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Stephan Verdier Reviews New Hampshire Race Weekend

Photo credit: Matthew Kalish

Global Rallycross Championship competitor Stephan Verdier is one of only a handful of drivers to break the Ford stranglehold on the podium this season, scoring a third place finish in his Rhys Millen Racing-prepared Hyundai Veloster at Charlotte this season. After struggling at X Games with an older engine, Verdier was looking forward to a stronger run at New Hampshire in his first experience with the new power plant.

Unfortunately, things weren’t meant to be for the French driver. Despite qualifying fourth, Verdier had a difficult start in his heat race, had to make his way into the final via the last chance qualifier, and then suffered mechanical issues that relegated him to a ninth place finish.

As we move closer to the Las Vegas round on September 29, we’re going to let Stephan tell the story of his New Hampshire race weekend in his own words:

The car we had was Rhys’ car at New Hampshire, because my car didn’t have the new engine yet. Before X Games we didn’t have time to put the new engine in my car. So all those races up through X Games I had last year’s engine, which had 100 horsepower less than the new version we have now. So because Rhys wasn’t doing New Hampshire, he let me take his car, which has the same chassis as mine but had the new engine in it.

Photo credit: Matthew Kalish

We went to New Hampshire with no test, because the car had a completely different engine and the power band is completely different. So there’s a big difference in speed, and 200 horsepower too. So we were hoping to get some practice time on the track, but there were long delays on building the track and we never got to practice, actually. The first four laps we did were the first qualifying laps. But the car was amazingly fast—I said to my crew ‘that thing is a rocket.’ We set the fourth fastest time, except Tanner (Foust) was way ahead—first, second, third and fourth place, we were like two tenths of a second (apart). So I was really, really happy, because at X Games I got my butt kicked pretty hard because of horsepower. But now the car is amazing, so after qualifying I was really excited.

We went into the first heat, and Tanner was on my right, (David) Binks was on my left and (Sverre) Isachsen was one more to left. The problem, what happened on the start was—(normal) procedure goes to line up the cars, there’s a two or three minute heat up, then they give us a 30 second board and that’s when we start activating the launch system. It seems like a lot, but you have to put the car in gear, figure out whether the clutch is engaged, start the anti-lag, and that’s why we have that 30 second board. What happened is, they never showed the 30 second board. They went from the two minutes to the 10 second board. And at the 10 second board, all the systems should be activated and you have to be at full power for three or four seconds to make sure the anti-lag is (activated).

Photo credit: Matthew Kalish

When they showed the 10 second board, everybody was going through the (process). So everybody was looking at the lights, and when the lights turned green, I had a really bad reaction time because of that. I talked to Tanner after the race and he said “Yeah, I never saw the 30 second board either.” It didn’t really bother us that much, but I had a bad start.

It was four cars, and Isachsen, I don’t know what happened—I saw him cutting in front of me, trying to avoid spinning. I saw Binks pushed him, I think he got into Isachsen and Sverre pushed into him, so he went to the right. And I had no idea where the chicane was, so he pushed and hit my front tire so our cars went to the left and into the tires. I tried to avoid him on the left side and I went right into the chicane. It put the car sideways and I hit the chicane wrong, I went right into it.

Then after we kept going, Tanner decided to take the jump, which obviously we weren’t supposed to do on the first lap! And we were saying “What is he doing this for?” After that it was just a question of putting good laps in. I was struggling with the hairpins, and the wooden hairpin going over the track. I actually was making up time off Tanner and Binks, but on my second lap I went into the hairpin—I think it was the right speed, but a little bit too hot. And the problem with the hairpin is, coming from the sand, we would bring the sand in our wheels and dump it on the wood when we took the hairpin. So you would come into the hairpin and one lap you’d have perfect traction, and on the next lap you’d have zero traction.

Photo credit: Matthew Kalish

When I came into it, my car started sliding, and luckily there was a fence, and I went sideways into the fence. I lost about a second there, and that was the second that I was catching Tanner. On the third lap I did the joker. Binks did the joker last, and the second that I lost off of Tanner was the second that Binks had on me, and he passed me in the sand. So it was unfortunate because the car had the power. I was staying with the Ford. And we couldn’t make it into the top two but we won the LCQ.

In the main—it takes them a long time to give the start. And the car starts heating up, and the more it heats up, the more hot it gets. And as I was waiting for the green light, the car started moving forward without me doing anything. So I put on a little more of the E-brake, I engaged the clutch a tiny bit, and as soon as I did it is when the green light came. So I was maybe a tenth, two tenths of a second behind on the start, so I lost a few positions.

Photo credit: Matthew Kalish

I went into the chicane, everything was good, and when we came to it, I was planning on going for the regular track, not taking the joker. So I started going into the regular track, but then I realized that nobody was taking the joker, and I changed my mind at the last second, which was a mistake. I overshot my braking zone and just T-boned Liam (Doran’s) door, which was all my fault. What happened was, a frame rail in my car moved into the alternator and popped the alternator belt. So half a lap into it, my battery was too low and my car wouldn’t rev over 4,000 RPM. So everything was good on the car, except that I couldn’t rev up. And I didn’t want to take the risk of taking the jump with no power.

Rhys and I both have the same car right now, everything’s the same. We had an issue with the engine built in England, but for the next two races both cars will be exactly the same, back to the same level. And the car makes a huge difference.

I really believe we can win a race or two with that car. When I had the old engine, the chassis was good, but it was sitting in a straight line, we were getting caught by everybody. But now with that engine, it’s amazing. Even at New Hampshire we were not pushing the engine hard because we wanted to make sure it lasts, so if we really need to put up the power, turn the boost up a little bit more, we can.

The car is just fantastic, and I’m really excited. I think we’re going to win a race! I think we definitely have the car for it now.

Verdier now ranks seventh in points with 39, ahead of top drivers like Millen, Travis Pastrana, and Liam Doran. We’ll have more from Stephan in the coming days as we look forward to the final two rounds of the season, including his thoughts on the new Las Vegas track and the addition of the new event at SEMA.

– Chris Leone

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  1. […] we did after the New Hampshire race, we’re going to let Stephan himself take us through his Vegas race weekend, from practice to […]

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