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GRC Mid-Season Review: Ken Block

Photo credit: Matthew Kalish

No. 43 Monster Energy Ford Fiesta, Monster World Rally Team

STANDINGS: 6th, 40 points

POSITIVES: Block’s silver medal-winning drive at X Games was nothing short of heroic, as he spent almost all of the final running on three wheels; in fact, it may be the most impressive single run of the entire season. He’s shown that ability to recover from misfortune in each of the past two rounds, taking beat-up Monster World Rally Team Fords to two top five finishes beyond their physical potential.

NEGATIVES: Of course, Block’s road (and his mechanics’ jobs) would have been easier if he could have kept his cars in one piece. A spectacular wreck at Charlotte left him with a crippled car that relegated him to a 15th place finish, while he spent the majority of the New Hampshire event with major damage after an incident with Andy Scott at the start of their heat.

OUTLOOK: Whether you admire Block’s skill behind the wheel or think he’s undisciplined, you’ve got plenty of evidence from the first four races of this season to make a case. The truth is that Block is just remarkably inconsistent—when he’s off of his game, parts will fly, but when he executes the way that he does in his Gymkhana videos, he’s one of the top drivers in the series. It’s just impossible to predict which Block is going to show up on any given weekend.

– Chris Leone

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Millen Organizing New Rallycross Feeder Series

Image via Formula Cross Facebook

Global Rallycross Championship competitor Rhys Millen has been a major force in many forms of motorsports for years. Next year, he’ll take his commitments to the next level, as purveyor of a new rallycross development series named Formula Cross.

Millen, who ranked third in GRC points through X Games, formally announced the series’ launch on July 19, and more details on the specifications of the vehicle have leaked over the past few days.

The cars are built from ATVs, with a Yamaha YZF 450 Raptor becoming the first donor vehicle. Future models will be based on Kawasaki, Honda, and Suzuki ATVs, among others. The 450cc engine model will be followed by a 700cc model in the near future. The transformed vehicle weighs just under 500 pounds and fits in the back of a truck bed.

According to Rhys Millen Racing’s A.J. Grasso, preorders will cost under $10,000, and will begin to ship in November. His email address, as well as more photos and promotional videos, are on the series’ Facebook page.

Image via Formula Cross Facebook

Millen has been testing the new vehicle himself across the western United States, shaking down the initial model in preparation for the launch of the series next year. Though details remain scarce, the car has made appearances at such venues as DirtFish Rally School and Evergreen Speedway in Washington, Adams Motorsports Park in California, and will show up at the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb in Colorado.

But even when race events aren’t taking place, one of the advantages of the new vehicle is that it doesn’t require track time to run. Unlike go-karts and other development vehicles, owners can take the new vehicle off road for more time behind the wheel. It also boasts safety upgrades foreign to go-karts, including a tubular chassis and roll cage to protect the driver.

More details about the car, and series, should come to light in the next few months. Until then, RMR will continue to focus on developing their new creation, while Millen will continue to compete in GRC and Formula Drift events.

– Chris Leone

GRC Mid-Season Review: David Binks

Photo credit: Matthew Kalish

No. 17 Serve/eBay Motors/Best Buy Mobile Ford Fiesta, Olsbergs MSE

STANDINGS: 5th, 42 points, one heat win

POSITIVES: For a driver in his first fully professional season, Binks is sure racing at a high level. He’s made it to the final in all four events thus far, one of only four drivers to do so, and scored his first heat win of the season at X Games. He may be the fourth-best driver on his team right now, but when the three ahead of him are first, third, and fourth in points, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

NEGATIVES: Binks may not have had much of a problem getting into finals, but he does seem to have a hard time converting those appearances into strong results. Charlotte saw him careen into a barricade in the hairpin, while mechanical failure ended his day at X Games and robbed him of a potential podium at New Hampshire, right now, his best finish remains a fifth place at Texas.

OUTLOOK: Right now, Binks needs to remain patient, as he’s shown through his speed that his time will definitely come. Missed opportunities can wear down on a driver, especially when the bad luck persists, but the truth is that this team is as strong as any in the series, and it’s hard to keep a good team down for too long. Fifth in points despite only one top five finish is a testament to how consistent Binks is, and that will come back to help him someday.

