In the wake of Toomas Heikkinen’s major accident in jump practice during the buildup to Sunday’s X Games, the Global Rallycross Championship has some serious decisions to make regarding the steel construction of its ramps. The Mega Ramp, as it is dubbed, may simply be too “mega” in its current configuration to safely allow for competition.
The extension of nine feet may simply be too much for these cars to take. The GRC is looking to bring rallycross into America with as much buzz surrounding it as they can muster, but doing so by pushing the cars’ limits this far comes at great risk. Heikkinen’s impact was effectively head-on with a wall at about 40 miles per hour, and not with the SAFER barrier that dominates most American race tracks these days.
Breaking down the X Games prospects of Team Red Bull, which will field entries for Sebastien Loeb (through Citroen World Rally Team) and Travis Pastrana and Bryce Menzies (through Pastrana199 Racing) in Sunday’s Global Rallycross Championship event.
The name “Team Red Bull” may be sort of an anomaly here, as one of these three cars will be prepared independently from the others. Travis Pastrana’s Pastrana199 Racing will maintain cars for Pastrana and newcomer Bryce Menzies, but X Games debutant and stage rally legend Sebastien Loeb will be attempting to conquer yet another form of racing when he and his Citroen World Rally Team debut a purpose-built DS3 in Sunday’s event.
Breaking down the X Games prospects of Olsbergs MSE, which will field entries for Marcus Gronholm, Tanner Foust, David Binks, Brian Deegan, and Toomas Heikkinen in Sunday’s Global Rallycross Championship event.
Olsbergs MSE has been the hottest team on the Global Rallycross circuit all season, primarily behind the strength of drivers Marcus Gronholm and Tanner Foust. Gronholm has paced the field in every single session he’s run, from qualifying to heat races to both main events, while Foust has been right behind him in every instance. Add Brian Deegan’s third place run at Hoon Kaboom at Texas Motor Speedway, and bursts of speed from both David Binks and Toomas Heikkinen, and the five Olsbergs Ford Fiestas should be up front for the majority of X Games.
Breaking down the X Games prospects of single-car teams, which will be campaigned by Liam Doran, Ken Block, and Pat Moro in Sunday’s Global Rallycross Championship event.
Though the majority of the entries in this year’s X Games are part of multi-car operations, a good portion of entries will come from independent camps. Of course, the four names involved are some of the biggest in the sport. Ken Block helped create the rally craze in America over the past few years with his series of Gymkhana videos, while Liam Doran took an impressive win in last year’s Super Rally event over Marcus Gronholm, and Pat Moro is one of the most active pure independents in the sport.
Breaking down the X Games prospects of Rhys Millen Racing, which will field entries for Stephan Verdier and Rhys Millen in Sunday’s Global Rallycross Championship event.
Rhys Millen Racing took the Hyundai Veloster into Global Rallycross competition last year, running two cars at X Games for Millen himself and motocross star Robbie Maddison. This year, armed with a new engine and a new teammate in former privateer Stephan Verdier, Millen will give the event another shot. Both drivers have made it to the main event of the first two races of the season, and Verdier scored the lone podium finish this season for a non-Ford driver by running a smart race at Charlotte.
Breaking down the X Games prospects of Scott-Eklund Racing, which will field entries for Samuel Hubinette and Andy Scott in Sunday’s Global Rallycross Championship event.
Per Eklund has been a rally and rallycross legend for four decades now, but outside of two triumphs in the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, the majority of his greatest accomplishments have come across the pond. But an Eklund-prepared Saab 9-3 took a victory in a 2010 rallycross exhibition, and brought a team to America full-time this year with co-owner Andy Scott, who drove to second place in last year’s British championship. Scott and teammate Samuel Hubinette have been one of the most impressive driver duos this season, scoring top five finishes at Charlotte and each ranking in the top seven in points.
Currently third in Global Rallycross Championship points, Stephan Verdier remains the only non-Ford driver in the series to score a podium finish, quickly becoming the expert of alternate strategy by running clean laps by himself at Charlotte. Despite some rotten luck at Texas and an engine built for stage rally rather than rallycross, Verdier’s early-season performance has him confident in his chances at X Games, the “Super Bowl” of the GRC.
