Pastrana wins as Global Rallycross series shines
- 24th July 2012, 5:09pm
If one wants to get a sense of the “state of the sport” for the Global Rallycross Championship in the US, one might well consider the hour and a half on July 14, when Travis Pastrana (Pastrana 199 Racing Dodge Dart) won the round at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
This was the first win by a new team and a new car, with backing from a major manufacturer (Fiat’s Chrysler subsidiary). Samuel Hubinette (Scott-Eklund team Saab 93) was a narrow 1.4 seconds behind, but just ahead of Brian Deegan and Tanner Foust (Olsbergs MSE Ford Fiestas), which have the support of Ford. The audience at the speedway was estimated at 45,000, with thousands more probably watching on live television.
Rallying has proven a hard sell to US motorsports fans. Yanks are used to watching their sport from the grandstand or a seat in front of the television set, and they expect their motorsport to have lots of wheel-to-wheel action. But there aren’t too many grandstands in the forests or deserts, and such places do not make life easy for camera crews either. Nor do rally cars typically race side by side. Rallycross would seem to be a better fit.
This is the second season for the Global Rallycross Championship (GRC), which has taken over from rival Rally America as the premier rallycross series in the US. GRC has managed to sign a contract with some leading NASCAR and Indycar tracks to put on events during major racing weekends, and they have also signed with the organisers of the Summer X Games extreme sports competition to include the X Games rallycross as a round of the GRC series Despite the name, the Global series is run solely in the U.S.
GRC has also received the support of most of the major rallycross teams who have decided to compete in the U.S. Some of these are European series regulars such as Olsbergs MSE (five Ford Fiestas, America’s Tanner Foust and Brian Deegan, and Finland’s Marcus Gronhom, are among the drivers), Eklund-Scott (Saab 93s for Samuel Hubinette and Andy Scott), and Doran (Citroen C3, with Laim Doran). Other teams are out of the American rally ranks, such as Subaru Rally Team USA (Subaru Imprezas, with 3-time European rallycross champ Sverre Isachsen, plus Dave Mirra and Bucky Lasek) and Ken Block’s Monster World Rally Team (Ford Fiesta). One team is out of the sport of drifting - Rhys Millen Motorsport (Hyundai Velosters). One team was founded by an extreme athlete and rallyist turned stock car driver, specifically to compete in this series – Pastrana 199 Racing. To date, Gronholm has won the first two races, only to be sidelined with an accident injury at the X Games. The X Games round was then won by Sebastian Loeb, in a one-off drive in a Hansen Motorsport Citroen DS3.
The courses for GRC events at race tracks fit neatly into half of the oval or less, including the front straight. This always includes some bumps and/or jumps, chicanes constructed from tyres and plastic barriers, some sort of water hazard, and, in New Hampshire, a very tight, banked hairpin. It includes a ramp-to-ramp jump, which seems to be a GRC and X Games trademark. New Hampshire also featured a dirt section, a nod to the tradition that rallycrosses have a variety of surfaces.
The New Hampshire GRC had a very compact format; the entire event (excluding practice and qualifying) fits into an hour and a half, probably because this was the length of the broadcast on the ESPN cable television network. Each of the 14 cars competed in one of the three heat (preliminary) races, with the top two advancing to the final. Those not placing first or second moved to the Last Chance Qualifier (“LCQ” or what European rallycrossers call a “B Main), from which four cars advanced. The best ten cars which were still running competed in the final (“A Main” in European parlance).
With Gronholm out, OMSE teammate and reigning GRC champion Tanner Foust was the fastest qualifier and began the evening as the class of the field. He led from the start in Heat 1, was passed by teammate David Binks, but re-passed to take the win.
Another OMSE pilot, Brian Deegan, showed his bumper to the field in Heat 2, where Subaru’s Dave Mirra placed second with a deflating tyre. Ken Block should have been part of the mix, but was shoved into the tyres at the start, so that his crew spent a hurried hour patching the Fiesta back together.
Heat 3 was the race of the evening. Travis Pastrana grabbed the lead off the start. Samuel Hubinette drove up from the back of the grid into second, then saw an opening in the right-hander onto the main straight and ran inside to take the lead. Pastrana, not to be outdone, nudged the back bumper of the Saab with the Dodge’s front bumper into the hairpin at the end of lap 1. He saw almost enough room inside, and shouldered the Saab aside to take back the lead. The crowd roared. Hubinette chased, looking for another opportunity, but finished one second behind.
In the Last Chance Qualifier, Stephan Verdier in the Hyundai took the initial lead from Ken Block and Liam Doran. Block’s Ford, despite all of the tape on the front, was fast enough to get ahead, but Verdier and Doran both passed him on the last lap. Block finished third, and Andy Scott put the second Saab into the final advance position. Subaru’s Bucky Lasek placed fifth and didn’t make the cut, while the “Viking Warrior”, Sverre Isachsen, went out after a spin on lap 1, his Subaru suffering unspecified damage.
In the six-lap final, Pastrana’s very vocal fans were expecting a memorable performance, and he didn’t disappoint. Tanner Foust led from the middle of the front row, holding off Pastrana through laps 1 and 2. On the third lap, Travis saw the same opening that he found in Heat 3, pushed through the inside on the hairpin, and was away. Foust’s Ford seemed to fade after that, with what the team reported as engine trouble.
Hubinette battled Deegan and Foust through the last half of the race, finally pulling ahead, but not able to run down Pastrana in the laps remaining. Deegan edged out Foust on the last lap by a tenth of a second, both of them about four seconds ahead of Block, and well ahead of Andy Scott.
In victory lane, Pastrana said he wasn’t surprised at the victory. His hand-picked crew had worked hard, “sometimes 20 hours a day,” with considerable help from the Chrysler engineers, and they had reached competitive speed in time for the X Games. He had been denied a medal there when he was pushed into a barrier by a competitor in the first turn, but now they had shown that they were among the best. Since Travis is one of the most-liked rallyists and motorcyclists in the US, it was undoubtedly a popular victory.
It was also a good night for the GRC. About 45,000 fans had stayed late after the day’s NASCAR racing (or arrived early before the Sunday race), and they had, along with their colleagues in front of televisions, seen a race with action worth remembering. When Pastrana crossed the finish line and the fireworks shot into the night sky, those rockets were not the only things shining brightly.
Sylvania SilverStar zXe Rallycross
Global Rallycross Championship Round 4
New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Loudon, New Hampshire, U.S.A.
July 14, 2012
1. Travis Pastrana, Dodge Dart
2. Samuel Hubinette, Saab 93
3. Brian Deegan, Ford Fiesta
4. Tanner Foust, Ford Fiesta
5. Ken Block, Ford Fiesta
6. Andy Scott, Saab 93
7. Liam Doran, Citroen C3
8. David Binks, Ford Fiesta
9. Stephan Verdier, Hyundai Veloster
10. Dave Mirra, Subaru Impreza
11. Bucky Lasek, Subaru Impreza
12. Patrick Moro, Subaru Impreza
13. Sverre Isachsen, Subaru Impeza
14. Richard Burton, Subaru Impreza
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