GRC Season Review: Brian Deegan, Part 1

Image via Ford Racing Facebook

2011 was a banner year for Omaha, Nebraska’s Brian Deegan. The freestyle motocross superstar and General of the Metal Mulisha expanded his legend on four wheels, winning Lucas Oil Driver of the Year for the second year in a row after taking both Pro 2 and Pro Lite championships. He also came into X Games as a part-time rally driver, having only competed in one 2011 Global Rallycross Championship event, and walked out of Los Angeles with a gold medal in the rallycross final.

That success inspired Deegan to expand his racing commitments even further for 2012, complementing his off-road racing commitments with a full GRC season with Olsbergs MSE. Racing alongside Tanner Foust and Marcus Gronholm on a team absolutely stacked with driving talent, Deegan became the only driver in the series to score podiums in all five races that he counted towards his championship total, eventually finishing second in the championship.

But as easy as Deegan makes it look on a regular basis, it wasn’t easy. In fact, the season started with him missing the main event at Charlotte with clutch issues. In part one of our season review, Deegan talks about learning from that experience, rebounding at Texas, and pulling injured teammate Toomas Heikkinen out of a burning car after his crash at X Games:

Image via Ford Racing Facebook

With first place in the Lucas Oil Pro 2 Series, second in the GRC, and X Games medals in both rally and Moto X step up, where does 2012 rank among your all-time accomplishments? Is it one of your best seasons ever?

I would say this year has been a great season, I would say one of the best. It’s hard to top last year, you know? I won both championships in off-road, rally I wasn’t a full-time competitor, and I just had a great year last year and dominated. This year, I took on more racing, and was able to back up the Pro 2 championship—the Pro Lite slipped away from me with mechanicals, and in the rally car I was able to battle for the championship all the way to the last round, me and Tanner Foust, and ended up second.

So really the only thing that could have been better was first, and I feel like I’ve been able to set a lot of new records. My goal is to win the rally championship next year, so it leaves me something to strive for. I think it’s been one of my best seasons for sure, but I like to think this is the way all of my seasons are going to be.

Image via Ford Racing Facebook

This was your first season of full-time competition in rallycross after a few years of running off-road trucks and of course your lengthy motocross and freestyle career. What lessons from running countless racing seasons were you able to take into this year’s challenge?

(In my) first rallycross season, I had to understand that it’s a different form of driving, and I was racing against guys that have raced for so many years in rally cars. There are so many different gauges and techniques to everything in those cars. They’re so much more advanced, they’re like IndyCars, and there’s so much more for me to learn. Last year I learned that you’ve just gotta be perfect, you can’t make mistakes, and that’s rally car. Trucks you can get a little looser, be a little crazier, and it works. Rally car, you just have to be dead on.

Charlotte started off decently, with a third place qualifying run and a win in your first heat. Then you dropped out of the second—what happened and how far off was the crew from being able to fix it in time for the LCQ?

Image via Ford Racing Facebook

That was a real eye-opener for me. The series is so new over here, and a lot of things happen quick—you don’t get a lot of time to fix your car. The one thing I learned, the most important thing I learned in rally car racing, is the ability to make your equipment last, because you don’t have time to fix stuff. If you go out there and trash your equipment, you’re going to go crazy to win the qualifier when you could just settle for second and save your car. Those are the tricks to winning the championship, and that’s what I’m learning now.

I went out and I went so gung-ho crazy that I ended up burning out my clutch, and I had to learn how to not do that. The guys that make your equipment are the guys who last. We almost had the car back together and the race took off, and I missed the main event. Fortunately, for me in that series, they let you drop your worst finish out of all the rounds, and I got to drop that finish, which put me in the hunt for the championship.

Image via Ford Racing Facebook

You rebounded in a big way at Texas to take your first podium finish of the season, and you never finished worse than third after that. How important was it for you to rebound right away? And how significant was it for Olsbergs to put three Fords on the podium?

For our team, it’s real important that Fords are 1-2-3. We have a big team of five guys, and I feel like there’s three or four guys that could win the race on our team. The thing is, there’s a lot of pressure behind that on this team because we’ve already been known as the team to beat. And to advance, all the other guys had been advancing so fast, that I had to go out there and show them that I’m one of the best guys, you know? I’m battling with some of the best rally car drivers in the world, and I look back at my season, and I was on the podium every single race (that counted in the championship). No one did that—I was the only guy that did that. So that’s pretty good for me.

Image via Ford Racing Facebook

X Games was a tough weekend for OMSE. As someone who’s recovered from injuries and come back stronger than ever from them, did you have any advice for your teammates? What were your thoughts on that weekend?