"I’m going to be definitely more aggressive than I was during the other races, but I’ve got to be smart about it too," Verdier said. "Maybe instead of waiting in the back, I’ll be fighting with the guys up front from the start and try to see what I can do. But we’ll see after qualifying my times compared to the other guys. If I’m really close to them, there’s definitely a chance of me fighting with them."
Counting down, from the start of the season in February to the thrilling conclusion in November, the 10 race weekends that any true NASCAR fan should attend at least once. From the Daytona 500 to Ford Championship Weekend in Homestead, there should be something at each of these events to satisfy even the most casual fan.
Indianapolis Motor Speedway (July): Stock cars breaking into open wheel territory? What had for years been a preposterous suggestion became a reality in 1994, and ever since, winning the Brickyard 400 has become more and more prestigious by the year. This year, the folks at Indianapolis have created a “Super Weekend” to set up the Cup race, running both the Nationwide Series and Rolex Sports Cars to help get the fans ready for the main event on Sunday.
Marcus Gronholm and Tanner Foust come into X Games first and second in Global Rallycross points, making them two of the favorites to win it all this weekend. But eight-time World Rally champion Sebastien Loeb will also come to the event in a brand-new Citroen DS3. Drivers Stephan Verdier, Samuel Hubinette, and Andy Scott, and legendary technical director Per Eklund discuss what it will take to beat the favorites on Sunday.
HUBINETTE: In the past, it’s been that I’ve been able to brake a little later, because the car is very stable, and also planning to take the joker lap at the right time to try and avoid getting into traffic. So that’s my strategy – to stay away from trouble and make a smart choice about the joker lap.
EKLUND: Liam Doran was the winner last year (in Super Rally), and he was really disastrous on the last race, he blew everything on the car up. It’s going to be a tough race, the final.
SCOTT: And again, we’re fighting against a factory backed team, and I think that we’re making a good account of ourselves with the results and the team setup that we have. But of course it would be fantastic to pull off a win over all the factory teams.
Drifting champion and stunt driving expert Samuel Hubinette only landed a ride in the Global Rallycross Championship two days before the first event of the season, but thus far he’s made the most of it. Driving for privateer Scott-Eklund Racing, Hubinette has scored two heat wins, one top-five finish, and nearly scored a second-place finish at Texas despite having car trouble through the entire event; as a result, he’s one of the favorites to score a podium finish in this year’s X Games.
“I’m proud that I could keep up with him,” Hubinette said. “What people don’t know is that after lap two of the first heat, I lost power steering. My power steering pump overheated and broke, so I had to run all those extra heats with no power steering and was still managing to keep up with Marcus in a very competitive Ford Fiesta car, so that was pretty cool to see. Unfortunately, (on) the end lap, we broke a propeller shaft, so I had to pull off to the side.”
An expert panel of Per Eklund, Samuel Hubinette, Andy Scott, and Stephan Verdier unite once again to discuss some of the details of this year’s course at X Games, as well as the differences in the car that will come from the long-awaited addition of dirt. Though the course is based on last year’s layout, the series has made some significant changes.
SCOTT: The jump that they’re using at X Games is going to be the same jump that they used at Texas, it’s not going to be a dirt jump this year. So that’s been confirmed in the supplementary regulations.
EKLUND: In case you want to make the car jump fast, you lose on the gravel. It’s a compromise there. But you must take the jump, that’s very important. So we don’t know what we’re doing exactly. We know it’s the same place, but last year we (went) counterclockwise, and this year we’re going the other way.
A pre-X Games interview with driver Andy Scott, who currently sits seventh in points heading into the premier event of the Global Rallycross Championship. The 55-year-old owner-driver will be the oldest competitor in X Games history, an event that he’s likened to the “Olympics of Motorsport,” and has had plenty of reason to smile after showing his Scott-Eklund Racing Saabs are some of the fastest cars in the series.