– Chris Leone

GRC Mid-Season Review: Marcus Gronholm

Image via Ford Racing Facebook

No. 3 Best Buy Mobile Ford Fiesta, Olsbergs MSE

STANDINGS: 4th, 43 points; two final wins, three heat wins

POSITIVES: Gronholm was absolutely unstoppable in the first two rounds of the season, leading from flag to flag whenever his Olsbergs MSE Ford encountered race conditions. In fact, through Charlotte and Texas, it seemed like there was no way that any competitor could catch Gronholm if he could keep up his torrid pace.

NEGATIVES: That quick pace came to an abrupt halt in Saturday practice for X Games, when Gronholm miffed a planter while trying to apex and seriously injured himself. He was cut from the car, unconscious, and according to ESPN’s broadcast reportedly suffered cranial bleeding. He missed the New Hampshire round as well.

OUTLOOK: Assumedly, Gronholm will return for the final two rounds of the season, though the characterization of his injuries suggests that fans shouldn’t be shocked if he doesn’t. The disappointment for the two-time World Rally champion is that, for the second year in a row, he’ll lose out on the championship despite having been the best driver in the series. That being said, it’s better to have a fully recovered Gronholm try again next year than a Gronholm at 70% make a mad dash to gain 19 points and potentially re-injure himself.

– Chris Leone

GRC Mid-Season Review: Brian Deegan

Photo credit: Matthew Kalish

No. 38 Rockstar Energy/Makita Ford Fiesta, Olsbergs MSE

STANDINGS: 3rd, 49 points; three podiums, three heat wins

POSITIVES: Deegan is one of the most active racers in the GRC, trading in his Olsbergs MSE Ford on off weekends for off-road trophy trucks. That frequent seat time, as well as his studious nature and intense focus, is sure to help him keep up peak performance behind the wheel. In fact, Deegan has scored third place finishes in each of the past three races, the only driver in the championship with three podium runs.

NEGATIVES: Those three podium runs could have been four if not for mechanical failure at Charlotte. After winning his first heat, Deegan suffered the issue in the second heat and missed the last chance qualifier entirely, coming out of the season opener with just a single point. In that sense, he’s spent the entire season battling uphill, unless the series elects to give every driver a mulligan round; even then, he’d be two points behind teammate Tanner Foust for the lead right now, 47-45.

OUTLOOK: Charlotte’s disappointment crippled his championship hopes early on, but with Marcus Gronholm’s absence and Foust’s inability to extend an insurmountable lead, Deegan could find a way to get by both of his teammates and take the GRC title. The 2011 X Games gold medalist has an incredible drive to take a victory in one of the final two races, and with both events likely to take place on the sort of huge stages that bring out the best in him, it appears to be only a matter of time. Winning the championship will take some help, though, as he’ll have to get by both Foust and Samuel Hubinette in points.

– Chris Leone

GRC Mid-Season Review: Samuel Hubinette

Photo credit: Matthew Kalish

No. 77 ENEOS Motor Oil Saab 9-3, Scott-Eklund Racing

STANDINGS: 2nd, 50 points; one podium, three heat wins

POSITIVES: Hubinette only stepped into a Scott-Eklund Racing Saab for the first time on Charlotte’s race weekend, but he showed from the get-go why he’s such a well-respected and versatile driver by scoring a top five in his first race with the team. He ran as high as second at both Texas and X Games as well before finally putting together his first podium finish in New Hampshire after a heated battle with Travis Pastrana for the lead.

NEGATIVES: Mechanical failure robbed Hubinette of those second place finishes at both Texas and X Games. Had he been able to convert them both, he’d have an extra 16 points, enough to hold the championship lead. His streak of a heat victory at every event was also snapped at New Hampshire when Pastrana muscled his way past in the crossover bridge.

OUTLOOK: Were a privateer outfit like Scott-Eklund Racing to score the GRC championship in a season dominated by teams with heavy manufacturer involvement, it would be nothing short of shocking. But the team is comprised of rallycross veterans running quick and strong cars, and Hubinette’s talent has been well established throughout many disciplines. He outraced points leader Tanner Foust in New Hampshire, and had a better car than Foust at both Texas and X Games. It’ll take a pair of podium finishes and some help, but Hubinette has a fair shot at the championship.

– Chris Leone

GRC Mid-Season Review: Tanner Foust

Photo credit: Matthew Kalish

No. 34 Rockstar Energy/Etnies Ford Fiesta, Olsbergs MSE

STANDINGS: 1st, 62 points; two podiums, four heat wins

POSITIVES: Foust is the most consistent driver in the GRC this season, and that—plus an injury to teammate Marcus Gronholm that kept him out of X Games and New Hampshire—helps explain his 12-point lead in the championship right now. The only heat race he lost came at X Games, and that was because a clearly superior Sebastien Loeb was in the same draw. If not for Gronholm’s superhuman performances at Charlotte and Texas, nobody would’ve touched Foust in those two races.

