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GRC Season Review: Stephan Verdier, Part 2

Photo credit: Matthew Kalish

Coming off of a disappointing X Games, Stephan Verdier was determined to mount a charge for this year’s Global Rallycross Championship. Armed with the knowledge that drivers could drop their worst race of the season in the final standings, he looked forward to attacking the second half of the championship armed with the new engine that he had been waiting for all season.

When teammate Rhys Millen took off the New Hampshire round of the season, Verdier took the team’s lead Hyundai Veloster up north in hopes of scoring another solid finish, before returning to his own car for the final two races of the season at Las Vegas and SEMA. Through a series of ups and downs, he would come out of the season with a sixth place finish in the overall standings.

In the second part of Verdier’s season recap, we talk about developing the car through the final races of the season, fighting through mechanical errors, and the contact that we didn’t see on TV during the final round at SEMA:

You mentioned at the track that you were driving Rhys’ car at New Hampshire. You qualified fourth and you managed to win the last chance qualifier, but you had an incident with Liam Doran that knocked you out of the final. How disappointing was it to fall out of that event?

Photo credit: Matthew Kalish

Yeah, that’s the one I was devastated because it was 100% my fault. Like you said, we were driving Rhys’ car for that event, and the car was super fast because it had the new engine. And the first heat, Sverre (Isachsen) lost control and pushed me in the tires, so it kind of took me out of a chance to advance to the final, but I won the LCQ against Ken and everybody, and won it pretty easily. So the car was there, my driving was, everything was perfect, and that was the race—in the season, we knew everyone got to drop one race—I knew “I’m going to drop the X Games as my one race for the season, I just have to do a top six, five at New Hampshire.” And that would set me really good for the championship.

So I knew in the final I just had to do a good job. I didn’t need to win, but I did such a good job in qualifying that I was like “I gotta win, I gotta win.” Unfortunately, I made a huge mistake into the braking zone, overshot my braking, and hit Liam. The hit by itself didn’t take me out—what happened is we popped the alternator belt during the crash. The car was great, everything was good, it’s just the belt popped out and it shut down my engine, which was a shame because the car was driving straight and there was no damage structure-wise on the car. So it was 100% my fault.

Photo credit: Matthew Kalish

That was the first time in the season that I made a drivers’ mistake, so it definitely devastated me. Because we drove all the way to New Hampshire, brought everybody here, and I just made a big mistake. That was a bad one, and it cost me a lot in the championship if you look at the points.

Las Vegas was a solid rebound event for you, with a fifth place finish, but it seemed like you hung around the back for much of the final and took the joker on the last lap to get that result. Was it easier for you to just hang back and run clean laps that weekend?

Yeah. Las Vegas was the first time in my car, my chassis, with the new engine. The car was fast, but the times weren’t there. I couldn’t understand why, especially compared to Rhys, with the testing the week before… I knew I should have been close to Rhys’ time, and I was pretty far behind. So I couldn’t understand what in my car was so much slower. We were struggling to find what was wrong with it, and it was down to my driving style.

Image via Las Vegas Motor Speedway Facebook/Photo credit: Jeff Speer

So I started to change my driving style and go closer to Rhys’, which was a lot more handbrake than me, and at Vegas I thought that worked for our chassis. So I started to change my style in qualifying and it didn’t work for me. I was really inconsistent, it just wasn’t working for me. So I went back to my regular style, was better, but the times still were not there.

When we went to the final, I knew I was going to have to have a tough time fighting with the top guys, so I (decided to) hang back and let them fight each other, and just do good, clean laps. And the speed of the car was a little bit off the top times, but I was able to get a pretty good result, I got fifth.

In the weeks after we found out what the problem was—the master cylinder for my front brakes went bad. So when I pushed the brakes, more went to the rear. Almost 60% went to the rear and 40% went to the front. So the car was still balanced in braking, because the way our cars are, the rear brake and center differential would do the braking for the front wheel. So the car was slowing down in a straight line, it was really balanced, but my braking distance was a good 50 feet longer than Rhys’ car. I realized that when I saw the temperature of the brakes and we looked at the data. And the funny thing is, we changed the piston for SEMA, and guess what? The car was half a second to six tenths a lap faster! (laughs)

Image via Rhys Millen Racing

So I was disappointed that we didn’t figure it out at the race, and I wish we would (have), but that happened. It was really good coming out, getting to SEMA, and knowing that my driving was fine, everything was fine, we had an issue on the car that we didn’t catch. And we were three tenths a second slower than Tanner (Foust), when the race before we were one, 1.3 seconds slower the race before.

