What We Learned: GRC at Las Vegas Showcases New Faces Up Front

Image via Olsbergs MSE Facebook

The penultimate round of this year’s Global Rallycross Championship at Las Vegas Motor Speedway shook up the field in more ways than one, producing some new drivers in the top five and a serious shakeup in the points standings.

Sure, the winner wasn’t a huge surprise, as points leader Tanner Foust extended his championship advantage from 12 points to 16 by beating Brian Deegan to the finish line. But the struggles of certain other drivers were a bit surprising—both David Binks and Samuel Hubinette failed to advance to the final for the first time all season, while Travis Pastrana finished last in the final for the second time this year.

Undoubtedly, Vegas produced a mentality of “forget everything you know about the championship so far, except that Foust is the class of the field this year.” But what, specifically, should fans take out of round five of the GRC schedule? Here are the three biggest lessons we learned:

Image via Sverre Isachsen Facebook

Sverre Isachsen is back. The three-time defending European Rallycross champion seemed like a natural fit with Subaru, which has the top stage rally team in North America and whose partner in Vermont SportsCar would also be building its rallycross WRX STi. Of course, that wouldn’t be the case, as a heat win at X Games proved the lone highlight in a season fraught with mechanical failures and on-track incidents.

That all changed at Las Vegas, when Isachsen had his most consistent race of the season and took a long-awaited podium for the Zombie Cat squad. After placing second to Tanner Foust in his heat race, Isachsen turned a strong start in the final into a third-place run after passing Toomas Heikkinen late to break up an all-Ford podium.

Image via Olsbergs MSE Facebook

Toomas Heikkinen is learning. In his first race back after hitting the edge of the jump at X Games, young Topi was determined to score a strong finish. After earning disqualifications in both the Charlotte final and Texas last chance qualifier, he had only scored eight points, far behind any of his Olsbergs MSE teammates, who held four of the top five spots in points heading into Las Vegas.

When all was said and done, Heikkinen didn’t disappoint with his fourth place finish. He ran second to teammate Brian Deegan in his heat, and ran in the top three for most of the final after a strong start. His 13 points more than doubled his season total.

Image via Olsbergs MSE Facebook

This year’s is a lost championship battle. Tanner Foust leads the GRC standings by 16 points with one race to go over teammate Brian Deegan. When factoring in each driver’s “drop” event, that gap closes to seven points, but every other driver has been mathematically eliminated.

The two-horse race is still a shame given the caliber of the competition, and the “what ifs” are countless. What if Marcus Gronholm hadn’t been injured at X Games, missing the past three rounds? Or if Samuel Hubinette hadn’t suffered spark plug, turbo, and tire issues on Saturday night? Or if drivers like Ken Block and Travis Pastrana hadn’t started the season with two-point finishes at Charlotte and Texas, respectively? We’ll have to wait until next year to find out.

– Chris Leone


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