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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

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GRC Insider: November Off-Season Roundup

Image via Rhys Millen Racing Facebook

Image via Rhys Millen Racing Facebook

November may be the first week of the Global Rallycross Championship offseason, but that doesn’t mean that its drivers are all taking time off. In fact, this past month has seen many of the series’ stars taking on a diverse slate of responsibilities that have seen them travel across the world.

  • Two GRC competitors took part in this year’s Baja 1000: defending race champion Bryce Menzies in a SCORE Trophy Truck, and Liam Doran in a Baja Challenge vehicle. Menzies finished eighth overall, while Doran’s team, led by Rodrigo Ampudia Jr., finished fifth in class. After leaving Baja, Doran participated in the Monster Energy Rallycross Experience at Lydden Hill, giving rides in his ERC Citroen DS3.
  • Series champion Tanner Foust has had a busy month, mostly filming new episodes of Top Gear America with co-hosts Rutledge Wood and Adam Ferrara. He also took time to shake down his signature edition 2013 Ford Focus ST at former GRC venue Irwindale Speedway, as well as making a sponsor-related visit to Homestead-Miami Speedway for NASCAR’s Ford Championship Weekend.
  • Foust hasn’t been the only GRC driver doing work on behalf of Ford, however, as Ken Block helped Ford reveal a brand new 2014 Fiesta ST at the Los Angeles Auto Show by drifting through Universal Studios. It’s not the first time Block has taken his car through Universal, though; it’s where Gymkhana Four was shot. Ford also revealed that Octane Academy, its competition featuring Block, Foust, Brian Deegan, and Formula Drift competitor Vaughn Gittin Jr., would be broadcast on NBC Sports next year.
  • Image via Brian Deegan Instagram

    Image via Brian Deegan Instagram

    Deegan has been embracing his role as a supportive father, helping son Haiden’s (“Danger Boy”) racing career and riding alongside him when he can. Deegan also announced an appearance at a Monster Jam event at the Metrodome in Minneapolis, MN, driving the Metal Mulisha monster truck.

  • Two-time Formula Drift champion Samuel Hubinette announced that he will return to his iconic Dodge Challenger on December 8 for Red Bull Drift Shifters on Victoria Street in Auckland, New Zealand. Hubinette will join defending Formula Drift champion Diego Saito and up-and-coming driver Matt Powers to take on a field of New Zealand’s finest.
  • Speaking of New Zealand, Rhys Millen returned home to compete in the Silver Fern Rally in a Group B-spec 1984 Mazda RX7. The car, which had been built by Mazda’s factory rally team for the World Rally Championship, had actually been driven by Rhys’ father Rod in the 1985 British round of the WRC. Unfortunately, transmission failure eliminated Millen from the rally at Stage 23.
  • Finally, Travis Pastrana’s shoulder surgery didn’t prevent him from taking part in this year’s Big Buck Hunter World Championships in New York City. Pastrana and Team Whiskey Throttle were among dozens of players to compete for $50,000 in prize money, but having to shoot left-handed certainly didn’t help this year’s New Hampshire race winner; Pastrana came home 58th in the field of 64.

—Chris Leone

GRC Season Review: Brian Deegan, Part 2

Photo credit: Matthew Kalish

With a pair of third place finishes at Texas and X Games, Brian Deegan managed to recover quickly from missing the main event of the Global Rallycross Championship season opener. Texas saw him complete a 1-2-3 sweep for Olsbergs MSE and Ford, while X Games saw him beat all of his teammates to the finish line.

But Deegan really turned up the heat in the second half of the season. Beating teammate and points leader Tanner Foust to the line at New Hampshire put him third in the overall standings, as well as tied with Foust for the Discount Tire/America’s Tire Cup heading into Las Vegas. Soon enough, the entire season was reduced to a head-to-head battle between the Rockstar Energy-sponsored teammates; Deegan, despite having far less seat time, took the fight to Foust all the way to the end, coming out of the season second in points with runner-up finishes in the final two rounds.

In the second part of our season review, Deegan talks about when he realized he could win the championship, overcoming adversity to finish second at SEMA, and his goals and expectation for the 2013 season, both for himself and the series:

New Hampshire marked your third podium in a row. You came out of there third in points, one point off of second, and still well within the championship race thanks to the drop rule. Was that when you felt like you really had a shot at winning the championship, or did you feel that way earlier in the year too?

