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Interview: Verdier Poised To Challenge For 2012 Global Rallycross Crown

Photo via Stephan Verdier Facebook

You might not know Stephan Verdier now, but if you’re planning on following this year’s Global Rallycross Championship, prepare to get acquainted.

As a privateer entrant last year, Verdier scored three podium finishes in his No. 12 Subaru WRX STi. This year, with the help of Disney XD’s animated series Motorcity, Verdier will join Rhys Millen Racing in a brand new, WRC-spec Hyundai Veloster, with the intent of taking home the 2012 GRC crown.

“We’ve got a great team, we definitely have the equipment, and my goal is to win the championship,” Verdier said via phone interview on Friday. “I mean, if we end up top three, I think that’s successful, but my number one goal is to win as many races as possible and win the championship.”

He’ll have plenty of success to build upon from the 2011 season. At all three tracks – Irwindale Speedway, Old Mill Adventure Park, and Pikes Peak International Raceway – Verdier managed to score a podium in one of the two events, driving a car that he built himself.

“Irwindale was definitely a shocker because I didn’t think my car was going to be that fast, and the way the track was designed with the big banking, the car was working perfectly on the banks,” Verdier noted. “And we had a great engine with a lot of power compared to the other guys, so that was good.

Photo credit: Alex Wong

“In Seattle it rained a lot, so even if we were a little bit low on power compared to Ford, they were getting wheel spin, so we managed to qualify number one because of the rain. Pikes Peak we were doing great, we kind of kept our nose clean and finished third.

“So it was about keeping my nose clean, not making a mistake driving it, and it worked out good.”

Last year’s success was made even more impressive by the fact that Verdier’s car didn’t feature many of the performance upgrades that his competitors had. “Not only was my Subaru an older model, but it was all stock. Everything was OEM. I mean the hubs were OEM, the control arms were OEM, everything was off the shelf. But we had a great suspension, and we had great horsepower and a great gearbox.”

Photo via Rhys Millen Racing

Those successes led to Disney XD sponsoring Verdier at last year’s X Games, and the relationship will carry over into this season. Through the sponsorship, Verdier will promote the network and its new animated series “Motorcity” at GRC events, and will even appear on an episode of the show. But more importantly, it enables him to strengthen his program by abandoning his privateer status.

“Disney XD came on for X Games last year as a tryout,” Verdier said, “and were really happy with what I did. So we decided to go on with a full program for this season because we had the funding for it. And my car was a good car, but it was built by me in my backyard. With the funding of Disney XD and Motorcity, it gave me the opportunity to go to a professional team.”

Enter Rhys Millen Racing, which serves as Hyundai’s factory GRC entry. Millen is a friend and longtime drifting competitor of Verdier’s, and the French driver is pleased with the progression from his privateer entry.

“They’ve adapted (the Veloster) from a WRC car to a rallycross car,” Verdier said, “and at X Games it was pretty fast. When I tested three weeks ago, the car was phenomenal. Personally, I think that the Hyundai is the best handling car in rallycross. I was really impressed with how the car was turning with no understeer.”

Photo via Rhys Millen Racing

Verdier continued, “Going to the Hyundai, which is a full WRC-spec car, everything is made one-off on the car. Everything is custom made to make sure that it works perfectly. When I was working on my car, there was a lot of stuff that I did myself, and because I’m not an engineer, I had to compromise. So from the little details in the Hyundai – my brake pedal lines up perfectly with my left leg, so I don’t have to move my left foot to the right side to push the brake like I do on a regular car – everything is in line, so it’s like driving a go kart.

“That little detail, at the end, makes a big difference.”

Equipped with his new car, Verdier is ready for the challenges that a new season brings, even if they include a completely reworked schedule and a much stronger field. “The other guys are great drivers and great personalities, but I’m not really afraid of them – that might be a bit cocky to say that!” Verdier joked. “But I think there’s definitely more good cars than we had last year. There were four or five top cars – now we have, what, 14 top cars? So it’s going to be tougher.

“And if you look at the level of the rallycrossers in the US, I think we’re at a better level than they have in Europe. We have all the big names, like Sverre (Isachsen), Liam (Doran), Tanner (Foust), have been there in Europe and are coming to the US too. Also Toomas (Heikkinen), Dave Binks, all these guys who were really good in Europe are doing the US championship.

“And I think with the level of driving, and the level of recognition from the rallycross world, it’s gonna be quite a year, let me tell you. It should be very interesting.”

– Chris Leone

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Trackbacks

  1. […] The makeup of the final at Texas was very similar to that at Charlotte, with Ken Block’s Ford replacing Pastrana’s Dodge and Brian Deegan replacing teammate Heikkinen. More surprising, however, was the fact that both Scott-Eklund Racing Saabs and both Rhys Millen Racing Hyundais returned to the final, especially when RMR’s Stephan Verdier placed last in seeding; Verdier won his last chance qualifier by virtue of all other drivers pulling off of the course and finished sixth in the final by taking care of his car (read more on Verdier here). […]

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