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Belgian Rallycross Star Sheds Light on M-Sport’s GRC Involvement

Image via M-Sport Facebook

Image via M-Sport Facebook

Though his name is not well-known on this side of the world, Belgian rallycross star Michaël de Keersmaecker is a fixture in the European Rallycross Championship, having finished fifth in that series this year on the strength of numerous main event appearances. According to the ERC24.com Facebook, de Keersmaecker has shared some information about the European series for next season after meeting with M-Sport and new ERC promoter IMG, best known as the organization that handles promotion of Formula 1.

Included was an interesting tidbit about the M-Sport rallycross program for 2013. “M-Sport is doing a full GRC programme with a new car for Ken Block, who is also set to use a Wildcard three times [in the 2013 FIA/IMG RX series],” de Keersmaecker wrote. “M-Sport is currently not planning to appear in European Rallycross, but a future RX programme in Europe is possible.”

Image via Ford Racing Facebook

Image via Ford Racing Facebook

Block, who finished fifth in the 2012 Global Rallycross Championship, switched from Subaru to Ford in 2010. He won two Rally America events and one Canadian Rally Championship event in 2012, adding a silver medal at X Games along the way. Block’s three Wildcard appearances in the reworked FIA Rallycross Championship, sponsored by longtime Block backer Monster Energy, will be his first in European-style rallycross, which does not feature jumps as the GRC does.

M-Sport had been rumored to put emphasis on rallycross for 2013 after Ford’s announcement that it would no longer provide factory support for the World Rally Championship after this season. But the team secured backing from the State of Qatar, enabling it to contest the WRC with four cars for next season, and that is where its priority will remain. However, longtime M-Sport driver Petter Solberg may be considering a rallycross ride for 2013; in this Jalopnik interview, conducted last week, Solberg would only say “we’ll see…” when asked.

—Chris Leone

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SST Gains Momentum With Ticket Sales, Metal Ramps

Image via Stadium Super Trucks Twitter

Image via Stadium Super Trucks Twitter

Various posts from around the internet suggest that Robby Gordon’s newest racing venture, Stadium Super Trucks, is on pace for a strong debut season in 2013.

Tickets for the series’ first three events—held at University of Phoenix Stadium, the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, and Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum—are now on sale. Phoenix and Los Angeles tickets can be purchased online through Ticketmaster, while Long Beach tickets can be purchased at the GPLB website, or in person at each respective event’s box office. The competitions will be held on April 6, April 21, and April 27, respectively, and feature the marquee Stadium Super Trucks, ATVs, UTVs, and the famed Bigfoot monster truck.

Meanwhile, Gordon and his team have been developing the Stadium Super Truck model, testing it over the past few weeks on a metal ramp akin to the one used in this year’s Global Rallycross Championship. The metal jump is guaranteed to appear at the Long Beach round, although it’s likely that most of the stadium-based events will feature dirt jumps.

Though it’s early to speculate on a driver lineup, interactions with the brand within the past few weeks may provide insights on who will compete. Gordon seems like a no-brainer to race in his own series, while this year’s Baja 1000 winner, B.J. Baldwin, and freestyle motocross star Jeremy “Twitch” Stenberg have posted photos of the SST in the past few weeks. Arie Luyendyk Jr., son of two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Arie Luyendyk and former “The Bachelor” contestant, has also changed his Twitter cover photo to one of him testing an SST.

—Chris Leone

GRC Season Review: Bryce Menzies, Part 2

Photo credit: Atiba Jefferson/Red Bull Content Pool

Photo credit: Atiba Jefferson/Red Bull Content Pool

When Bryce Menzies made his Global Rallycross Championship debut at X Games, it was also the first time that he’d made the switch from desert and short course truck racing to rallycross. Driving a second Dodge Dart alongside Travis Pastrana, Menzies finished 14th in his one-off ride at X Games.

But after wrapping up the Traxxas TORC Series’ Pro 2 championship for the second year in a row, Menzies got the call to drive for Pastrana once again in the GRC season finale at SEMA. This time, however, he’d be driving for a team whose prospects were completely different than at X Games. Pastrana took a popular win at New Hampshire, but he also elected for season-ending shoulder surgery after the Las Vegas round, meaning Menzies would be the team’s only driver.

In part two of our season review, Menzies discusses racing his way into the main event at SEMA, his appearance in the Red Bull Kluge video (see above), and what he has in mind for 2013:

On TV, Travis talked about the difference in the car this season before and after testing, and he gave you a ton of credit for helping develop it. Did the car feel significantly different at SEMA than it did at X Games?

Yeah—Travis took the car from X Games, and they tested with it a bunch and made it a lot better. I think with those cars you’ve got to change with every single track you go to. You’ve got to change the setup. And I think with me and Travis, two drivers, you always have a better shot at hitting the right setup. We’re trying both ends of the spectrum, and then we’ll come back and talk to each other and figure out what we like and what we didn’t.

Throughout the year, it’s a brand new car, the Dodge Dart’s first season, so we’ve just been making a bunch of changes trying to get notes on what the car likes on asphalt and on dirt. So from X Games to SEMA, the car got a lot better, probably 70% better, so it’s just going to go even farther from there, and I’m looking forward to next season.

