2014 X Games: Global Rally Cross & GRC Lites

DSC_2260 How often can a scene from the Circuit of the Americas appear to be right out of a WRC stage rally? Last weekend’s X Games proved that the facility can be incredibly flexible, setting down the guilded Formula 1 image to lay the ground work for a bit of off-road racing. Global Rallycross ,and its little brother the GRC Lites, were the main entertainment. Rockstar drivers like Ken Block, Tanner Foust, Nelson Piquet Jr., Bucky Lasek, Travis Pastrana, Scott Speed, and Liam Doran fought through the short 30-second rallycross course in a 600 horse power bar fight. DSC_2269 Scott Speed dominated GRC all weekend; placing first in every heat and securing gold in the final. With support by Volkswagen and Andretti Autosport, Speed had the tools needed to gain the lead early and hold position. With a clean road ahead, he was able to keep out of the brawl taking place in the pack behind him. The war of attrition was the biggest hurdle for the drivers. Getting away from the pack ensured that, with consistent driving, Scott Speed could hold the lead position for the remainder of the race. With the VW’s monstrous acceleration, Speed had the opportunity to get into the lead quickly, and hold the fastest line through the dirt ever-narrowing sections leading up to the 180* hairpin and main jump. With course design as it was, most passing came from driver mistakes in the tight dirt section, and from joker lap use. The real racing during the final heat was the battle for Silver/Bronze, where Bucky Lasek made a hard fought drive from a 5th place start. 10426583_10152258808033579_6250383641315199262_n (1) A mechanical failure during the heats left him with no clutch. While not a problem once moving, as the sequential transmissions in GRC do not need a clutch for shifting, it was an issue at the launch. “I had no clutch for the final!” Lasek told me after the race, “For the start, I put it in neutral, set the launch control and just jammed it into first.” This lead to a slow start in the final heat, putting him in the back of the pack during the initial start. Austin Dyne suffered a mechanical failure, prompting a red flag restart. On the restart, everything fell into place. Lasek quickly passed Liam Doran in the joker turn and found third place, with Nelson Piquet Jr. in second place. Lasek was on the war path when Piquet Jr. ran his joker lap — putting three more seconds on Lasek. He was quickly able to claw back onto Piquet Jr.’s bumper, picking up massive amounts of speed in the paved sections. Under pressure, Piquet Jr. made a grave mistake and took the joker lap a second time, prompting a stop and go penalty just before the final lap. Lasek vaulted into second place with Liam Doran hot on his tail. Despite heavy pressure from Doran, Lasek held position passed the checkered, securing silver. DSC_2285 Nelson Piquet Jr. did have one saving grace — Liam Doran overdrove his Peugeot while entering a corner, spinning out in the last lap. The spin gave Piquet Jr. a chance to make up the massive ten second gap behind Doran, passing him just two corners before the checkered flag and taking the bronze medal. The following moment of crowd reaction would have once been narrated enthusiastically over the radio waves with a similarly excited reporter screaming “and the crowd goes wild!” Global Rallycross, even when the course is tame, is absolutely brilliant racing to watch. Other than Scott Speed’s domination, the rest of the field was a battle for position. As the series matures, manufacturers are starting to take the sport seriously — VW and Andretti’s dominance this year is a sign of rising stakes. The sport’s multiple heats and rowdy racing dynamics, coupled with big name extreme sports stars from the millennial generation has brought the series a healthy wave of commercial success; something that many traditional road racing series have been attempting to secure for many years. GRC is simply cool. DSC_1580 GRC Lites stayed relatively mild in comparison to the GRC Supercars. The course was simply unfriendly to their relatively low power — The cars seem to thrive on flowing, mid-speed corners. They’re momentum cars, the 300 horse power 2.3-liter has a power curve akin to a steeply rising mountain peak. The decreasing radius turns that lead into the dirt section’s 180* hair pin meant that momentum had to be carried in order to keep the engine well into its power band. Falling off that power band meant terrible lag, or meant that you needed to downshift a gear lower than you should have been in. And once on the pavement, their mild 300 horse on the huge section of turns 13 & 14 meant civil battles with the Lites where the GRC Supercars power through with 4-wheel drifting. Because of this, consistency was the key. Any mistakes meant rebuilding momentum, and the course was not setup for this. IMG_9900 The main heat quickly fell into order, with minor scuffles taking out half of the field. Mitchel DeJong quickly found the front of the pack, and with buttery-smooth and consistent driving, he held the lead during the final — winning gold. Kevin Eriksson was also deadly consistent, but maintained a ~2.7 gap behind DeJong nearly the entire race and winning silver. Only by slight inconsistencies did Austin Cindric stay in third, to win bronze. His gap time behind DeJog could swing by seconds, but could never close a ~4 second gap. A small demonstration of how driver-centric the spec GRC Lites cars are. Next up, we’ll get into what was my personal favorite: Stadium SUPER Trucks. DSC_2289 [Images copyright 2014 Hooniverse/Brianne Corn/Phillip Thomas]

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