That was a crazy race. I’ve been to X Games many times and have seen injuries many times, and I’ve dealt with that myself. It’s just sad to see a few of the guys on the team get hurt, and I feel like one of the instances with the crash Topi (Heikkinen had) over the jump was a really bad crash. I was standing there and watched him do it, and I see his car hit, and it’s just the craziest impact. And I went sprinting over there, and I was the first one on the scene. He was just barely getting out of the car, or trying to—his leg was crushed, the car was on fire, and I went over there and carried him out of the car as the car went up in flames. And I sat there and thought, “that could have been prevented.”

There are just certain things that I wish a little more safety had been involved and we probably wouldn’t have seen that type of crashing. But that jump system’s really crazy, there’s no room for error.

Coming up next, Deegan talks about his charge for the championship, including second place finishes at both Las Vegas and SEMA, and how he approached racing against teammate Tanner Foust for the title.

—Chris Leone


GRC Season Review: Andy Scott, Part 2

Image via Hazel PR

The first two races of this year’s Global Rallycross Championship established Andy Scott as a serious contender for strong finishes and even race wins. Though the privateer Scott-Eklund Racing Saab 9-3s were some of the largest cars in the field, Scott and teammate Samuel Hubinette had unparalleled straight-line speed thanks to the engineering of Per Eklund.

Though many teams brought more funding into the championship, Scott’s experience paid off in a big way with a surprise fourth place finish to open the season at Charlotte. After a second consecutive final appearance at Texas, it was clear that the No. 26 team was prepared in every way to challenge for the GRC title. Through four of six rounds, Scott was comfortably in the top 10 before a shift in priorities caused him to finish out the European Rallycross schedule.

When all was said and done, Scott finished 11th in GRC points, one point out of the top 10, and ranked 14th in the ERC despite only running half of that schedule. In the second half of his season review, Scott discusses the ups and downs of the second half of the season, from his incident at X Games to bringing a disabled car home a respectable sixth at New Hampshire, and where he hopes to be in 2013:

Image via Ford Racing Facebook

X Games was of course a high profile race weekend for you, although it didn’t end the way you wanted it to after the incident with Travis Pastrana. Did you two ever discuss what happened there? I know we’ve talked about the incident and your point of view before, but have your thoughts changed on it at all?

I had a discussion with Travis in New Hampshire before the event there. Travis gave his version of events; obviously he was in front, so he couldn’t have seen what was going on behind. I gave my version of events, and Travis was very professional about it. He took it as a racing incident and that was really it. It was good to talk to Travis and clear the air on the position, but we both left after that discussion and it’s been put to bed. I’ve not really gone back and reconsidered it.

You had a rough start at New Hampshire given the contact with Ken Block where it appeared that both of you were going for the same space. But you managed to push through the LCQ and even survived the entire final. How difficult was it to drive the car given that it was disabled?

Photo credit: Matthew Kalish

It was really difficult, as the results show—I didn’t have any pace at all, and the only reason I got the finishing position I did, I think, was because of other cars breaking down and not finishing. We managed to get the corner back on the car, but we didn’t have any time to (fix) the geometry or anything. The car was handling like a complete pig, but we’d run out of time, we just had to get back on the circuit. Thankfully, we had four wheels and they were going around. But we had no quality of setup and no handling at all. It made for very interesting driving.

Your focus shifted away from the GRC after the lengthy break in the season. What, if any, context are you able to give us on that decision?

I couldn’t get an agreement with Per to run the car for the rest of the season. It broke down at that point. I was disappointed to only have done four of six races, I was really looking forward to finishing the series, but things broke down between myself and Per, so it wasn’t possible to continue. Obviously I’m disappointed because I finished one point outside the top 10 after only having done four races, so I was pretty gutted about that.

Image via Hazel PR

You came back to the ERC at the end of the year and took a top five in the A Main at Germany. In the end, in two partial schedules, you were one point out of the GRC top 10, as you mentioned, and 14th in the ERC. Are you satisfied with your results overall?

I think there are highlights of the season where we’re very happy. It just shows you, you can’t expect to be in the top 10 in two very competitive championships when you don’t complete all the races. I’m happy with the way the year had gone, I’m just upset that we didn’t finish—the intention for the year was to do the full GRC series and then to supplement extra races in ERC when we were home. So the plan did change halfway through the season, which is never good for anybody. But we’re satisfied with parts of the season, we’re dissatisfied that we didn’t go the distance in GRC.

Have you given thought to the 2013 season and where you’d like to be?

Yeah. We’ve got a lot of experience gained from 2012 and there’s no closed door at the moment. We’re talking with a lot of different people with all sorts of options, GRC and ERC. Until we see dates for GRC it’s hard to say whether we could do both championships, but I’m not done with GRC yet. If we can pull the budget and the team together, we’ll be back. But we’re not discounting doing the full ERC series either. It comes down to what partners we can find and how we put it all together.

