hopefully with a bit more experience behind the wheel and a few minor upgrades they will be in contention for victories.
Subaru PUMA Rallycross:
The Subaru PUMA Rallycross team has been showing some impressive improvement over last year. Admittedly if comparing to last year that’s a little like polishing a turd. However, their issues with the launch control in the European rounds appear to have been resolved and they were able to keep pace with some of the Ford’s on the tracks here in the USA that have more tarmac. Speed wise, I’d say they are equal to the Dodge Dart right now. Team leader Sverre Isachsen has shown the way with the newly upgraded Subaru by finishing 4th at Bristol. The best finishing car in the US so far that doesn’t have a Ford badge on it.
Liam Doran did make a return to the states, but had to skip New Hampshire. Debuting the Rallycross Mini to US fans at Bristol, Doran’s slightly under-powered car took second in his heat race. That meant he gridded well in the final, but still was no match for the Fords. Got punted in the tight turn 2 where something broke and he eventually finished a disappointing 9th.
Most impressive drive of the season so far has to be Tanner Foust at the LCQ in Bristol. The top 3 cars advance into the final in a short 4 lap sprint. Foust was way back in the 3rd row and would have to pass a lot of cars to make it. Through some very smart driving he finished 2nd in the LCQ. This specific race showed the potential of GRC. It was a clean drive, and he simply out braked and out drove everyone but Brian Deegan who started on the front row and had a clear advantage. Unfortunately something broke in the final at Bristol which gave him a 7th place finish.
USA Results So Far:
GRC Loudon, NH
|5||43||Ken Block||Hoonigan Racing Division||Ford|
|6||11||Sverre Isachsen||Subaru PUMA Rallycross||Subaru|
|7||199||Travis Pastrana||Pastrana Racing||Dodge|
|8||81||Bucky Lasek||Subaru PUMA Rallycross||Subaru|
GRC Bristol, TN
|2||43||Ken Block||Hoonigan Racing Division||Ford|
|4||11||Sverre Isachsen||Subaru PUMA Rallycross||Subaru|
|8||199||Timur Timerzyanov||Pastrana Racing||Dodge|
|9||33||Liam Doran||LD Motorsports||Mini|
Points Standings after Round 5 Bristol, TN
|5||43||Ken Block||Hoonigan Racing Division||Ford||58|
|6||33||Liam Doran||LD Motorsports||Mini||51|
|9||11||Sverre Isachsen||Subaru PUMA Rallycross||Subaru||34|
|10||92||Anton Marklund||Marklund Motorsport||VW||26|
Tonight is GRC Summer X-Games LA. Tune in to ESPN at 5PM Eastern to catch the action.