Photo credit: Matthew Kalish

I would say New Hampshire was one of the points where I was like “yeah, alright, you’re in the game. Kind of a dark horse, the underdog, and just go out there and lay it down, go for the win.” I had some things going on where I came in late and didn’t get a day of practice, so that put me behind the ball. But I just drove consistent, didn’t do anything crazy, and I drove my pace. I feel like if I just drive my pace, drive my skill level, that’s a good, easy third place all day long. And if I push a little harder, and everything goes right for me, I have a shot at the win. So I really just played it smart there, drove my pace, and ended up third. But it really started crossing my mind (there) that, “hey, you’ve gotta start winning some races and getting in the mix if you want to win this thing.”

The last two races were very much looked at as a head-to-head battle between you and teammate Tanner Foust, both for the championship and the Discount Tire/America’s Tire Cup. Looking at things that way, did you learn anything about racing your teammate in Vegas that you tried to apply to SEMA?

Image via Ford Racing Facebook

Yeah. At Vegas out there, we had a good race. I feel like Tanner’s always consistent, and that’s the hardest thing to beat, but he did have a few races that he didn’t have such good outcomes because he gets a little too aggressive sometimes and he drives the wheels off the car. But you’ve gotta know, he’s always going to get a good start and he’s always going to be in the game. He’s always going to be a front runner, so he’s a hard guy to beat, you know? I think with all the time that guy has in a car, you know, he’s probably like how I feel when I get on a dirtbike. I don’t have to think, it just happens. And he’s a tough guy to beat, because he’s got a lot of seat time.

But come next year, he’s my focus, and I really, really want to become a better driver than him. That’s my goal, and it’s a high goal, I know. But I believe I can do it. I came close this year without a lot of testing or practice. I mean, the only time I ever drove the car was at the races. Those guys get to race overseas, they get to do testing, and for me, I was still trying to figure out what the gauges did at this point. So next year, Ford’s backing me bigtime, and I’m going to have a lot more test days next year. I should come in really ready to win by the first round.

Image via Ford Racing Facebook

Your Tuesday heat race at SEMA didn’t end anywhere near as well as you hoped, with the flat tire. What happened to cause that, and how did the resulting championship implication affect how you approached the rest of the race?

Unfortunately, (in) these races, you have to qualify first. The start position is so critical. And for me, I started off in my qualifier and had a pretty good start coming in there, and the first turn, the same guy—(Sverre) Isachsen, the guy in the Subaru, does the same thing every time. He comes in the first turn and runs into everyone hoping he can spin someone out and get to the front. He did it to me and ended up blowing my tire off the wheel. And there’s nothing you can do about it when that happens, it’s just racing. I can’t stop what they’re going to do. And it put me out of it.

I just kept a calm head. Everyone was panicking, going “oh no, oh no,” and I’m like, “hey, it is what it is. I can’t change what happened. All I can do is stay calm, get the car fixed, and let’s get out there and win this last chance.” And that’s what I did. I got back up there and won the last chance.

The only problem is, it started snowballing. And once you start snowballing, something like that, now I had to start dead last in the main. Worst spot ever, you know? And for me, I was like “alright, you do the best that you can.” Honestly, all I could hope for was a mechanical from Tanner to win the championship at that point. But I knew he was going to get a good start. He had the best starting position, he did everything he had to do to have a perfect day, you know?

Image via Ford Racing Facebook

So I came in there and came off the start, not a good start, was running midpack. I picked the joker lane way too early. And luckily, after Ken Block caught on fire, they red flagged the race. They tried to say, “oh, no, we’re just going to end the race right there.” I saw the race promoter and I was like “there’s no way you’re ending this race right now. There are thousands of people in the stands, all the heads of all the companies are here from SEMA. This has to end in a climactic finish for the well being of the sport.” And he’s like “alright, alright, let’s go back to the starting line.” I thought alright, a few more laps, but they did a complete restart, and it was a perfect scenario for me.

I got back to the last starting position and said “alright, all or nothing.” I came off the start, and while everyone hit the brakes, I kept gassing it. I went from last up to side by side with Tanner in the lead! (laughs) I watched the tape after that, and it was one of the first turn moves that I’ve ever seen, that I’ve ever pulled off. I came from last up to battle with Tanner, and then I had too much speed. (I) spun a little, broke traction, ended up squeezing the line around fourth place, and came around for the joker lap. Luckily, the top three took the joker—I went long and took the regular lap, they took the shortcut, and I just did the best lap that I could. I came back around and I took the joker that lap, did the joker perfectly, and I came out right by Tanner. A little bit quicker, I probably could’ve got Tanner, at least got beside him, and I came out and got on Tanner, and I drove as hard as I possibly could. I knew to get next to him and get with him to at least rub on him, and he had a car length on me the whole race. I did everything I could to catch him.