Follow Andy Scott on Twitter at @AndyScottRX and be sure to like his Facebook page

—Chris Leone

GRC Season Review: Andy Scott, Part 1

Image via Hazel PR

The majority of the teams in this year’s Global Rallycross Championship received a significant amount of factory support, whether from established rallycross brands like Ford, longtime stage rally mainstays like Subaru, or rally newcomers like Dodge. Most of the privateer teams fell by the wayside compared to last season, with one notable exception—GRC newcomers Scott-Eklund Racing, a partnership formed by Swedish rallycross legend Per Eklund and Scottish driver and successful businessman Andy Scott. Both had been successful in last year’s European Rallycross Championship, with Eklund’s car ranking sixth in points with driver Toomas Heikkinen and Scott scoring a podium in the Netherlands on the way to 11th in points.

Though the majority of media focus was placed on the many crossover athletes that have come into rallycross, the veteran partnership quietly put together some strong results despite their lack of manufacturer support. In the capable hands of Scott, the No. 26 Scott Trawlers Saab 9-3 showed incredible speed and competitiveness, winning the last chance qualifier in Charlotte and scoring a fourth place finish to open the season.

Image via Hazel PR

In the first part of a two-part season recap, Scott discusses the differences in American and European rallycross, testing the car before the season, and eventually opening the season on a high note:

After a decent season in the ERC last year, you chose to shift your focus to the GRC this season. Obviously there are some stylistic differences in what we’ve put together in American rallycross, but did you enjoy your four rounds in the series?

Yeah, for sure. It’s a fantastic experience to come over and race in (America), and I think the series has some real great potential. Obviously the circuit that’s made in one hour is a totally different experience than what we’re used to in Europe, with the permanent circuit, and that’s where the main difference comes. You don’t get a lot of car time to get set up at each venue, and you’re (quickly) qualified, into the heats, the last chance qualifier, and the final.

Entering Charlotte, you appeared to do a good bit of testing work with the 9-3, although it was an older model car without factory support. What were your expectations for how competitive the car was going to be? Did it exceed those expectations?

Image via Hazel PR

I was always confident that the car would be competitive. The car had been competitive in Europe, and we made good developments when we brought it over to the US. The unknown quantity was where our competitors laid. But I think it matched the expectations, as we could see with my teammate—Samuel (Hubinette) had some great results as well. I think that, considering our cars were old models and we didn’t have factory support, that the team put together a really good effort there.

We saw you make a great pass for the lead and win in the last chance qualifier at Charlotte, and then you finished fourth in the final. How significant was it for the team to have those sort of results right out of the box?

That was really important. Obviously we’d sunk a lot of resources in coming across to the US, and Charlotte, when we eventually got there, because as you know the schedule was changed a good few times. It was our first chance to see the pace of the rest of the teams. And we had two cars, right off the sharp end there in Charlotte. It was a fantastic first event for us and I don’t think we could really ask for much more.

Image via Hazel PR

During one attempt at the main event at Texas, you had an incident after the jump that caused a red flag and ended your event. Was there any warning before the landing that there might have been something wrong?

We had several things going on in that race. The damage that eventually put me out, I had no warning of. The jump, the landing was pretty clean, but we had a front suspension failure. It was just obviously a new level of stress on the car that we hadn’t experienced in European rallycross, and it did catch the team unawares. After Texas, we did look at that part and changed it a little bit. We had other issues going on, but none of them were going to stop us from running. It was the suspension failure off of the landing on the ramp that caused the problem.

Coming up in part two, Scott discusses his incident at X Games, taking a disabled car to a sixth place finish in New Hampshire, and his overall assessment of his split 2012 season between the GRC and ERC.

—Chris Leone

GRC Insider: Projecting The 2013 Schedule, Part 2

Image via Ford Racing Facebook

Yesterday, we offered predictions on the likelihood of a series of NASCAR-related dates appearing on the 2013 Global Rallycross Championship schedule. Today, we resume that series by projecting potential dates in connection with IndyCar, as well as a predicted 2013 schedule:

  • April 20: Streets of Long BeachDue to the Global X Games round in Brazil taking place on the same weekend as the Grand Prix of Long Beach, this event will not happen in 2013.

    Chances of appearing on 2013 schedule: Off

    Conflicts with European Rallycross Championship: None

  • June 7: Texas Motor SpeedwayNo promoter outside of X Games went further to hype their track’s GRC event in 2012 than Texas’ Eddie Gossage, who even crafted a microsite to familiarize fans with the track layout and drivers alike. Gossage, whose marketing platform for this month’s NASCAR race was called the “Wild Asphalt Circus,” likely sees rallycross as an extension of that ideology and would like to bring it back.

    Image via Ford Racing Facebook

    Chances of appearing on 2013 schedule: Likely

    Conflicts with European Rallycross Championship: None

  • June 14: Milwaukee MileMilwaukee appears on this list because of the incredible job that Andretti Sports Marketing did in promoting 2012’s IndyFest after a year’s absence. With ASM promoting SEMA just as well on short notice, it would be no surprise if another of their events made it onto the GRC schedule in 2013. However, without a built-in motorcycle track like New Hampshire had and with an extended pit wall that stretches into turn one, conceiving a layout would be a challenge.

