By Thomas Barker

Ford-mounted drivers took both halves of the Rally Car (U.S.) Rallycross series Round 2 on October 3. Tanner Foust and the Olsbergs MSE team used their Ford Fiesta to win the AWD final – their second in a row – from Dave Mirra (Subaru Impreza WRX STI).

And just a short time before that, Matthew Johnson used his Ford Fairmont station wagon to take an upset win in the 2WD class from Dillon Van Way’s Ford Focus.

As with Round 1, a few weeks earlier, Round 2 was held at New Jersey Motorsport Park (NJMP) in Millville, New Jersey, down the coast from New York City. The course was altered from the first event to lengthen the dirt sections, but it was still mainly a fast paved road racing circuit.

In the 2WD races, the favorites were Josh Wimpey (Volkswagen Golf GTI) and Dillon Van Way (turbocharged Ford Focus). Wimpey was the run-away winner of the final in Round 1, and was back with the same car, but with a much larger crew and service tent. Van Way had been fast in the first event, but had been bumped out in the early laps of the final.

The “underdog” 2WD entrant was Matthew Johnson. His 1978 Fairmont looked like the product of an illicit relationship between a Ford station wagon and a Mustang, which is to say a boxy shell with competition internals such as a race-prepared 348-cubic inch Ford V-8. Johnson explained that while he has previously rallied an all wheel drive Subaru, he was without a vehicle for the autumn rallycross series. His friend Dave Blum offered the Fairmont, which was prepared as a track car. (“Dave has quite a sense of humor.”) Johnson accepted, but it quickly became apparent that this team was no joke.

On the AWD side, friendly rivals Olsbergs MSE and Subaru Rally Team USA were back. Olsbergs MSE (based in Sweden but active in the U.S.) once again had their new-shape 2011 Fiesta in the hands of Tanner Foust, winner of the final in Round 1. They also brought their old-shape 2006 Fiesta, this time driven by three-time European rallycross champion Jussi Pinomaki.

Subaru Rally Team USA returned with a pair of Impreza WRX STIs for regular drivers Travis Pastrana and Dave Mirra. The national rally cars used in Round 1 were replaced by the cars used in the X Games extreme sports competition, re-fitted for rallycross duty. They looked outwardly similar to the rally cars, but team principal Lance Smith assured us that they were completely different cars. He said that he believed that the basic engineering was correct, and now they just needed to increase the power.

Following Round 1 of the series, we wondered if any European Rally Championship (ERC) teams would come to test the waters in the U.S., now that the European season is over. The answer arrived in the form of a Kenneth Hansen Motorsport Citroen C4 and driver Liam Doran, fresh from placing third in the ERC. The team had packed up the car, parts, crew, and Doran following the final ERC event, in the Czech Republic, and flown them to the U.S. As with Olsbergs MSE’s Fords, the Citroen was purpose-built for rallycross, rather than adapted from special stage use, and the driver had ERC experience.

Another group with some promise is Rhys Millen Motorsport. Millen, a California-based Kiwi, started out in rallies, but has been doing drifting and hillclimbs for the past few seasons. For the final two rallycrosses of this year, Millen and his sponsor, Hyundai U.S., arranged for the use of a 2002 Hyundai Accent WRC, still in World Series spec. He admitted that he was happy to be running with the rally crowd again, and hoped that arrangements could be made to continue the project into 2011.

Practice and qualifying sessions were conducted Saturday under sunny skies and mild temperatures. In the 2WD class, Van Way was fastest at 1:17.964 against 1:231.051 for Wimpey and 1:26.204 for Eric Vlasic (Nissan 200SX). Johnson didn’t post a time due to unspecified problems. Among the total traction contingent, Mirra set the best time at 1:08.196, narrowly beating Foust’s 1:08.475 and well ahead of Doran’s 1:12.209.

Doran told us afterward that he didn’t get much track time (thus, very little time to set up the car for NJMP), due to engine problems. They spent much of the time during Sunday’s heat races doing a complete engine change, substituting a less powerful prime mover for the original.

Meanwhile, Pastrana missed practice and qualifying entirely due to a schedule conflict. He was participating in the World Big Buck Hunting Championship.

Sunday’s four-lap heat (qualifying) races were flagged off under thickening clouds and light rain. Foust held off Pastrana in one of them. In another, Van Way caught and passed Wimpey for the win. Later in the day, Doran, his car finally re-assembled, was unchallenged, and he also won the AWD “B Main” (last chance qualifier). But since conditions were changeable and only three or four cars were assigned to each, it was hard to draw conclusions about who would be fastest.

The five-lap 2WD final began in the early afternoon with moderate rain. Van Way missed the 1-2 upshift and was quickly demoted to the back of the field. Johnson got it right, and took the lead on the first lap from Wimpey and everyone else. After the poor start, Van Way drove back up through the field, passing Wimpey for second, but there was not enough distance to catch Johnson. Thus it was Johnston first by seven tenths of a second, Van Way second, Wimpey third, with Eric Vlasic’s Nissan fourth.

It was still raining when the AWD cars gridded for their final. Mirra made the best start in the Subaru, with a crowd behind him fighting for second place. Foust asserted afterward that in a five-lap race it would not have been possible for any of them to catch him. However, Foust didn’t need to.

On the second lap, Doran made contact with someone, suffering suspension damage and a flat tire, which put him into a crash barrier. Apparently he was blocking the course, because the officials soon red-flagged the race. But before the reds went out, Pastrana was already sitting off in the grass, the engine overheating from mud in the radiator, his day over.

Everyone except Pastrana rushed back to the paddock area for servicing. In Doran’s case, this was very extensive servicing – the front of the car needed to be bent back into something resembling a C4.

On the restart, it was Foust who out-jumped everyone else and became uncatchable. Mirra was second initially, then third when he got the car sideways and Doran passed, then second when Doran got sideways and he repassed. Pinomaki placed fourth, several car-lengths behind Doran, followed by Millen.

Final Results, 2WD:
1.    Matthew Johnson (Ford Fairmont)
2.    Dillon Van Way (Ford Focus)
3.    Josh Wimpey (Volkswagen Golf GTI)
4.    Eric Vlasic (Nissan 200SX)
5.    Kyle Gagliardi (Mazda MX-5 Miata)
6.    Randy Zimmer (Subaru Impreza)

Final Results, 4WD:
1.    Tanner Foust (Ford Fiesta)
2.    Dave Mirra (Subaru Impreza WRX STI)
3.    Liam Doran (Citroen C4)
4.    Jussi Pinomaki (Ford Fiesta)
5.    Rhys Millen (Hyundai Accent)
6.    Christopher Duplessis (Subaru Impreza)

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