Tanner Foust showed the exhaust pipe of this Ford Fiesta in the all wheel drive final of Rally America Rallycross Round 1, at New Jersey Motorsport Park (NJMP), Millville, New Jersey.

Former Rally America national rally champion Travis Pastrana (Subaru Impreza WRX STI) finished second. In the two wheel drive final, Josh Wimpey was similarly dominant, ahead of Wyatt Knox (Mazdaspeed 3 turbo) and the rest of the field.

Story and Photos by Thomas Barker

This was only the second time that European-style rallycross, with its wheel-to-wheel racing, had been seen in the U.S. The first time was the successful “SuperRally” race at the X Games 16 extreme sports competition, in Los Angeles just a few weeks earlier, won by the Foust/Fiesta combination. But even before that race, Rally America made a commitment to rallycross, arranging to host three race weekends at NJMP, followed by perhaps six rounds across the country in 2011.

These events are being promoted by RallyCar – which not really a separate organization from Rally America, but a distinct brand name. (This could lead to some confusion initially. The Sports Car Club of America, National Auto Sports Association, and others have been promoting events for several years, on dirt and gravel, with one car running against the clock, which are also called rallycrosses.)

The rallycross course at NJMP was basically the shorter of their two road racing courses, with one section of pavement deleted and three dirt/mud sections added. According to the drivers, the loose-surfaced portions were two narrow for passing, so that overtaking would generally be done on pavement.

The organizers used basically the same format as their European colleagues: a series of qualifying races, from which the elapsed time of each car was taken to determine the top five. Those five received starting positions in the weekend’s main race, called the “A Main.” The remaining entries were gridded in the “B Main,” with the fastest of them allowed to take the last starting position in the A Main. All qualifying races were four laps long, and mains were five laps.

With the exception of those who had run the X Games, and Foust who had also rallycrossed in Europe, none of the entries had rallycross experience. Some, in fact, had not even raced door to door with others or competed on pavement. Most admitted that they had much to learn concerning driving techniques and the set-up of the cars.

One team, however, stood out as being ready from the moment that they unloaded their equipment from the trailer. The Olsbergs MSE team from Sweden were veterans of the European Rallycross Championship, the X Games (winners two years in a row), and the 2009 Pike’s Peak Hillclimb. They brought two cars, a black 2010 Fiesta sponsored by Rock Star energy drink, to be driven by Foust, and an older-shape 2008 model which was being piloted by Ramana Lagemann on a one-off arrangement. Foust’s car was, in fact, the car that he had rallycrossed in Europe earlier in the season. The cars were purpose-built for this activity, and the team quietly and efficiently knew how to get the best performance from them.

Olsbergs’ main competition came from the Subaru USA Rally Team. The Subaru squad entered their regular rally cars, stripped of their special stage gear and with stiffer springs. Team manager Lance Smith admitted that they would soon have purpose-built rallycross cars, based on their X Games vehicles, but these would not be ready until the second round of the series in one month’s time. Behind the wheels they had their usual drivers, Travis Pastrana and Dave Mirra.

In the qualifying races, it became obvious that the start and the first two corners were critical. If a quick driver could be ahead through the narrow dirt following the second corner, he could probably maintain his lead through the remaining laps. It was also obvious that the dominant driving technique was heavy oversteer, with the cars seeming to run at about 45 degrees to the direction of travel on both dirt and paved corners.

In the 2WD A Main, rally veteran Josh Wimpey got the best start and led the field through lap one. Dillon Van Way (Ford Focus) made contact with Wyatt Knox at the end of the lap, which caused Van Way to spin out and park the car while Knox was able to maintain second. As expected, Wimpey remained in the lead and pulled away to an 11-second victory.

The all wheel drive A Main followed, with Pastrana gridded up front next to Foust. The two had not faced each other during the elimination process, so that clearly this was the race that everyone had awaited all weekend. At the light, Foust got the better start and led into the dirt, followed by a dust cloud which was the remainder of the field. Foust was ahead of teammate Lagemann at the end of the lap, with Canadian rallyist Andrew Comrie-Picard (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9) third, and Subaru’s Dave Mirra fourth.

As for Pastrana, he had been back in the pack when they went through the last dirt section, spun, and bumped into a water-filled barrier. When everyone got back to the start-finish line he was in last place. The race was then red-flagged, as the barrier had apparently been moved out of position.

On the restart, Foust and Lagemann went ahead again. But if the fans thought that the race was over, they had not included Pastrana in their calculations. The rally and cycle veteran passed teammate Mira, then Comrie-Picard, then Lagemann by the end of lap four.

The engine in Foust’s Ford had begun to run hot (it was a warm day, and the race was slightly longer than most European rallycrosses), so that the team radioed with instructions to ease off and shut down the turbo’s anti-lag system. But almost immediately they radioed “Push! Push! Push!” Foust responded by pushing, and won by 4.2 seconds. Mirra moved ahead of Lagemann to follow his teammate to the flag.

At the end, all of the drivers were enthusiastic about the racing. In fact, many said that they expected friends from other disciplines of motorsport to come and try it for themselves. If those in the crowd also bring friends, then rallycross may have a future in the U.S.

AWD results:
1. Tanner Foust, Ford Fiesta
2. Travis Pastrana, Subaru Impreza WRX STI
3. Dave Mirra, Subaru Impreza WRX STI
4. Ramana Lagemann, Ford Fiesta
5. Andrew Comrie-Picard, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9
6. Chris Duplesis, Subaru Impreza WRX STI

2WD results:
1. Josh Wimpey, Volkswagen Golf Mark 2
2. Wyatt Knox, Mazdaspeed 3
3. Randy Zimmer, Subaru Impreza RS
4. John Tancredi, Mazda Miata
5. Brian Johnston, Honda Civic Si
6. Dillon Van Way, Ford Focus

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