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GRC Instant Reaction: Charlotte

Marcus Gronholm established himself as the man to beat in this year’s Global Rallycross Championship with tonight’s win at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Gronholm will take a three-point lead over Olsbergs MSE teammate Tanner Foust into Texas for the second round of the championship on June 9.

Tonight’s GRC debut featured some incredible racing, major spills, and a show that offered some serious promise for a sport that looks to establish itself as this season continues. Here are some notes from the event, in (mostly) chronological order:

  • The first set of heats were a mess as drivers adjusted to the new, all-tarmac racing surface. Both Ken Block and Travis Pastrana suffered major accidents that ended their heats early; Block’s suspension failure and subsequent accident was major enough for the series to call off heat 1A, while Pastrana’s contact with Brian Deegan in the water hazard just saw his Dodge parked on the infield grass.
  • We learned very early on that starting from pole and taking the shortcut on the first lap was the way to go. Gronholm and Foust established that very well. On the other hand, being the second driver to take the shootout – as Block and Pastrana were – didn’t end quite as well.
  • Image via @GronholmM

    The barrier chicanes in front of the lip on the frontstretch may have been too close for drivers to avoid consistently. Multiple times during the night we saw drivers clip the plastic barrier closest to the jump. In fact, it may have started the chain of events that led to Block’s eventual suspension failure and accident. These barriers provide moving obstacles that make the race interesting, but the setup may have left something to be desired. Not to worry: the major jump that the series promises, while not ready for tonight’s event, will be present at Texas.

  • We only saw one false start all night, from three-time defending European champion Sverre Isachsen in heat 1B, but it’s important to note that false starts can provide serious detriments to those who commit them. Isachsen was forced to start a full carlength behind the rest of the pack, while a second jump would have meant disqualification.
  • Part failure without contact is a distinct possibility for drivers, as Deegan found out in the second heat and Isachsen learned while in the lead of the last chance qualifier. Deegan was unable to compete in the LCQ due to his issues, while Isachsen fell to fourth place in a matter of seconds and failed to advance to the final.
  • Give Pastrana’s crew some major credit for reassembling his car in time for his second heat. By scoring the win in that heat, he guaranteed a front row place in the main event. Block’s crew put his car back together in time for the LCQ, but it failed on the start.
  • Pastrana’s poor luck in the water hazard continued in the final, ruining his right front suspension and wheel and ending his race early. It was a tough end for a long day for Pastrana, who lost control of his Nationwide Series car multiple times in that race earlier today as well.
  • Toomas Heikkinen also has a fast ride, but his car control leaves plenty to be desired. Heikkinen bounced off of teammates Gronholm and David Binks in the shortcut on the opening lap of the main event, before spinning Dave Mirra midway through and eventually finding himself disqualified despite crossing the finish line in third.
  • Image via @CLTMotorSpdwy

    Foust’s decision not to take the shortcut immediately in the main event may have had a huge effect on Gronholm’s win. Gronholm, despite contact from other cars, managed to pull away on the frontstretch, and by the time Foust could take the shortcut, the gap was too large.

  • Binks, Gronholm’s less heralded Best Buy Racing teammate, had put together a solid night, advancing to the final by finishing second in his second heat race. But losing control of his car while entering the hairpin caused him to slam violently into the barriers and relegated him to a seventh place finish.
  • Mirra’s spin capped off a disappointing night for Subaru, especially with its Puma Rallycross Team. Neither Isachsen nor Bucky Lasek made it out of the last chance qualifier, while many of the older, privateer Subarus were effectively moving chicanes all night. Mirra was classified eighth in the main event.
  • Stephan Verdier’s car was underpowered for much of the night, but by utilizing his strategy of keeping his car clean, still managed to score a quiet third pace finish. During his heat races, opponents managed to pull away from his Hyundai, but issues for Isachsen in the second heat gave him the opportunity to advance to the final without having to go through the last chance qualifier. Verdier made the most of the opportunity.
  • For a privateer team, Scott-Eklund Racing have some serious speed in their Saab 9-3s. Co-owner Per Eklund’s expert preparation meant that Samuel Hubinette won his second heat despite only signing a deal to join the team two hours ago, while Andy Scott’s pass of Rhys Millen in the last chance qualifier showed strong acceleration and car control. Their fourth and fifth place finishes in the final, respectively, show that this team is going to be competitive in the GRC.
  • Image via @GronholmM

    Finally, crowd interest was fantastic. Juan Pablo Montoya stopped by to watch the event, while Kenny Wallace tweeted that the GRC crowd was bigger than the Nationwide crowd from earlier today. “What have we learned?” he asked. Well, that the GRC is here to stay – and a hell of a fun time.

Charlotte Main Event Results:

  1. Marcus Gronholm, #3 Ford
  2. Tanner Foust, #34 Ford
  3. Stephan Verdier, #12 Hyundai
  4. Andy Scott, #26 Saab
  5. Samuel Hubinette, #77 Saab
  6. Rhys Millen, #67 Hyundai
  7. David Binks, #17 Ford
  8. Dave Mirra, #40 Subaru
  9. Travis Pastrana, #199 Dodge
  10. Toomas Heikkinen, #57 Ford

– Chris Leone

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Comments

  1. my 6-year old son and I drove down from MD to see the race. Enjoyed every minute of it!! We attended the events at NJMP in the fall of 2010 and were very excited to get back to a RallyCross event. We hope to attend the NH event as well.

  2. don niec says:

    That was an extremely boring track! Where was the dirt? Where was the big jump? All I kept hearing in the pre-race interviews was how this is the biggest race we have had…….to be followed by that snooze fest. Please fix this issue. Rallycross is my favorite form of motorsport, don’t let the fans down!

    • Tanner's #1 Fan says:

      Don: EXACTLY!!! I saw stage 2 of the GRC in Washington state at DirtFish last April and it was AWESOME!!! This made me sick to my stomach to watch, and I’d thought going to Pike’s Peak in Colorado last summer to see the next GRC stage was a letdown. Very disappointing. We just moved to CT and I’d been planning to go to NH but now I don’t think I’ll bother.

  3. To the folks commenting about racing surface, if you haven’t read my interview with Stephan Verdier earlier in May, please do so for more insight on that. Right now, the GRC is trying to attract a larger audience by running on Speedway Motorsports Inc. tracks, but since they’re running the day before major NASCAR and/or IndyCar events, putting dirt on the track there isn’t feasible. There will be dirt at X Games and I’ve heard there will be at New Hampshire as well, but going to tracks with built-in audiences in the tens of thousands as a way to attract new fans is a key step in establishing the GRC in America. Stephan said that they’re going to bring back the dirt gradually as the sport’s audience grows. So yes, right now it’s not an ideal situation for those of us who love rallycross “proper,” if you want to call it that, but be patient and look at the bigger picture. Bringing in more fans means more money and greater feasibility to do standalone events at more diverse tracks. Just something to keep in mind. – Chris Leone

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