    Chances of appearing on 2013 schedule: Unlikely

    Conflicts with European Rallycross Championship: Hell, Norway (June 15-16)

  • August 24: Sonoma Raceway

    Image via Subaru Rally Team

    Sonoma had been a rumored destination for the GRC in 2012, as track owner Speedway Motorsports Inc. had scheduled an event date for its IndyCar weekend. Though Liam Doran’s website had listed Sonoma on its schedule, this race ultimately never came to fruition. The track has not come up in discussions since.

    Chances of appearing on 2013 schedule: Unlikely

    Conflicts with European Rallycross Championship: None

  • August 31: Streets of BaltimoreIf Andretti manages to put one of their IndyCar events on the GRC schedule for 2013, this seems like the more feasible one. Not only did ASM do another fine job of saving this event from massive debt, Baltimore’s streets offer far more versatility than Milwaukee’s oval for a rallycross event. It could also provide an opportunity for interested IndyCar drivers, including Simon Pagenaud, a chance to cross over and do both races.

    Chances of appearing on 2013 schedule: Possible

    Conflicts with European Rallycross Championship: None

  • Image via Ford Racing Facebook

    October 18: Auto Club SpeedwayBetween the time that the September 1 race was cancelled and the SEMA date was announced, most teams believed that the GRC would head to Auto Club and run alongside the IndyCar season finale on September 15. In fact, Brian Deegan even stated that he looked forward to running this race during post-race interviews at New Hampshire. Combined with the end of the IndyCar season, Auto Club could provide an effective lead-in to the finale at SEMA.

    Chances of appearing on 2013 schedule: Possible

    Conflicts with European Rallycross Championship: None (season over)

  • TBA: Streets of Fort LauderdaleAndretti Sports Marketing has been pushing both IndyCar brass and Fort Lauderdale government for a potential street race in the city in October 2013 to coincide with a large gap in the series schedule and popular boat show. Were that to happen, a GRC event could serve as a prime support race, offering fans a championship battle as the likely penultimate round before SEMA. If this race happens, Auto Club likely would not, and vice versa.

    Chances of appearing on 2013 schedule: Pending IndyCar deal; if deal comes through, likely

    Conflicts with European Rallycross Championship: None, if in October

Image via Ford Racing Facebook

With all of these dates and the NASCAR ones likely in play, it’s no shock that the GRC is taking a while to finalize its 2013 schedule. So which events look like they’re going to make it?

This calendar consists of nine dates, the majority of which do not contrast with European Rallycross Championship rounds. The only one which would pose a problem is September 27 at Las Vegas; the ERC calendar ends on September 28-29 in Germany. However, if the GRC follows IndyCar to its championship round at Auto Club Speedway on October 18 or heads to the proposed Fort Lauderdale event, there could be no conflicts on the schedule.

  • April 21: Foz de Iguaçu, Brazil (Global X Games)
  • May 12: Barcelona, Spain (Global X Games)
  • June 7: Texas Motor Speedway (IZOD IndyCar Series)
  • June 30: Munich, Germany (Global X Games)
  • July 13: New Hampshire Motor Speedway (NASCAR Sprint Cup Series)
  • August 4: Los Angeles, California (Global X Games)
  • August 31: Streets of Baltimore (IZOD IndyCar Series)
  • September 27: Las Vegas Motor Speedway (NASCAR Camping World Truck Series)
  • November 5: Las Vegas Convention Center (SEMA Show)

—Chris Leone

GRC Season Review: Ian Davies, Part 2

Image via Ford Racing Facebook

After a second place finish at X Games, the Monster World Rally Team, with driver Ken Block and lead engineer Ian Davies, appeared to be ready to challenge for wins and re-enter the championship race. With three races to go and a drop event available, the goal was to keep making it to main events and scoring enough strong finishes to keep climbing in the points.

But it wasn’t easy. Block had to overcome two major accidents at New Hampshire on the way to a fifth place finish there, with Davies leading the MWRT crew in a pair of extensive repair sessions. In one case, the crew had seven minutes to get the car on the grid to make it into the last chance qualifier.

Las Vegas and SEMA were different stories, as the No. 43 Monster Energy Ford Fiesta HFHV was among the fastest cars on track in both events. But a possible third place points finish was thwarted after mechanical issues at SEMA; Davies has said that Block drove in the final with the inside of the car on fire. Here, he talks about the importance of strong qualifying, coming back stronger next year, and how the series has improved over the course of the season:

Photo credit: Matthew Kalish

Tell us about the repair jobs that the team did after the two accidents in New Hampshire. How significant was the damage after rolling in qualifying, and how extensive was the damage after Ken hit the tires in the heat race? 