Image via K&N Filters

Image via K&N Filters

Your battle with Samuel Hubinette in the second heat was one of the most exciting head-to-head races of the season, and you managed to advance directly into the final. What was your strategy in trying to pass him?

That heat race was one of the great ones that we had. We felt that we had some speed, we made some changes for that heat races that really helped the car. Going into the heat race, you just want to make it into the final. I felt like we were faster than Samuel but there’s no reason to push and try to wreck us both out. When you’re in those battles, you’ve gotta find a way around and not bully someone too much into hitting each other and smashing into each other. It’s a lot of strategy—when to use the joker, when to take the regular route. I think that’s what I’m still learning about rallycross. I’m trying to figure out ways to pass and use strategy and set up the cars. We’re still trying to figure that out, but it was a really good heat race for us.

When you got to the final, in the second attempt, you had a spin on the first lap. Did an issue from the first attempt at the final cause that? Is there anything you would’ve done differently in either attempt?

In the final, one of the things is that I really need to work on is the start. In Global Rallycross, it’s a huge key to winning these races to get off the start. I struggled a little bit there, and once you get in the pack it’s so hard to pass and make moves on guys, so that’s probably one thing that I would’ve liked to do a little bit better. And then you get up front a little bit better and run with the good guys. That’s one thing we’re going to work on this offseason, and hopefully bring back ready for next year.

Photo credit: Chris Tedesco/Red Bull Content Pool

Photo credit: Chris Tedesco/Red Bull Content Pool

A couple of weeks ago we saw you appear in the Red Bull Kluge video. When did that shoot take place and what was the process like?

At Red Bull, they’ve been working on the Kluge video for a while. They came up to me about it, I saw it all on paper, and it came together in October at El Toro Airbase. And what cooler event can you get 15 huge athletes together and make this huge event happen? I think it’s up to 12 million views now.

It was an all day process. I was in the truck for over eight hours, just for that little clip of mine. But when you’re making those movies, or shoots like that, that’s kind of what takes place. I’m just super lucky to be a part of Red Bull, and they always push the limits, try new stuff, and do some cool stuff with all their athletes. It was a really cool video, and I’m glad that everybody’s liking it.

Finally, we noticed during Pastrana’s interview that he showed interest in running you full-time in the series next year. Assumedly you’re running a full schedule of desert and short-course events next year, but is a full-time GRC ride something that you would consider?

Photo credit: Garth Milan/Red Bull Content Pool

Photo credit: Garth Milan/Red Bull Content Pool

You know something, once I got in the GRC car, I fell in love with it. It’s so much fun. I’m working with my sponsors and Travis Pastrana’s, talking back and forth and trying to figure out if we can make it work. I’m also running a full desert season and a full short course season, so I just want to make sure it’s right for me and if we have enough time to do it. So we’re in the process of talking about it. I really want to get back and show that our team is capable of winning races, as Travis did. At New Hampshire, he put that thing on the box. So it’d be really cool to get back, get in that car, and try to make it a two-team deal next year. Hopefully we’ll be out there at the first race!

Bryce Menzies is on both Twitter and Instagram at @BryceMenzies7, as well as Facebook. For more on Bryce and his other racing endeavors, be sure to visit the Menzies Motorsports and Red Bull websites.

—Chris Leone

GRC Season Review: Bryce Menzies, Part 1

Photo credit: Dan Busta/Red Bull Content Pool

Photo credit: Dan Busta/Red Bull Content Pool

Having made a name for himself by winning both the SCORE Off-Road Championship and Traxxas TORC Series’ Pro 2 Class in 2011, Mesa, Arizona’s Bryce Menzies decided to add another challenge to his already busy schedule in 2012. When fellow Red Bull driver Travis Pastrana needed a driver for his second Dodge Dart at X Games, Menzies jumped at the opportunity, stepping into the No. 99 Red Bull/Discount Tire car with limited seat time.

He demonstrated enough skill in that X Games run that when Pastrana elected to undergo shoulder surgery before the Global Rallycross Championship season finale at SEMA, Menzies was the only choice to replace him. Again, Menzies stepped into the car and transitioned nicely, this time appearing in his first GRC final round after a strong showing in the heat race.

After running the Baja 1000 once again, Menzies sat down with us at the Menzies Motorsports shop to talk about how busy he’s been this year, differences in driving style from short course to rallycross, and debuting on the big stage of X Games:

You just scored a top-10 finish in this year’s Baja 1000 a couple of weeks ago. You won your second consecutive Baja 500 and the TORC Pro 2 championship, you made your rallycross debut at X Games, and you even took Tim Lincecum for a ride around Firebird Raceway in the trophy truck all the way back in March. How much fun has this year been for you?

Yeah, we’ve had a really busy year, but it’s also been a lot of fun. I’ve been lucky to be able to run desert, which I started out in, into short course, backed up our Pro 2 championship and won the Baja 500 again. We really were focusing on the Baja 1000 and it just didn’t play out as we thought—we came away, I think, seventh overall. It’s just been a fun season.