You had high hopes heading into SEMA, but you had a rough Tuesday night. We saw you make a lot of contact with Timur Timerzyanov in the heat race and then some issues in the LCQ as well. Did that contact break anything in the car? What happened there?

When we went in, we pretty good, but the thing is there was so much dirt that all the times were really close to each other. So we actually qualified sixth, but if you look at the times, apart from Ken (Block)—who had a magical lap time—the other best time was Tanner’s, and we were only three tenths of a second behind him. When we looked at the data, lap by lap, I made three little mistakes in three corners, and if I looked at my data for what I normally do in those corners, we lost three tenths in that lap. So the car had the speed of doing the same time as Tanner, it was just me who made the mistake. But we were still three tenths of Tanner’s time, which was the closest we’d been the whole season.

Image via Stephan Verdier Facebook

So I was really excited—the car was working perfect, we had a new suspension on, everything was working the way it was supposed to. We went on the Monday night heat with Timur, we raced each other, touched each other, but there was nothing big, but what was really encouraging is, I was able to keep up with Timur for the five laps. On the first lap he was able to put maybe a second on me, but after that he couldn’t put any more time on me. In some sections I was catching up on him. That was perfect. The car was there, we’re not touching anything, we’re going to have a good race for the next day.

Unfortunately, in the first heat on Tuesday, I was lined up on the outside, which is the worst place on that track to be lined up, even if you’re on the front line. The outside position is worse than if you were in the second line on the inside. I got a pretty good start—not great, but decent—got second in the first corner. Then I made contact with Timur, but nothing big, he went in front. Then Liam, behind me, I don’t know if it was payback or what, but hit me in back of the car really hard, and he bent my exhaust when he did that. And the car couldn’t accelerate.

Photo credit: AJ Grasso

By doing so, not only did he punt me in the back, but also he went on my inside and kept pushing me on the outside, and he pushed me wide so I took the hay bale out. And he kind of forced me to take the joker. I didn’t have a choice, I had to go for the joker, which in hindsight was good, because with my exhaust bent, I had no power. I was flat out on the gas and the car was going 10 miles an hour.

Timur was behind me, and he kept pushing and bumping me because he didn’t know I had a problem. I would have done the same thing if I was in his spot. He actually came over after the race and apologized for it. So I had to bail out of driving because the car wasn’t going anywhere. Timur didn’t do anything, he didn’t break the car, he didn’t cause me to stop, I just stopped because the car was too slow. The problem was Liam, he bent my exhaust. That was the big disappointment for that (heat).

After that, we went back to the pit, and I told the guys “the car’s not running, I don’t know what it is.” So we thought we had an exhaust pipe that blew out. But when we were working on the front of the car, we walked to the back of the car and saw the exhaust pipe was bent. We worked on the back of the car and spent the 15 minutes we had between heats trying to change the whole exhaust system. We had to take out the rear differential to change it, and they managed to do it on time.

Image via Stephan Verdier Facebook

The problem is, the whole RMR team was working to get my car back on time. Even Rhys was working on my car, doing the pressure, cleaning my windshield, everybody was there. And nobody saw while we were working that they were putting water on the track. So we lined up for the LCQ, had a pretty good spot in second on the front line, and nobody saw or tells me that the track is wet. The Ford guys knew about it, but the Subaru guys didn’t know about it either.

So we did the start—I had a perfect start, I was second, right next to (Brian) Deegan. We touched doors, banged doors in the corner, but it was fine. Then I got right behind him, saw he was going for the joker, and decided I was going to go for the joker too, because the first two cars advanced—I didn’t need to win, I just needed to be in the top two. So I went into the dirt like if it was dry, and as soon as I turned I realized “we’re in trouble,” because the car didn’t turn. It was like pure ice. And the car slid hard into the jump, and when I hit the jump I broke the subframe on my front suspension.

When I was racing the wheel was alright, but when I was braking the front wheel moved back into the chassis of the car and locked up. So I did two laps and couldn’t figure out what was wrong. I’d been on the radio saying “what’s wrong with the car?” When I was braking the car the front wheel was undriveable, and that’s when I spun. I took the jump once, got on the front brake after the jump, the front wheel moved back, locked up, and then we spun. I didn’t understand why we spun, so I went back, did another lap, and that’s when the guys realized that the wheel was moving ten inches back and forth. They said “stop, stop, stop, you’re going to hurt yourself over the jump. If the wheel falls off, it’s game over.” I knew that I couldn’t make the final, but that was the end of the season!

You can follow Stephan Verdier on Twitter @stephanverdier or like his Facebook page. Watch on-board clips of his races on YouTube here.

—Chris Leone

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