NEGATIVES: Being the most consistent finisher doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve been the best driver all season, and Foust has had his share of disappointment. He could only muster sixth place at X Games with Gronholm out, giving him only a five point lead coming into New Hampshire. He had a chance to take his first win of the season there, but stalled in the crossover bridge, handing the lead to Travis Pastrana and eventually falling back to fourth.

OUTLOOK: Having a series champion who fails to win a race is a black eye on any racing series, and Foust could potentially be in that position come the end of September. With that in mind, he’s likely putting an intense amount of pressure on himself to be ready for the final two races of the season. The question is, with Gronholm back and the rest of the field realizing that he is indeed human, if that pressure will lead to dominant performances or crumbling that allows his competitors to climb back into the title hunt.

– Chris Leone

GRC Instant Reaction: New Hampshire Motor Speedway

Photo credit: Chris Leone

Travis Pastrana broke a streak of three disappointing Global Rallycross Championship races in a row to finally score a victory at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Saturday night. Pastrana beat rivals Samuel Hubinette and Brian Deegan to the finish line, while current GRC points leader Tanner Foust came home in fourth after leading briefly in the final. Here are some observations from Saturday’s event:

  • This was the first GRC race event to go off with what seemed like no issues. While a lengthy setup period and two accidents shortened Friday qualifying, the series and track were more than ready for Saturday. They set up quickly, the track did not have any issues (especially with safety, as Tanner Foust and Ken Block have organized the drivers to address that end), the presence of sand, a longcut, and the crossover bridge added great new challenges for the drivers, and most importantly, everything was finished before sundown came to the unlit NHMS circuit. Many raved that they thought it was the best event of the season.
  • Marcus Gronholm and Toomas Heikkinen remained unavailable for Olsbergs MSE after their injuries sustained at X Games, but Rhys Millen’s absence was completely unexpected until the teams unloaded. Millen elected to let Stephan Verdier drive his car while Verdier’s was being prepared for the final two rounds of the season, and Verdier took full advantage of the speed by qualifying fourth. As for Olsbergs, Brian Deegan set the fastest time in practice, while Tanner Foust took pole on Saturday by over .7 seconds, and David Binks challenged for a podium in the final until having an accident, so they clearly didn’t miss a beat.

Photo credit: Matthew Kalish

  • Ken Block had an interesting week, to say the least. After dropping Gymkhana Five earlier in the week, Block qualified second on Friday, only to end the qualifying session by rolling his car off of the crossover bridge. In his heat race, Block and Andy Scott went for the same piece of real estate and made contact, leading Block to require major repairs before the last chance qualifier and final. With a taped-up car and a plastic windshield, Block came home an impressive fifth.
  • Aside from Scott’s broken wheel in Friday qualifying and heat incident, Scott-Eklund Racing had a very impressive run overall, cementing themselves as a top-tier team in the GRC despite no factory support from Saab. Samuel Hubinette gave Travis Pastrana a run for his money in their heat race, passing Pastrana out of the tabletop jump only to be bumped out of the way on the crossover bridge. They finished 1-2 in both events, but the finish was good enough to elevate Hubinette to second in points. Scott, meanwhile, made it to the final with his track control arm still damaged and took home a sixth place finish, his best since running fourth in the season opener at Charlotte.
  • Photo credit: Matthew Kalish

    Pastrana drove more aggressively than he had all season, also bumping Foust on the crossover bridge in the final. But, as Pastrana explained, Foust had stalled the car. The shot to the rear gave Foust an opportunity to restart without losing too many positions, but he was clearly upset to have lost a chance to take his first victory of the season. Foust did manage to extend his points lead from five to 12, however, going into the final two rounds.

