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Stephan Verdier: GRC Las Vegas Race Recap

Image via Rhys Millen Racing

Stephan Verdier scored his second top five finish of the Global Rallycross Championship season by bringing home the No. 12 Disney XD/Motorcity Hyundai Veloster in fifth at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in September. After qualifying a disappointing 13th and making his way through the last chance qualifier, Verdier started on the back row for the main event and made his move on the final lap, saving the joker lap for the end of the race and passing multiple cars in the process.

As we did after the New Hampshire race, we’re going to let Stephan himself take us through his Vegas race weekend, from practice to the post-race breakdown:

(Vegas) was a pretty good track. It was still kind of the same stuff we’ve been around the whole season. The problem is, we didn’t see the dirt until the actual heat. We were all concerned about it, but actually, the dirt was perfect—I hope they use the same dirt for SEMA, it was kind of low grooved. The only kind of challenging part was the shortcut, because it was so narrow and there was a pretty big concrete wall at the exit of the turn after the jump. That was the only section that was really tricky, the rest was pretty straightforward.

(Losing time from practice to our qualifying run) wasn’t really a setup change, it was in my driving. During the practice, I was driving the car through the shortcut and a lot of the drivers were E-braking the car into the gap to take the corner. So during the practice, we were always in the top three fastest cars. But Rhys (Millen) was doing the E-brake, and he was a couple of tenths faster than me. I was told that the top guys, like Tanner (Foust) and everybody, were doing the E-brake.

Image via Stephan Verdier Facebook

So I decided to do the E-brake during the qualifying, which was a big mistake because twice I pulled the E-brake during the gap and my engine let down. So I pushed the car to get the RPM back up, and I couldn’t get the momentum of the car and the brake in the turn right. I did it twice in three laps and it failed twice. So on the third lap, I’m like “I’m just going to drive the car like I always did,” but I was way slower than I was doing in practice. That’s what kind of messed me up.

It wasn’t a problem with the car setup, it was just me trying a different technique of doing that turn. It worked for other drivers, but it didn’t work for me. And what kind of made me mad is, after qualifying I knew I was slow, but I looked at everybody else, and everybody except for Rhys and Travis (Pastrana) drove the car like I was in practice! (laughs) So Rhys and Travis were the only ones using the E-brake. I should have stuck with what I know! It was my mistake. I should know better.

You always want to try new stuff if the fast guys are doing it. You say “okay, well, that’s the way to do it.” But I shouldn’t have changed it for qualifying. I would’ve done better than what I did. It was pretty bad because it put me in a big hole for the race. I was really struggling during the race to catch up with everybody else on the back of the grid.

The third heat is always the worst one. The first heat, the difference in time between cars is really big from the fastest to the slowest the way the system is made. Normally in the third heat, all four cars are really close in times. So the third heat is the one you don’t want to be in because everybody is as fast as you are.

Image via Rhys Millen Racing

And the thing is, the way they lined us up, they put five cars in a row, but they couldn’t put five cars on the tarmac. So the fifth car would have to start on the concrete, which was me. I knew I was going to get destroyed on the concrete. Going into the heat I was like “we’ll have to go straight into the LCQ unless something bad happens.” The funny thing is, we’d been talking about being on the concrete—maybe if I false start, they’ll have to set me on the back row. I can choose where I can be on the back row, and at least I’ll be on the tarmac. It’s better to be on the tarmac on the back row than on the concrete at the same line as everybody else. But I decided “nah, I don’t want to play games, I just want to do it.”

Sure enough, I was all excited for the start, and I reacted at the orange light instead of the green light! (laughs) I saw the orange light and I went for it, and I was like “(expletive)!” So I false started.

At the drivers’ meeting, they told us if you false start, we’re going to wait until the first corner. And if the person who did the false start regrouped at the end of the train, then we won’t red-flag the race. As soon as I did it, I backed off and waited for everyone to pass me, but nobody left the line! It was such an early false start that Travis and I think (Toomas) Heikkinen went, but (Brian) Deegan and Samuel (Hubinette) didn’t go. So they red-flagged the race.

They put me in the back, and they asked me if I wanted to be behind Travis or Samuel. On the inside, I was sure that Travis and Deegan were going to go at it pretty hard, and I thought there was going to be some carnage there. So I said I’d go behind Samuel, and Samuel’s pretty consistent on his starts. I lined up behind Samuel, and sure enough, I don’t know what he did—I think his car had a problem—but I almost ran into him at the start because he didn’t move!