“It’s fantastic,” Scott admits, as he comes into X Games seventh in points. “We’ve delivered what we tried for, this was the dream, but we’ve now turned that dream into reality. As you can see, both cars qualified easily into X Games, and to be ahead of some of the factory backed teams is just fantastic. So yeah, we’re feeling pretty good with ourselves.”
Looking at the first 16 races of Jeff Gordon’s Sprint Cup season and analyzing why the four-time champion has fallen to a dismal 18th in points. Bad luck began for Gordon all the way back at Daytona Speedweeks, and even now he’s only finished sixth or better three times despite leading laps in 11 events.
Gordon had strong runs at both Bristol and Martinsville, only to be wrecked in both events; Dale Earnhardt Jr. needlessly turned him in the former, while a wild first attempt at a green-white-checkered restart in the latter saw him spun by Clint Bowyer and relegated to 14th. Martinsville was particularly painful, as Gordon had led a dominant 329 of 500 laps. Gordon had led laps in the first six races of the season, with little to show for it but a bruised ego and 21st place in points.
Four Global Rallycross experts - drivers Stephan Verdier (third in points), Samuel Hubinette (fifth), and Andy Scott (seventh), and Scott-Eklund Racing technical director Per Eklund - discuss the series’ upcoming marquee event at X Games in the first of a multi-part series. In this installment, the panelists discuss the prestige of the event, as well as this year’s decision to eliminate head-to-head Super Rally in favor of only running rallycross.
VERDIER: The one race you want to do is X Games. All the sponsors are there, millions of people are watching it, there’s a lot of money on the line for the podium, and it’s a one-time thing, so you definitely want to do good there.
SCOTT: It’s very, very important, I think – you only have to look at the guys competing in it, and of course we’ve got Sebastien Loeb coming along, so they don’t get any bigger, do they?
Scott-Eklund Racing technical director Per Eklund talks about his team’s preparation for this weekend’s X Games. A tough weekend for the team at Texas Motor Speedway’s Hoon Kaboom meant that the team spent most of the past two weeks hard at work in their Florida shop.
"We had to change the car," Eklund said. "We know it’s going to be tough. We made the suspension much harder and lifted the car, but we still didn’t know that Andy’s car was jumping too hard. Hubinette’s car was a little bit better on the jump, it had different suspension on it."
Recapping the past week in NASCAR action, which saw two ultra competitive road course races end with surprise winners. Saturday saw ex-Formula 1 driver Nelson Piquet Jr. take his first career Nationwide Series win at Road America, while former Kansas dirt track standout Clint Bowyer dominated Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at Sonoma Raceway.
As with last year, Jacques Villeneuve appeared in a Penske Racing car for the event and made himself plenty of enemies. Late in the race, he and Elliott Sadler were racing for the same piece of real estate in Turn 5, leading to a Sadler spin. But he managed to top last year’s incident, which saw him try to pass Brian Scott and Max Papis in the grass and ruin both their races, on the final lap. This time, he punted Danica Patrick on the final lap, again in turn five. She had been looking at a top five finish, but fell to 12th. Meanwhile, Villeneuve still managed a sixth place finish.
While NASCAR still retains a southern-based image in some parts of the country, its base of drivers has become decidedly national in the past 15 years. In fact, some of the sport’s top contenders (half of the current Chase for the Sprint Cup) hailed from northern states.
Matt Kenseth, the current Sprint Cup points leader, honed his skills on local tracks in his home state of Wisconsin, winning track championships at Madison, Slinger, and Wisconsin International Raceway. He proved himself against such short-track legends as Dick Trickle and future crew chief Robbie Reiser, truly launching his NASCAR career in the latter’s Busch Series car in 1997.
*This piece received 2,737 reads and two comments as of 11 PM ET on Monday, June 25, 2012.
Analyzing the reasons behind sponsors’ hesitation to get behind 2004 Chase for the Cup winner Kurt Busch. Aside from the Budweiser Shootout at Daytona and Sprint All-Star Race, Busch’s car has carried sponsorship in only two points-paying events this season.