  • Liam Doran came into New Hampshire with high hopes, only to suffer a series of disappointments. Due to Block’s qualifying accident at sundown, his session was cut short, leaving him ninth in seeding. Issues with launch control and his handbrake meant that his efficacy on starts and hairpins was compromised, and while taking the longcut hairpin in the final a later-braking Stephan Verdier caved in his door.
  • It’s been a bad year to be a Subaru driver in rallycross. All three—Sverre Isachsen, Dave Mirra, and Bucky Lasek—went home from New Hampshire disappointed after their heat races. Isachsen attempted to cut across the track in his heat, as he had done so well at X Games, only to run into Verdier and spin himself out. Lasek started last due to an accident in qualifying, and brought up the rear of the remaining field in both his heat race and the last chance qualifier. Dave Mirra avoided Block and Scott crashing in his heat, coming home second by default, but would blow a tire on the final lap and was the first driver to pull off in the final. None of the Subaru drivers are in the top 10 in points.
  • Photo credit: Matthew Kalish

    Finally, the series has plenty of interesting storylines in play for the final two rounds of the season, a TBA event in September and the season finale at Las Vegas on September 29. Foust would like to extend his points lead while taking that elusive first victory of the season, while Pastrana and Hubinette established one of the fiercest on-track rivalries in their duels at New Hampshire. With such an unpredictable series, anything can happen; in fact, Brian Deegan hinted during the weekend that this championship may be getting very unpredictable in September.

Race results and point standings can be accessed here. More photography from the race weekend by Matthew Kalish will begin to appear in the coming days.

– Chris Leone

#NHMSGRC: Travis Pastrana Post-Race Comments (via Rallycross.HU)

Mark Szerenyi of Rallycross.HU and I collaborated to produce this video interview of Travis Pastrana after his win in the Global Rallycross Championship event at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. I handle the first three questions, while Mark takes over at 2:27 into the video.

#NHMSGRC Race Results, Post-Race Comments, and Point Standings

Photo credit: Matthew Kalish

Here are the results to tonight’s Global Rallycross Championship race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway presented by Sylvania Silverstar zXe:

  1. Travis Pastrana, #199 Dodge, 3 minutes, 40.274 seconds, 20+1 points
  2. Samuel Hubinette, #77 Saab, 3:41.705, 17
  3. Brian Deegan, #38 Ford, 3:44.735, 15+1
  4. Tanner Foust, #34 Ford, 3:44.891, 13+1
  5. Ken Block, #43 Ford, 3:49.327, 12
  6. Andy Scott, #26 Saab, 4:05.282, 11
  7. Liam Doran, #33 Citroen, DNF, 10
  8. David Binks, #17 Ford, DNF, 9
  9. Stephan Verdier, #12 Hyundai, DNF, 8
  10. Dave Mirra, #40 Subaru, DNF, 7
  11. Bucky Lasek, #81 Subaru, DNQ, 6
  12. Pat Moro, #59 Subaru, DNQ, 5
  13. Sverre Isachsen, #11 Subaru, DNQ, 4
  14. Richard Burton, #41 Subaru, DNQ, 3

Here are links to post-race comments for the top four finishers:

  • Travis Pastrana, #199 Discount Tire/Red Bull Dodge Dart, Pastrana199 Racing
  • Samuel Hubinette, #77 ENEOS Motor Oil Saab 9-3, Scott-Eklund Racing
  • Brian Deegan, #38 Rockstar Energy/Makita Ford Fiesta, Olsbergs MSE
  • Tanner Foust, #34 Rockstar Energy/Etnies Ford Fiesta, Olsbergs MSE

Photo credit: Matthew Kalish

Here are the Global Rallycross Championship points through four of six rounds:

  1. Tanner Foust, #34 Ford, 62 points
  2. Samuel Hubinette, #77 Saab, 50
  3. Brian Deegan, #38 Ford, 49
  4. Marcus Gronholm, #3 Ford, 43
  5. David Binks, #17 Ford, 41
  6. Ken Block, #43 Ford, 40
  7. Stephan Verdier, #12 Hyundai, 39
  8. Andy Scott, #26 Saab, 38
  9. Rhys Millen, #67 Hyundai, 37
  10. Travis Pastrana, #199 Dodge, 34
  11. Sverre Isachsen, #11 Subaru, 31
  12. Liam Doran, #33 Citroen, 27
  13. Dave Mirra, #40 Subaru, 23
  14. Sebastien Loeb, #72 Citroen, 21
  15. Bucky Lasek, #81 Subaru, 19
  16. Pat Moro, #59 Subaru, 12
  17. David Higgins, #75 Subaru, 10
  18. Toomas Heikkinen, #57 Ford, 8
  19. Tim Rooney, #47 Subaru, 4
  20. Richard Burton, #41 Subaru, 3
  21. Bryce Menzies, #99 Dodge, 2
  22. Filipe Albuquerque, #99 Dodge, 1
  23. Jimmy Keeney, #418 Subaru, 0

– Chris Leone