With the large gap since round 9 at DirtFish Rally School, we’ve already known for some time that next week’s final round of the Red Bull Global Rallycross Championship would be the championship decider. Mathematically Joni Wiman, Ken Block, Nelson Piquet Jr., and Scott Speed all have a shot at taking home the crown, and GRC didn’t have to falsely add final event “double points” to make it happen (ahem…F1 and IndyCar). To add to the excitement, the final round takes place in Las Vegas during the “so famous it’s infamous” (old “Friends” watchers will catch that one) SEMA Show conference in Las Vegas. SEMA (Specialty Equipment Market Association) Show is the biggest aftermarket tuner convention on the planet, and is the place where everyone will want to make an impression for their current sponsors and hopefully garner new ones.
Figuring out who has the best chance of winning has often come down to the track design as much as the drivers themselves. More dirt and Ken Block has a clear advantage. Tight and twisty tarmac seems to be Nelson Piquet Jr. and Scott Speed’s forte. Interestingly points leader Joni Wiman has been good on every surface, but has yet to take a win. Well this week the new track design was released and it’s about as good as can be expected from a large parking lot race course. The image below shows the new layout that consists of 62% tarmac and 38% gravel/dirt.
You can see RBGRC has been learning and they have come to depend on a longer tightening turn 1 to help prevent the red flag mayhem we have seen in the past. Although this concept hasn’t been fool-proof, it has worked much better than earlier designs. Personally I still prefer the joker to be on the first turn so that the field has to make a decision to split or stay together, again further preventing the possibility of a red flag. That isn’t as easy to do with such a short course and you don’t get that final lap joker for the win that everyone is hoping for either. The joker in this design is quite a bit longer than the ones in the past and it will be interesting to see just how much or how little of an advantage this joker will be.
I don’t know the official length of this course, but I’d assume it is likely about half a mile at most which misses the sweet spot of 3/4 of a mile where the cars can really stretch their legs. I’d also like to see more gravel/dirt as well, but I can understand the challenges of hauling in the tons of dirt they already do for such an urban setting. Additionally more dirt means slower speeds on such a tight course, and of course everyone wants more speed. That being said, I think this is a great track design for the space they are utilizing. As I’ve said many times before, this concept of bringing the racing “to the people” has its drawbacks, and these smaller mostly tarmac go-kart like tracks are the result. In this case I can’t really blame them for having a race that not only coincides with SEMA Show, but takes place right next to the show itself.
As for who is going to take home the crown with a track design like this? In all honesty it’s a toss up. Ken Block has proven his pace all season, but has ran into issues being punted by others on these shorter courses. If he keeps it clean and others play nice (which is not likely) I think he could be the winner and the champ. Joni Wiman is in the same boat as Block and just needs to keep his nose clean and he could end up champion as well, and possibly do it without even winning a race. I think Scott Speed in the Polo probably has the biggest advantage on this tarmac heavy course, but I don’t think he’ll come out as the champion. It’s all hurry up and wait until next week to find out.
Tickets are still available at http://www.redbullglobalrallycross.com/LV for those that are able to make it to the event on Wednesday November 5th and Thursday November 6th. For those not attending, Live web streaming will available via RedBull.TV (finally!) and the television broadcast will be aired post event on Sunday, November 16 at 1:30PM ET (10:30 AM Pacific) on NBC.