Going on to New Hampshire, we had a bit of bad luck where Ken was off the side in the braking on that tight hairpin that was wooden, and he rolled the car off the side. And I think that puts a team on a back foot—we worked all night to fix that car to get it back out the following day. (In the heat) he got sort of forced in, or there was nowhere to go, he ended up in the tires with a broken front windscreen, a broken hood, a whole lot of damage then, and again, we were up against it.

I remember we had seven minutes to get the car back on the grid for the LCQ. And the car had no fenders, no front bumper, no hood, no windshield, and seven minutes later, that car was on the grid. I remember one of the Finnish guys, Henrik, one of my mechanics, inside the car in Ken’s seat kicking out the windscreen as we were all trying to cut it out. But seven minutes later, we put him on the grid, and we got fifth place and some good points for that.

Image via Ford Racing Facebook

One of the things you’ve said before is that every tenth of a second really counts in qualifying. You had one of the fastest cars on track and were one of only two teams to win all three of your heat races. How important is it to “make your own luck,” as you’ve said, on the way to the final?

It’s just massively important. Every race you do from the time you start seeding is important, because the seeding is only the start of it. It then gives you seeding for the next heat and the next heat, and as long as you keep winning, you get that choice of being in that good position, and getting away is important. We’re sort of a believer that first or fifth is the place to be. To say that we started in fifth place at X Games, behind Sebastien Loeb. And that pole sitter is always going to get away. So depending on how tight the first turn is, or how much room there is going into the first turn, fifth is never a bad place to be, because you know the pole guy, the quickest man out there, is going to get away.

In the first Vegas race, we just had a slight gear change issue which cost Ken a couple of tenths and put us second and not on pole. Again, we knew from there that we’d made a big improvement over the summer, and that we could stay with Tanner (Foust). And luckily, we were able to prove that again at the SEMA race, that we were able to out-qualify Tanner to get that pole position.

Image via Ford Racing Facebook

Given the bad luck that the team had early in the season—the “plane crash” as you called it at Charlotte, the two accidents at New Hampshire, and so on—do you consider fifth place an acceptable championship result?

I think we should have been third. All we had to do was beat (Samuel) Hübinette in SEMA to have gotten the points to have third in the championship. I think that would have been acceptable given the bad break. I think that SEMA was particularly hard to stomach because it also cost us that podium place in the championship. SEMA was a bitter pill, I think, for Ken and the team because again, we’d been doing so well. But you have to learn the lessons and move on. So we’re coming back next year, and we’re not coming back to make the numbers up, you know? We’re coming back to win the championship. That’s what we intended to do this year, it didn’t go our way, I think we’ve learned a lot, and we will come back next year stronger with an aim to be GRC champions.

After competing in a full season of GRC events, what are your thoughts on the format of the racing, the jump, and the way that the series runs its events as far as safety is concerned?

Image via Ford Racing Facebook

I think the jump is very controversial, (but) if you have no jump, and not a decent gravel section, it becomes a straightforward circuit race. If we’re not careful, it becomes like Charlotte, a 600-horsepower touring car race. I like the jump, I think the jump is good. There’s always going to be a safety question over the jump, and I think they’ve made big improvements this year. We’ve seen a couple of jumps by the privateer guys who have not been so clever in the past couple of races. Fortunately they’ve walked away with not a lot of life-threatening injuries. I know Richard (Burton)’s got some problems with his back but I’m sure that Richard will be back.

I think you treat the jump with respect. I think there’s a speed and we all know the speed. It’s one of those things that we don’t keep to ourselves—all the teams speak to each other. We’re now allowed speedo(meter)s in the car. I think one of the early problems was that the drivers didn’t have any idea of how fast they were going over the jumps, because speedometers were not allowed as part of the regulations for rallycross. Those regulations were changed in order to give us speedos, so that’s made it safer for 90% of the grid, they now actually know what speed they’re going over. The sweet spot is between 47 and 52 (miles per hour).

Image via Ford Racing Facebook

I think both of the Subarus that we’ve seen crash recently would admit that they’ve missed gears or had problems going up the jump. And I don’t really know how you can make it any safer for those people. I think there’s always likely to be accidents off of the jump. But it’s at 47 miles per hour, it’s not at 147 miles per hour. I think the one that (Toomas Heikkinen) had in X Games was particularly nasty, but now they’ve put more shock-absorbent material on those, and the drivers seem to know that if they’re not going to make it, they go sideways over and land in the bottom.

So I think the jump should stay, because it’s the one thing that Global Rallycross has that no other event as far as cars go has. As Global Rallycross has grown, they now can see from designing their tracks and the drivers walking the tracks, where there are areas that people aren’t happy around. I think going with the NASCAR safety teams and the fire people has been excellent. One of the good things about not having standalone events and being part of NASCAR or IndyCar is that those medical facilities are there at those big race circuits.

Ian Davies can be found on Twitter @I_a_n_Davies. He also maintains a Facebook page. Follow Ken Block and the Monster World Rally Team at @kblock43 and @MWRT.