Image via Rhys Millen Racing

It was a good heat. I think I ended up third at the first corner because Travis went wide and I went behind Topi. I made up some time in the first two laps on Topi, but when he took the joker he was about to make up some time back on me, he was faster than me, and I never caught him.

At the start of the LCQ, I was in the position that I wanted. I was right in the middle of the track, off the concrete, at the first line. And the guys around me, I knew I could be faster than them, so if I had a good start, it should’ve been a piece of cake.

The way we do our launch is we have to push a button on the steering wheel, and keep the button pressed until we get the car moving forward in gear. What I did is, I got everything ready as soon as we got the green light to (go) normally, and also release the button on the steering wheel. I was pushing the button and my reflex released the button too soon, and the car went off launch and just stalled! (laughs) I thought the engine was shut down, and as I was looking the engine by itself was fired, luckily, so I didn’t lose too much time. I was able to stay with the group, but I had to restart the push to start button to get fired and I went from the front to the back. So we had to go for it!

There was some carnage in the first corner, so I was able to come out of it in third place, and I think I stayed third the whole way. I didn’t lose time and I didn’t gain time, I kind of got lucky on that one. Even by finishing (better than) third, I think it would’ve moved me one row further in the final, and the way the final worked out I had the perfect spot. So it might have been a good thing that I stalled it!

Image via Rhys Millen Racing

In the final, I knew I was in the back. I knew I could get Bucky (Lasek) off the start. The way the track was, I knew there was going to be carnage on the first corner. So I decided to wait on the start and (make sure I didn’t) hit anything. The start was good—it was an awesome start, actually—and like I predicted there was big carnage at the front that opened a hole for me to move in (fifth) place coming out of it, to go for it.

Then I saw that all the top guys went for the joker first all together. And my car, I wasn’t really on pace with everybody that weekend. I was always three or four tenths a lap slower than everybody. I think that was my driving—it could have been the car, but I thought at the time it was my driving, too. So I thought “I’m just doing to do clean laps and let those guys fight each other at the front, and just drive myself and do clean and consistent laps.” So that was my strategy, and that’s why I fell in the order.

I followed Lasek for a while because I think he took the joker first too. I saw I was making time on him, but I wasn’t getting slowed by him. So I stayed there because nobody’s paying attention to you during the last lap. And the way I look at it is, if I don’t have the speed, the pure speed to keep up with the top guys and to beat them, then it’s better for me to just do my consistent, medium-average speed lap. And hopefully the top guys just fight themselves, they fall in pace because they’re fighting each other, and I can gain on them.

Image via Rhys Millen Racing

So it worked out that we ended up being fifth. It was kind of a disappointing weekend. I was hoping to do a podium, especially coming from New Hampshire when we saw how fast the car was. We did testing, and I was really fast in testing, but suddenly we got to (the race) and how slow was my car?

We found an issue with the brakes—the front brakes were not working. I was doing most of my braking with the rear wheels. Looking at pictures from the event, my rear wheels were glowing red, and my front brakes weren’t even red! Normally it should be the other way around. The problem is, it sounds stupid, because how come you can’t notice it as a driver? Well the thing is, because we run mechanical center discs, when you go to brake, even if you have too much rear brake, the center disc is what’s braking the front wheel. So my braking was being done by my rear wheels and my center disc, and nothing for my front wheels. So the braking wasn’t as short as it would’ve been.

Image via Rhys Millen Racing

After the race, we looked at the data from my car and Rhys’ car, and Rhys was so much deeper than me on braking. Normally I’m the one that goes deep. He was so much more confident going into the corners. So we checked, and the front brake was failing on us. We figured that out, but it was after the race, so hopefully we’ll go testing (today) and see if there’s a difference. That was the only thing I could see on the car having an issue.

I think that’s why the strategy was if I’m slow, stay in last! (laughs) It was frustrating, because I was hoping to do really good, but I wasn’t on pace. But the brakes are fixed, I think that was the issue. And the good thing is, the upcoming event (at SEMA) is mostly dirt, and we’re really good on dirt. So it should be better. Hopefully!

Verdier currently ranks sixth in points with 46. He can finish as high as third in the championship with a strong performance at SEMA on Tuesday. Check back as we get closer to the event for Verdier’s outlook on the GRC season finale.

– Chris Leone

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