The biggest problem with Busch is that his behavior attracts the type of sponsorship that NASCAR would likely rather avoid. The only big name that has been rumored in connection with Phoenix is the Jerry Springer Show; it is typical, rowdy audience is the last thing that NASCAR would like to see coming into its races, as the sport still fights the last bastions of a trashy, “redneck” stereotype. A partnership like that, while great for an independent team that could use an infusion of sponsorship cash, could represent a major setback for a sport that still struggles to assert its maturity to parts of America.
*This piece received 2,335 reads and six comments as of 11 PM ET on Wednesday, June 20, 2012. It reached 3,184 reads as of 11 PM ET on Monday, June 25, 2012.
With today’s win in the Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway, Dale Earnhardt Jr. scored the 19th win of his Sprint Cup career and snapped a career-worst 143-race winless drought. Needless to say, plenty of folks had words of congratulation all over the NASCAR paddock, and many of them made their way to Twitter.
The congratulations extended long beyond the fraternity of NASCAR drivers, though. 2003 CART champion Paul Tracy tweeted, “I refrained from saying go Dale go, (because) something goes wrong every time, but that was cool to see him dominate!” Legendary IndyCar driver and 1969 Indianapolis 500 winner Mario Andretti added, “Really great to see Dale Jr in victory lane again. Big congrats Jr!”
*This piece received 1,931 reads and 20 comments as of 1 PM ET on Monday, June 18, 2012. It increased to 2,932 reads and 31 comments as of 11 PM ET on Wednesday, June 20, 2012.
Addressing Tony Eury Jr.’s post-race comments from yesterday’s Nationwide Series 200 at Michigan International Speedway. Eury insisted that drivers race Danica Patrick harder than they need to because of their hate for being “beat by a girl,” threatening to initiate some serious setbacks for his driver as the season continues.
Eury Jr. is toeing a fine line by saying that drivers hate to be beat by a girl and may even be misjudging the source of any animosity in the paddock. Remember, Patrick has had plenty of opportunities to develop in a stock car over the past three years, despite having no experience in the car and struggling to communicate with her crew because of major differences in stock car and open-wheel terminology. Are drivers really jealous of being beat by Patrick, or are they jealous of how long her team has been patient with her because of the marketing opportunities that she presents?
*This piece received 2,437 reads and four comments as of 1 PM ET, Monday, June 18.
Travis Pastrana talks about his transition to NASCAR from dirt-based racing in motocross and rally. He admits to the new discipline being a challenge, but is coming along well thanks to a strong devotion to his new craft.
After all, “it’s the most challenging thing I’ve ever started in,” Pastrana said, in a phone interview that took place before last week’s Global Rallycross Championship round at Texas Motor Speedway. “Definitely every track has been a completely unique experience. And it sounds silly, because it’s just left turns.”
Explaining the Global Rallycross Championship points system to first-time viewers. This system influences the points in both the overall championship and the three-race Discount Tire/America’s Tire Cup, of which Texas Motor Speedway’s Hoon Kaboom was the first event.
Strangely, many of the season points totals listed on ESPN differ from this explanation. For example, Gronholm scored 22 points at Charlotte, by virtue of a final win and two heat wins. ESPN listed Gronholm as having 42 points, but he also scored a heat win, meaning he should have had 43. Deegan was also listed with 20 points; he scored two at Charlotte by finishing 16th and winning one heat, and 16 at Texas by finishing third and winning another heat, which should add up to 18. The Discount Tire/America’s Tire Cup standings, however, were properly tabulated.
Recapping the second round of this year’s Global Rallycross Championship at Texas Motor Speedway. Marcus Gronholm, Tanner Foust, and Brian Deegan completed a sweep of the podium for Olsbergs MSE and Ford.
The biggest question mark of the weekend was the new gap jump, and it caused its share of problems for most competitors. Travis Pastrana destroyed the front end of his car in practice, while Dave Mirra missed his heat race due to damage. In one heat, Andy Scott, Jimmy Keeney, and Pastrana had a scary moment involving a late pass and a mid-air traffic jam. But the wildest jump-related incident of the week came in the second last chance qualifier, when Bucky Lasek tried to pull off the jump too late and ended up driving his car on top of a temporary barrier. Lasek compared it to a 50-50 grind in his other chosen professional sport, skateboarding.