—Chris Leone

GRC Season Review: Ian Davies, Part 1

Image via Ian Davies Motorsport Facebook

Any successful racing team requires much more than simply a skilled driver. Behind that driver, there needs to be a skilled crew of mechanics and engineers, tasked with maintaining and improving upon what should already be an incredibly fast car.

For Ken Block and the Monster World Rally Team, the leader of that group is Ian Davies. Davies built the No. 43 Ford Fiesta HFHV that Block uses in various stage rallies, gymkhana events, and the Global Rallycross Championship. He and his crew have backed Block to numerous successes this year, including wins in all three North American rallies at which they competed.

In the GRC, things started on a rough note for MWRT when a major accident at Charlotte kept them out of the main event. But thanks to a major second half turnaround, kicked into gear by a silver medal at X Games on only three wheels, the team rebounded to finish fifth in the overall standings. In the first of two parts, Davies talks about the first half of the season from the mechanic’s point of view:

t’s safe to say that Charlotte wasn’t the optimal start for the GRC season, as Ken had a massive accident that necessitated some quick repairs by you and the crew. How extensive was that damage and what weren’t you able to repair successfully?

Image via Marcus Gronholm’s Twitter

It was known in the team as the “plane crash,” because our attempt to repair it afterwards looked like there’d been some sort of plane crash. But we’re rally guys, I’ve said it before, we’ll always try to get the car back out. I remember from there we changed the rear cross membrane, put a complete back end into the car, and we put a front right hand corner in the car, driveshaft, upright shock absorber, we put an intercooler in it. We put a massive amount of stuff (because of the) front and rear impact together, especially the front right hand corner. And we tried to get it to go back out, but there was some further damage to the inlet throttle butterfly. Ken got the car back out again and running, but the throttle was sticking open, so it was just too much in the time that we had.

Texas ended with another disappointing finish, although this time you at least made it into the main event. At that point, did the bad breaks of the first two races start to wear on the team, or did you think that your luck was due to change?

Image via Ford Racing Facebook

I think you make your own luck. I’m always a big believer in that you make your own luck. We always knew it was going to be a learning curve. I didn’t realize it was going to be quite as steep as it was. One of the biggest lessons in rallycross has been this year, that you get out in front and you stay out in front, because if you can qualify and get your car on the front row of the grid, then a lot of this contact that happens in the middle of the field, you avoid. And that’s what Marcus Gronholm was so good at in those first few races. He did less laps than anybody else, he saved his tires, he got out in front and he stayed in front.

And I think that was a valuable lesson that we learned in those early days—you don’t want to be mixing with some of those people in the back of the grid. It’s the people that have got nothing to lose that frighten you. Because if they come off worse in some sort of a punting match and somebody ends up on the side, they’re not chasing the points and the championship, they don’t have a lot to lose. Whereas, the top three or four guys, generally speaking, are a little bit more cautious because they’re after the points.

Things finally turned around at X Games when Ken scored a second place finish on only three wheels. You’ve worked with many great drivers over your career, won a lot of events, and seen many great drives. How does what Ken did compare to some of the other victories you’ve been a part of?

Image via Ford Racing Facebook

Ken was second to the greatest rally driver the world will ever see. Sebastien Loeb has been a nemesis of mine for many, many years, obviously him being a Citroen man and me having worked for Ford since 1997. But you have to admire (him), he’s just an outstanding man. And whether he’s doing Porsche Cup in France, where he’s putting the car on pole and he’s winning, or he’s doing rally, a man to be respected.

So we like to say that we won the X Games, because actually, Sebastien Loeb, nobody was ever going to beat him. We were the best of the rest! It was a fantastic drive. That track—not to take anything away from Ken, it was a fantastic drive from Ken—was very similar to the SEMA track, in terms of that we have gravel and we have streets as opposed to the banked oval circuit. And a sizable amount of gravel, which, again, suits our car. We had a good weekend. And I have to say, after X Games, we were (saying) “maybe this is it. Maybe our season has changed.” I think you’ll see that there was a big improvement in the team after then.

X Games was a fantastic ride for Ken, for the whole team, it was a big effort. There’s Derek Dauncey, the team manager, who does a fantastic job. We have Alex (Gelsomino), who is Ken’s normal co-driver during rallies as Ken’s spotter, because Ken is very much used to his voice. And he spots very well for Ken. He knows Ken, knows the information that Ken wants. It’s a big team effort. And the X Games was, for sure, the highlight of the year.

Coming up next: Davies breaks down the second half of the season, including recovering from Block’s heat incident at New Hampshire and becoming the fastest car on the circuit in the final races.

—Chris Leone

GRC Insider: Projecting The 2013 Schedule, Part 1

Image via Ford Racing Facebook

While the newly reimagined European Rallycross Championship has gone on to release its 10-race schedule for the 2013 season, Global Rallycross Championship organizers have not yet produced a set schedule for next year. Though about half of the dates and locations have been announced thus far, the other half—namely, the events that take place on American soil without the involvement of X Games—have not yet been clarified.

