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GRC Season Review: Samuel Hubinette, Part 1

Image via Hazel PR

It wasn’t until the very weekend of the Global Rallycross Championship season opener at Charlotte Motor Speedway that Samuel Hubinette had nailed down a ride for 2012. Even then, it was only a one-race deal; he would drive the second Scott-Eklund Racing Saab 9-3 with sponsorship from ENEOS Oil and Magnaflow, with the rest of the season an uncertainty.

Two weeks later, after a fifth-place finish in the season opener, Hubinette was equipped with a full-season contract and exactly one weekend’s worth of seat time in the car. But the versatile stunt driver and two-time Formula Drift champion, armed with the Saab’s muscle and top speed, managed to run up front in nearly every subsequent race.

While the finishes didn’t always come, Hubinette still managed to score third place in championship points with 63, even as Scott-Eklund Racing dissolved and gave way to Eklund Motorsport in the final two races. In the first of a two-part interview, he talked to us about overcoming obstacles, racing without pressure, and staying positive as his team worked through the early-season kinks:

Image via Hazel PR

Your deal came together the Thursday before the race. You were with a privateer team that had no factory backing, driving an older and larger car. And despite all that, you managed to post a third place finish in the championship. How did you put together a consistent run like that all year?

I think it’s the combination of several things, that we ended up in third place. We had some ups and downs throughout the season, too—it wasn’t like we were flowing easy with no mechanical problems. I had those going on for me, too. At Charlotte I lost power steering in the A final, but still managed to get up to fifth place there. At Texas, we ran strong in second or third place but then the prop shaft broke. We moved on to X Games, and that’s where I was running really strong in the first A final, where I was in third place chasing Tanner (Foust). At that time (he) had power steering issues, so I felt like I was going to possibly pass him, but then we got a red flag and a restart. Then at the restart I was run into from behind in the first corner, got a flat tire, and got taken out there.

Then we moved to New Hampshire, and New Hampshire was the best race of the season, where there was no restart going on. I was fighting for first place and was happy finishing second there and being on the podium. It felt like a great bonus there with so much trial and error coming up to that event. After that we moved over to Las Vegas, where we really had a rough week. We had boost problems which unfortunately the team couldn’t quite figure out. So I didn’t have power in a regular start with the launch button and such, and then finishing up with a flat tire. We really had a lot of rough stuff… it’s amazing we finished third.

Image via Hazel PR

Then going into the last round, I got the short end (of the stick). I was the unlucky one, running in second place again behind Tanner, and then only a lap and a half away (from the finish) another red flag comes out. We did a full restart again. And after that full restart put me in my original starting spot, not where I was placed—I expected to be in second place, knowing I was running in second place. After that, I had some mishaps there, following Tanner, and ended up fourth place. But with a small budget, finishing third place for the whole season, that means many other teams having a lot of driving too, a lot of big crashes and such. It’s a combination of us running stronger than many other guys with multimillion dollar budgets. All of us are very happy that we could bring home third place for our sponsors, ENEOS, Magnaflow, Denso, and of course Eklund Motorsport after putting in so much effort here.

Your first practice in Charlotte was the first time you stepped into the Saab 9-3. I know you’ve driven all sorts of cars in your career, but how quickly did you adjust to this one?

To adapt to different vehicles has been my strength, which really helped me there. First of all, I had never done a full launch control start with this type of car, so just the start procedure and getting it right had to be learned really fast, and I didn’t get to do too many starts before the actual race because I did just roll into Charlotte the same day as qualifications, in the afternoon. At that time I hadn’t driven the car more than to the wrap company. I picked it up because we didn’t have time to roll down the trailer. I grabbed the car and drove it straight into the infield.

Image via Hazel PR

The positive thing was that I had no expectations on me. No one thought that I was going to do well at all with no seat time and also a car that hadn’t been sorted out for GRC. So that put me in a nice position where I could sort of be relaxed and just have fun, and I really did. I was having a blast! And to learn everything as quickly as I did, as quick as possible, really worked out well. I was running in third place into the last lap, where I got rear-ended and spun out and ended up finishing fifth in that race.

So that was a good start, and it was giving all of us a great boost to continue pushing strong and getting all the racing details figured out after that. That was a one weekend deal at the time. After that weekend, I had to go back and work on a season contract and all the financial aspects involved with that. It was a crazy, stressful time.

You got the full season deal done and continued to run strongly. You were running as high as second at both Texas and X Games before the mechanical issues at those tracks. But given the lack of results at the time, does that become frustrating that you’re running up front and having bad luck? Or was it something that made you say “we can be there, and the finishes are going to come eventually”?

You’ve got to just be mentally strong in racing, because if you take each technical problem too (hard) you’re going to go into depression and lose focus on achieving victories. When those things happen, you look at all the positive things, like you said. “Hey, you know, we were up there, we can be there as soon as we get all these different pieces together. That’s going to make a podium finish.” It really gave me hope to see that I was running up there in the top three several times. The red flag came out and a big restart happened, and then things went down and such. That’s how it is—just be a positive thinker and move forward.

Check back tomorrow for Part 2, in which Hubinette breaks down the second half of his season and more.

—Chris Leone

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