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GRC Roundtable: Dirt, Pavement, Air, and Los Angeles

Rallycross, by definition, is an event featuring multiple racing surfaces, which makes the Global Rallycross Championship a bit of an anomaly this year. That’s part of why drivers and fans alike are so excited for X Games, which will represent a return to the dirt and asphalt format for the first time in a year. Last year’s course was run through the streets of Los Angeles, and that won’t change – but as we’re about to discuss, that doesn’t mean some things won’t be different.

Yesterday, our panel of experts – Scott-Eklund Racing drivers Andy Scott and Samuel Hubinette, Scott-Eklund technical director Per Eklund, and Rhys Millen Racing driver Stephan Verdier – discussed what it means to win in Los Angeles, and shared their thoughts on the elimination of the head-to-head Super Rally competition. Today, they’ll discuss the track itself, from the inclusion of dirt to one major change in its composition:

One of the things that’s different about X Games compared to every other event is the addition of dirt or gravel. How do you tune the car differently for a multi-surface race?

ANDY SCOTT, Driver, #26 Scott Trawlers Saab 9-3: 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.

PER EKLUND, Technical Director, Scott-Eklund Racing: 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.

Image via X Games Facebook

SCOTT: As for the dirt on the circuit, according to our information, it’s going to be a very small part of the circuit, so until we see the consistency of the dirt, where it lays on the circuit and how long it is, I don’t know how much it’s going to alter our setup. I think probably it’s gonna be that small part of the circuit that we’re going to be dialing in the car for, the jump and the asphalt corners, rather than trying to go in for the little bit of loose surface. But we’ll start making those calls when we get to walk the circuit after construction.

STEPHAN VERDIER, Driver, #12 Motorcity Hyundai Veloster: It’s not going to be a huge change from what we were racing, because those cars are made to do dirt and tarmac. We needed a different suspension and the car was much lower, as low as we could get it for the first two races. Because of the dirt now, we might have to raise the car a bit more, but it’s not huge differences. The good thing is, I’m finally happy that we have dirt, because that is the big equalizer for the cars. It doesn’t matter if you have 800 horsepower or 500, on the dirt you can’t put the traction down. You get wheel spin. So it kind of evens out all the cars, and the fans want to see the dirt. And we’re all rally drivers, so we love to drive on dirt. So I think it’s really cool.

SAMUEL HUBINETTE, Driver, #77 ENEOS Saab 9-3: It depends on how much of the track will be covered in gravel. That’s going to determine how we set the tires up, if we make them more for gravel or if the majority of the track is asphalt, it’s going to be more important to get the car to grip on asphalt. To me, I like the fact that it’s more challenging, because it opens up the opportunity for me to do well. Hopefully some other guys with better cars might make mistakes and give me a chance to get up there at the top.

VERDIER: We have two jumps again this year. Last year we only had one jump, the big one, which is going to be the same we used at (Texas), the steel ramp. but they made modifications to it so it won’t be as bad. So we’re going to have the steel ramp instead of the dirt ramp like we did last year. Also, in the second section of dirt, we’re going to have a small jump like we had in Charlotte and Texas. It won’t be made out of wood like it was in the first two races, it’ll be made out of dirt. But we will have two jumps, that’ll be pretty cool.

The course layout appears to be the same as last year’s, though it will be run in reverse this time around. What are your thoughts on changing the course’s direction?

Photo credit: Alex Wong

SCOTT: I’ve not managed to find any footage (of last year) that has really captivated me to play it over and over again. I think that I’m going with a fresh mind to it. We’ll walk the circuit prior to running it and we’ve got quite a lot of practice time, so I think I’ll start to build my own picture and opinion of it. There have been some suggestions that the circuit could run in the opposite direction (editor’s note: since confirmed), so that’s why I’ve not really bothered to study it in the wrong direction! I know that even last week they were still contemplating on which way to run it. (But) I think you’re correct, the course layout does look quite the same as last year.

VERDIER: I think clockwise will be better for us. Last year, the transition, when we were coming on the dirt right after the finish line, you had the right turn coming into a left, (and) it was really rough going into that complex. So I think in the other direction it will be smoother for the cars. It was kind of dangerous also last year coming off the start. You had that long straight and a right hander, and you had a bunch of concrete walling and tires. Going the other direction, we’ll have some runoff space to make that corner, so I think it’ll be a bit safer that way.

HUBINETTE: I was there last year watching it as a spectator, and the purpose was to get prepared for this year. It’s tight, you know, there’s a lot of corners with walls, you can’t see the track. So it’s about learning the track, anticipating what’s coming up behind the corners. It’s going to be important to take the start, which is all about having a good reaction time, having the right gearing, and of course it’s beneficial having a lighter car like other teams have. So that’s going to be a tough one.

EKLUND: The first lap is a big problem because nobody likes to brake. So the first corner is going to be the big thing in the final.

Image via X Games Facebook

HUBINETTE: And the other part will be, how does the car (handle). If you get sideways, you lose momentum, or hit a wall. It’s really narrow, so it’s going to be tough staying away from those walls, because the cars are pretty fragile. We’re trying to make them as light as possible.

VERDIER: The driving style is the same. You definitely want the car to be set up as good as possible for the tarmac, because that’s where you can lose a lot of time. On the dirt, it’s pretty much the same – you can’t lose too much and you can’t gain too much time on the dirt. So getting the car set up for the tarmac corners is going to be really important. I don’t think it’s going to be much different from last year. We’ll see.

EKLUND: I think it’s a little bit better, it’s not so tight now. Last year, when you (took) the inside, coming out of the start line it was a very tight corner there. There was a lot of concrete stuff there. And there were a lot of problems. It was too narrow. Somebody would spin the car and there was no way to pass. There was no way to overtake, it was so tight.

VERDIER: We’re concerned with the big jump, because now we’re going in the other direction, and there’s less room to slow down after the jump. Last year was super tricky to slow down, but we were on dirt. This year, the landing on the jump will be going onto tarmac, so we’ll have a better braking zone. So I think it’s a good idea to change it up, I think people get tired of seeing the same track over and over every year. I think going backwards – the drivers have to learn something new on the track, it’s something new for the fans, and something different. So I definitely like the idea.

– Chris Leone

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