This post, and its second part tomorrow, aims to clarify the scheduling situation based on information already present. Our insider confirmed yesterday that the 2013 schedule will feature nine dates, and noted that the series was once again talking to NASCAR and IndyCar tracks about hosting GRC events. It appears that, once again, the majority of the non-X Games schedule will thus be run in this manner.

To recap, we already know five dates for sure:

  • April 18-21: Foz de Iguaçu, Brazil
  • May 9-12: Barcelona, Spain
  • June 27-30: Munich, Germany
  • August 1-4: Los Angeles, California
  • November 5-8: Las Vegas Convention Center

Photo credit: Alex Wong

The first four listed dates are part of ESPN’s Global X Games schedule, while the fifth coincides with the dates of next year’s SEMA show.

In the first part of our schedule projections, we analyze the potential race dates and locations that the GRC can work with if it wants to run alongside NASCAR events once again. Please keep in mind that, while the dates are likely accurate to within 24 hours of when the event would actually be run, all of the information presented is speculation based on previously established facts and trends, does not reflect a “leak” of information, and assumes a best-case scenario on the part of the series:

  • March 9: Las Vegas Motor Speedway

    Theoretically speaking, if the GRC wanted to run at both LVMS and SEMA next year, it might make more sense to bookend the season with the two Vegas events.  The primary concern with choosing the Sprint Cup date, however, is the major gaps it would leave in the schedule later in the season. Theoretically, SEMA could take place more than two months after the previous race, a major gap like this season that the series would like to avoid experiencing once again. The track did host an Olsbergs MSE test session just two days after this year’s season finale, meaning it’s probably going to come back in some form, but this may not be the weekend to do it.

    Chances of appearing on 2013 schedule: Unlikely

    Conflicts with European Rallycross Championship: None

  • Image via Scott-Eklund Racing PR

    May 25: Charlotte Motor Speedway

    Charlotte served as the guinea pig for rallycross taking place on NASCAR tracks in 2012. Most things went wrong: the gap jump was not ready in time for the event, GRC drivers ground up pavement after overshooting the small tabletop, and high-profile drivers were knocked out early and often. The race was little more than a glorified autocross event and was probably the least successful of the season.

    Chances of appearing on 2013 schedule: Unlikely

    Conflicts with European Rallycross Championship: Nyirád, Hungary (May 25-26)

  • July 13: New Hampshire Motor Speedway

    New Hampshire represented the first flawless round of the 2012 GRC schedule; though a combination of accident delays and a lack of lighting cut Friday’s qualifying short, Saturday’s race event went off without a hitch and produced some of the most exciting racing of the year between Travis Pastrana and Samuel Hubinette. New Hampshire also drew a crowd estimated to be larger than the previous season’s IndyCar race.

    Chances of appearing on 2013 schedule: Very likely

    Conflicts with European Rallycross Championship: None

  • Photo credit: Matthew Kalish

    August 24: Bristol Motor Speedway

    Here’s a wild one: the thought of rallycross cars running through the compact bullring at Bristol two nights before its fabled night race. Thursday would likely be the night for it, as the Camping World Truck Series usually competes on Wednesday and the Nationwide Series does so on Friday. However, with long pit walls on the straightaways and high banked corners, it would be a challenge to prove the feasibility of a rallycross event here.

    Chances of appearing on 2013 schedule: Very unlikely

    Conflicts with European Rallycross Championship: None

  • August 31: Atlanta Motor Speedway

    Atlanta had been a rumored destination for the GRC in 2012, as track owner Speedway Motorsports Inc. had scheduled an event date for its Sprint Cup weekend. That never came to fruition, perhaps because of the struggles at the Charlotte round in May and the similarity in layout to both Charlotte and Texas.

    Chances of appearing on 2013 schedule: Unlikely

    Conflicts with European Rallycross Championship: None

  • Image via Ford Racing Facebook

    September 27: Las Vegas Motor Speedway

    Assuming that this is indeed the weekend that the Camping World Truck Series returns to Las Vegas in 2013, the GRC would slot in just fine as a support event once again. The biggest concern about bringing back the Las Vegas race would be running two races in the same city once again; although both races produced exciting action, SEMA gets the edge as a more high-profile event with a purpose-built rallycross track in a parking lot.

    Chances of appearing on 2013 schedule: Possible

    Conflicts with European Rallycross Championship: Buxtehude, Germany (September 28-29)

In tomorrow’s post, we break down the potential IndyCar tandem dates and offer our projected nine-race schedule.

—Chris Leone

Ian Davies: “Ken Had Driven Two Laps With The Inside Of The Car On Fire”

Image via Ford Racing Facebook

Ken Block was far and away the class of the field in the Global Rallycross Championship season finale at the SEMA Show in Las Vegas. He posted the fastest qualifying time, won both of his heat races, and started on pole in the final. After a year of trials and tribulations, it looked like this was finally going to be the race that saw Block make it to victory lane.