Tonight’s Hoon Kaboom at Texas Motor Speedway, the second event in the Global Rallycross Championship and the first of the Discount Tire/America’s Tire Cup, will take place at 1 AM ET on ESPN2. If you’re looking to catch up on the series before tonight’s event, here are some US Race Report pieces from this week:
Thanks to a tip from Danielle Nuzzo on behalf of Discount Tire and a little bit of pursuit of some interview time, I had the chance to speak with the one and only Travis Pastrana on the phone yesterday. The interview came together over the course of about 48 hours, and I’m incredibly grateful to Ms. Nuzzo, Travis Clarke at Wasserman Media Group, and Travis’ team manager Blair Stopnik for putting it together and getting me on the phone with Mr. Pastrana so quickly.
The following are two pieces on Mr. Pastrana - one about his new partnership with Discount Tire and their involvement with rallycross, and another about Pastrana’s optimism heading into Hoon Kaboom at Texas Motor Speedway. Add that to the pieces that we’ve been running all week with Scott-Eklund Racing, and USRaceReport.com is your one-stop source for insight into the Global Rallycross Championship.
While at a family dinner, I was relating a story about a communications research class that I had taken over a year ago. The subject of the class had been advertising on Facebook, particularly the use of the “Like” button, and we had to assemble a focus group for the class. I related that many of the participants frequently failed to distinguish between “Like” as a Facebook function, “like” as an abstract concept, and worst of all, “like” as a spoken tic, in lieu of “um” or “uh” or words without any other meaning. I argued that, were I ever to become a teacher, I would devise ways to penalize students who didn’t get a handle on this inability to make the distinction between words with meaning and tics; my cousin, completely determined to obfuscate my entire argument, responded, “Well, well, well.” Here are some more pictures from the day.
The wonderful thing about still having a summer “vacation” from college (and, I suppose, unemployment and a family willing to host you) is the ability to get out and see some other places in the world. Right now, I’m in Seattle, after having spent months and months in Boston. Coastal differences mean more than just time zones, though, and it’s good to get out in a strange new environment. I suppose this is why smaller bands like touring so much - the ability to surround oneself with a fresh new setting every day. Well, I’m here for about a week, and hopefully I’ll come up with some photos each day from this mini-adventure to remind myself why this needs to be an annual pilgrimage. Without further ado:
Filling in for Luke Krmpotich on this week’s “Drivers on the Move” column after a busy weekend at Dover International Speedway. Johnson’s third win in four weeks has him on the upswing, while Kurt Busch’s latest media meltdown has him in hot water with owner James Finch.
Down: Winning polesitters
Quick, name the last time a polesitter won a NASCAR race. Time’s up - last July at New Hampshire, when Ryan Newman did it. Since then, through the final 17 races of last year and all 13 races of this season, qualifying first has been a guarantee of not coming home with the trophy. Mark Martin was the latest driver to suffer the disappointment, finishing 14th at Dover despite leading 43 laps.
Reviewing the past week in NASCAR, which featured a national series tripleheader at Dover International Speedway. Jimmie Johnson, Joey Logano, and Todd Bodine were this weekend’s Sprint Cup, Nationwide, and Camping World Truck winners, respectively.
Kurt Busch became the Nationwide race’s biggest story when he gave threatening comments to reporter Bob Pockrass in post-race interviews. When Pockrass asked Busch about if his NASCAR probation affected the way he raced Justin Allgaier at one point in the event, Busch responded, “(Probation) refrains me from beating the (expletive) out of you right now, because you ask me stupid questions.”
Introduction to Ryan Truex, Joe Gibbs Racing development driver, and Saturday’s runner-up finisher in the Nationwide Series race at Dover International Speedway. Truex led 43 laps from the pole and only lost the lead to teammate Joey Logano with six laps to go in the race.
The younger Truex won the Dover pole with a speed of 154.746 miles per hour. Truex stayed toward the front of the field all day, finally taking the lead on lap 152 of 200. He hoped to take his first Nationwide Series win at the same track where his older brother won his lone Sprint Cup race in 2007. He held the point for 43 laps until Logano got by him once again on lap 195 to steal the victory.