Image via Race-Dezert.com

Image via Race-Dezert.com

And also we got to jump into a rally car. I probably got the call about a week before X Games to drive Pastrana’s second car. I didn’t have too much seat time, but once I got into the thing, I knew it was a blast and I had to do it. It was so much fun. I just needed some more seat time, trying to get figured out all-wheel drive compared to two-wheel drive, what I’m used to. And then they called me back and I got to drive the last event out at SEMA. We made some pretty good adjustments, I got a little more seat time in the car. We ended up third in one of the heat races, and then in the main we broke so we didn’t have the best luck. But hopefully next year (I’m) looking forward to getting back in the Global Rallycross car and trying to do a little bit better in it.

We know you’re a relative newcomer to rallycross, and that desert and short-course truck racing has been your forte. But you’ve seemed to catch on pretty quickly. Are there a lot of aspects of your truck driving style that adapt well to rallycross?

From short course to rally, you’ve got to be super aggressive, and I think that’s one of the things I kind of lacked going into Global Rallycross. The car is all-wheel drive, so you have to drive like, Pastrana was telling me, you have to drive the crap out of them. You’ve got to drive them to the limit. In the Pro 2, which I race in short course, you (need) a lot of finesse, you’ve got to be really smooth. So just trying to transition myself from driving one to the other, taking my aggression a lot higher in the rally car and driving a lot harder, was a little hard for me at the beginning. But I think I slowly was figuring it out and getting a little hand for it. Hopefully, just getting some more seat time, I’ll be up there on the podium with that thing.

Photo credit: Alex Huff

Photo credit: Alex Huff

You debuted at X Games in the Dodge Dart in what was a hectic weekend for you and the team. Regardless of all of the drama and bad luck on race day, did you enjoy the X Games experience?

Yeah, you know, X Games is something I grew up watching on TV. When I got the call to drive the car at X Games, it was unbelievable. There’s a lot of added pressure going into it—just the hype of X Games, and knowing I’d be racing it—so the goal was just to go in and have fun, and take the experience as what it is. I had a blast, and you couldn’t ask for a better teammate than Travis Pastrana, X Games ace. When you think action sports, his name comes up. I had a great time there, I just wish we both would have done a little bit better, but we took it as we did and had a lot of fun doing it.

When you made your rallycross debut, you were racing alongside Travis Pastrana. At SEMA, though, you were replacing him. Did that affect the way you approached the week’s race events at all, without having a teammate?

Image via K&N Filters

Image via K&N Filters

Coming into SEMA, I got in the car and I’d driven it at X Games, so I knew we had a good shot. We did some testing with the car, and being the only driver because Travis was hurt put a little more pressure (on). We knew we needed to do good not just for the team, but for all the sponsors that back the team, like Dodge, Red Bull, and KMC. We wanted to really put on a good show and I felt after qualifying—we didn’t qualify that good, but we made some changed to the car, softened up the suspension a little bit, and we came away third in the heat race. So we had high hopes going into the main.

But in rallycross, anything can happen. We went into turn one and me and Bucky (Lasek) got into it, and I got a flat tire, which broke the front drive also. So it didn’t turn out that good, but we also made some progress looking into the next year, that we do have the speed, and we’re capable of winning these things. We’ve just got to get the thing to play out and come into our hands.

Tomorrow, Menzies talks about how his races went at SEMA, the Red Bull Kluge video, and what he hopes to do in the 2013 season.

*A previous edition of this article said that Menzies had won the 2011 Baja 1000. He placed third in that event.

—Chris Leone

Ford’s “Tournament of Ovals” Allows Fans To Vote For GRC Drivers

Image via Ford Racing Facebook

Image via Ford Racing Facebook

Five of Ford’s Global Rallycross Championship drivers are currently taking part in the brand’s Tournament of Ovals, a Facebook competition in which fans can vote for the most popular driver to represent the American brand.

34 drivers overall are represented in the six-round bracket, which kicked off on December 1 with a play-in round that featured Olsbergs MSE’s Toomas Heikkinen beating World Rally driver Mads Ostberg for a spot in the first round. He joined teammates Marcus Gronholm, Brian Deegan, and Tanner Foust, as well as Monster World Rally Team driver Ken Block, in the bracket by virtue of the victory.

Ford separated its bracket into four divisions, representing its NASCAR, NHRA, and sports car (Grand-Am and V8 Supercars) divisions, with the fourth division representing all other series. As such, there’s no chance at an all-GRC final; however, at least one GRC driver will make it into the second round.

Here’s a schedule of voting matchups, which change nightly at 10PM ET:

  • December 2: Brian Deegan vs. Justin Pawlak (Formula Drift)
  • December 4: Ken Block vs. Toomas Heikkinen
  • December 6: Tanner Foust vs. Chris Duplessis (Rally America)
  • December 8: Marcus Gronholm vs. Vaughn Gittin Jr. (Formula Drift)
  • December 12: Block/Heikkinen vs. Foust/Duplessis
  • December 16: Deegan/Pawlak vs. Gronholm/Gittin Jr.
  • December 20: GRC bracket final
  • December 23: GRC bracket winner vs. sports car bracket winner
  • December 26-31: Finals

—Chris Leone