But, as chief mechanic Ian Davies explains, “it’s motorsport.” In other words, it’s not just about how well the mechanics set up the car, or even how well the driver drives it—there’s a non-human element as well, the ability of parts to withstand the stress that comes with a rallycross event. Unfortunately for Block, as shown in the video above, the car began to smoke on the second lap of the final, eventually turning into a terminal fire that ended his day.

Here, Davies explains how the weekend went in his own words, from Block’s late arrival to the track to just how much of the car the team saved by telling Block not to finish the race:

Image via Ford Racing Facebook

You guys were running lap times at SEMA that nobody else could even touch. Not even some of the ERC competitors who were there were that fast, and points leader Tanner Foust was a good three tenths behind all race. Did you make any specific changes in car setup to better suit the track?

I think our whole car suits that type of track. Our car was designed for that type of track. The idea of European rallycross is some gravel, mixed with asphalt. What we’ve been seeing at the NASCAR circuits has really been one gravel corner with a lot of straight line asphalt stuff. I just think that our being based on a World Rally car, certainly the gravel aspect suited us, and we were able to get the car to handle very well on both surfaces. We were quick through the gravel, but certainly—I was talking to Tanner (Foust) there, and he was saying that Ken’s line, he was able to hold a line through turn one that nobody else seemed to be able to hold.

So, you know, we do set our car up for individual circuits. We set our car up for that circuit, having looked at it and walked it, but Ken dialed in. Ken was in the UK doing a Monster gig the weekend before, so Ken actually didn’t arrive until Monday. He didn’t have any of the free practice on Sunday, and he got into things quite quickly.

Image via Ford Racing Facebook

It was pretty apparent to everybody that you guys were the class of the field. How confident were you after qualifying that this was finally going to be the weekend where you came out on top?

Yeah, I mean, it was ours to lose, wasn’t it? We’d won everything. We were quickest in seeding, we won both our heats, we were on the right side of the grid, we have a car that gets off the line on par with the others. We knew if we could get into the first corner first, that you could almost stack everybody else behind you. It was just looking like it was going to be our day.

Unfortunately, it’s motorsport. You’re never sure of that win until the checkered flag. After about three, four laps, what happened was, we found out since that we had an exhaust problem, an exhaust crack. And you’ve seen the flames that come out of the rear of that car when it jumps. That flame is going down the exhaust system, came through and ignited, got the transmission tunnel hot, and ignited the paint on the inside of the tunnel. There are certainly pictures out there of the fire inside of the car.

Ken was on the radio, and it just wasn’t safe for him. He drove several laps with it burning his leg, and he just had to pull over. It wasn’t safe to continue.

Image via Ken Block Facebook

In other words, when Foust finally got by about halfway through the race, it wasn’t a clean pass on a fully-functioning car.

Yeah, we had this problem after about two laps from the start. So Ken had driven two laps with the inside of the car on fire and his breathing was becoming an issue. The breathing of the paint inside such a confined space was giving him a huge issue, and he wanted to know if it was safe for him to continue for a couple of laps, and it wasn’t. It was the right decision.

The damage to the car is minimal at the moment—there is some wiring work that needs doing over the winter. If we had carried on we could have lost the entire car.

I was confident that SEMA was going to be our race. I was confident that Vegas was going to be our race, how we performed. It’s rallycross. We have learned a tremendous amount this year as a team. We never stop learning. We work as hard as, if not harder than any other team out there in doing what we do, analyzing and trying to sort of take the small steps forward sometimes. We always go forward; we never go backwards.

—Chris Leone

GRC Insider: Investment Group Leader Revealed

Image via Ford Racing Facebook

According to a Sports Business Daily article, Sequential Brands CEO Colin Dyne is among the leaders of the investment group that has joined the Global Rallycross Championship for the 2013 season and beyond.

Dyne, 49, joined Sequential Brands in 2007 and has overseen its William Rast and People’s Liberation brands, both of which have a history in IndyCar racing. William Rast was Dan Wheldon’s primary sponsor at Bryan Herta Autosport when he won the 2011 Indianapolis 500. Dyne also oversaw the company’s acquisition of DVS Shoes this June.

“Colin Dyne is a good friend of mine,” said Brian Deegan, this year’s runner-up and a DVS athlete since February. “He comes from a racing background in IndyCar, he knows about NASCAR—he’s going to turn this thing into a serious series. It’s going to be really good. And I think the changes next year, it’s going to turn into more of an exciting show and a race.

“It’s going to be more about the racing, it’s going to be theatrical, and it’s just going to be an awesome show. That’s what I see it moving towards next year, and I’m excited to be a part of it.”

Next year’s Global Rallycross schedule will include nine rounds, the four Global X Games events and five United States-based races. We’ll offer insight into a projected schedule in the coming days.

—Chris Leone

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