2014 X Games: Motorsports Preview – GRC, GRC Lites, and Stadium SUPER Trucks

PSX_20140529_125401 “Circuit of the Americas is becoming the duct tape of racetracks,” my friend comments after I shared the track picture above with him — and I couldn’t agree more. In less than three weeks, the facility switched gears as the track was tweaked for the X Games. Turns 12 through 15 have been tweaked to build a multi-surface rallycross track. The main straight, entering turn 12 hosts the massive motocross course. PSX_20140529_124539 The main straight also hosts the BMX and skateboard sections, while the straight between 18 and 19 hosts the “Big Air” ramp, which thoroughly lives up to its wicked name. Hooniverse will primarily be tracking the Global RallyCross, Global RallyCross Lites, and Stadium SUPER Trucks — here’s a quick primer on the vehicles and the course. DSC_0921 Of course, the Global RallyCross cars are the stars of this show. While they start with a stock production car, often a compact, they quickly enter a new dimension as the stock suspension and drivetrain is disected from the carcass, and its place comes a wealth of tube chassis and suspension components. Production-based engines are used, though a dash of belligerence is added in the form of a giant turbo and a thorough reengineering by race teams. Power? Out of around 2 liters the GRC cars produce 600 horse power, and with their short-track gearing can reach 60 mph in ~2 seconds. The suspension is substantial enough to survive jumps that are around 75-feet long, though they are not as tolerant to off-kilt landings like the Stadium SUPER Trucks. Drivers include such venerable names as Travis Pastrana, Toomas Heikkinen, Ken Block, Tanner Foust, Liam Duran, Bucky Lasek and more. While some drivers lament the track design (“Micky mouse course”), the tight dirt section and short-track layout should provide some entertaining, if destructive racing. IMG_9916 Global RallyCross Lites are exactly as the name implies, a “light” version of the GRC cars. Used as a feeder series to GRC, GRC Lites are spec tube chassis racecars, with no shared body parts or drivetrains with their stock counterparts, the Ford Fiesta. With full-time AWD, sequential SADEV transmissions, and 2.3 liter Ford Duratec four-bangers screaming out 320 naturally-aspired horses, these lightweight fighters are a hoot to watch. While the larger GRC cars can use their brutal amounts of horse power and torque to wrestle the car, the Lites need to be driven with finesse to extract the most from their modest and short lived power curve. The field is a mix of experienced GRC Lites drivers and new comers, including hometown hero Mark McKenzie, owner of Ranger Excavating, the company tasked with developing the land that the Circuit of the Americas sits on. He is also a Ferrari Challenge racer. DSC_0837 Finally, we have the Stadium SUPER Trucks. These are the GRC Lites of desert and stadium trucks. A compact custom tube chassis houses a 600-horsepower GM LS V8. Incredible suspension, including a long arm sway bar link which actually moves the swaybar itself into the “dash board” of the truck, allows these guys to run through courses like a pack of real life R/C trucks — appropriate as Traxxas, a leading manufacturer of scale R/C cars and trucks, is the main sponsor. These are my personal favorite, as I simply swoon for desert and stadium trucks.  Baja legend Robby Gordon competes in SST, as well as another Baja regular and Texas hero, Jay Reichert. trackmap The course is roughly 50/50 between dirt and pavement. While the paved section of the course runs through turn 13 and 15, the dirt section jumps across the track, using a cross-section of turn 15 as it kicks drivers through a few S-bends into a 180 degree right hander, leading into the 75-foot jump. The dirt section is incredibly tricky and narrow, a few drivers found the wall during practice, and the 180 hairpin before the jump includes a foot tall inside curb, punishing anyone running a tight line. Track conditions did not seem to hold up well, with GRC drivers regularly de-beading tires as ruts began to form in the hairpin turn during the later practice sessions — an uncommon problem at other GRC events. Only the GRC and GRC Lites have practiced the course, both of which use semi-slick tires that are relatively easy wearing on the dirt course. The Stadium SUPER Trucks will be the real test of the course, with knobby off-road tires that will tear into the surface much quicker. This has some GRC teams looking to swap into “bead lock” wheels, which bolt an outer ring against the bead of the tire to clamp it onto the rim of the wheel. Some teams run it already. The trade-off with beadlock wheels is extra weight, most notably in unsprung, rotating mass. PSX_20140605_140224 PSX_20140605_140319 The course is also incredibly short, with GRC Lites running ~33 second lap times on average and their larger GRC brethren dropping below 30 seconds. Racing should be intense and very tighlyt packed while entering the dirt section. We suspect it will be mostly single-file through the 180 hairpin and into the jump, if not fender-into-fender. Beyond that, the 2014 Austin X Games is dialed in for the weekend. The layout between events is well laid out, with short walking times between the various sections of track. The Circuit of the Americas in its full configuration can be daunting to travel across, but X Games and COTA have done well to shrink the size of the track for spectators. We look forward to seeing you out there! Images copyright 2014 Hooniverse/Brianne Corn/Phillip Thomas/Circuit of the Americas

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