Image via Ford Racing Facebook

The bottom line is, having to go through the last chance, and these cars—there are a lot of things that snowballed for me with tires going away and the heat in the car—just having to race the last chance and not being able to prep your car for the final at all snowballed on me. And the best I could do was what I did. I got second, and that was all I had that night. I left there going “hey, you did pretty damn good. You really salvaged something there for what you had.” Second sucks, but Tanner’s a good driver, and it gives me a goal for next year.

How close were you to running down Tanner for the lead at the end of the final? Was there anything else you could’ve done?

Nah. Every time I pushed a little harder, would brake a little later, I would slide. And there’s a point that Marcus Gronholm, master of racing, explained to me one day. He doesn’t give me a lot of tips, I just think it’s the Euro style to keep it to themselves, (but) he told me one day, “when you charge into a turn, and your car slides, it’s for one reason: you came into the corner too fast.” And that was exactly what was happening to me the whole race. Every time I would try to go a little faster into the turn to catch Tanner, I would slide and lose time. And so I was stuck in this mode of, “that’s as good as these tires are going to go. That’s as fast as I can go with these tires without sliding everywhere.” And it’s crazy, you know? I’ve learned more and more about tire wear over the last season, and there’s a trick to it. I still have to learn all of those tricks, but like I said, that’s the best I could do with the car I had.

Image via Ford Racing Facebook

Finally, the series went through an incredible transformation from the first race of the championship to the end at SEMA. There were changes in track construction, the jump, and certainly in safety. Of all of the changes that we saw over the course of the season, what did you think was the biggest improvement the series made? What are your thoughts on next year?

I would say what was good towards the end was the fire safety trucks were more on the track. We finally got a fire safety truck next to the jump, because that 10-15 second delay to get there could be life or death, and those are the biggest changes that I appreciated. Coming next year, I think the guy that owns the series now, that’s a good friend of mine, Colin Dyne—he comes from a racing background. He was into 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 big change next year (is) 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 going to just be an awesome show. And that’s what I see it moving to next year, and I’m excited to be a part of it.

Check out Brian Deegan on Twitter @mmgeneral and Instagram @briandeegan38. Also be sure to check out his Facebook, YouTube, and website for all things related to the General.

—Chris Leone

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

Heikkinen Poised To Break Out In 2013 GRC Season

Image via Ford Racing Facebook

Olsbergs MSE driver Toomas Heikkinen missed two of the six rounds in this year’s Global Rallycross Championship after a spectacular crash in practice for X Games left him recovering from a broken left ankle. After recovering in time for the final two races of the season, the 21-year-old Finn showed promise that left fans wondering what might have been this year, but hopeful for his GRC future.

Heikkinen closed out the season 14th in points with 33, only two points behind Dave Mirra and Bucky Lasek, both of whom competed in all six events. He scored 25 of those points in the final two events, by virtue of a fourth place finish at Las Vegas in September and a fifth place run at SEMA on Tuesday. Only three drivers—Tanner Foust with 43, Brian Deegan with 36, and Rhys Millen with 26—scored more points than Heikkinen in the past two races.

Image via Ford Racing Facebook

For the season finale at SEMA, Heikkinen could only muster the 11th fastest time in seeding, but his successes came when it counted—in the races themselves. He finished between Foust and Millen in Monday’s heat, and he scored the last transfer spot in the last chance qualifier behind Deegan. Then, as other drivers beat themselves and their cars up in the final, Heikkinen managed to navigate past the damage and scored his second top five finish in a row.

All in all, Heikkinen made it to the main event in three of his four appearances this season, the lone exception coming at Texas when he was disqualified in the last chance qualifier there. He also won the second heat race at Charlotte, giving him a direct transfer and front row starting spot in the final there.

The question isn’t if Heikkinen will improve on his 2012 results in 2013, it’s only a question of how much. Young, talented, and sponsored, there’s a good chance that he returns to Olsbergs next year, especially after his on-track discipline improved greatly in the final two events. The Ford Fiesta remains the best car in the series, and should only get better if Ford’s rumored decision to expand its rallycross commitments comes through. With a full slate of races under his belt, Heikkinen should have no problem cracking the top 10 in next year’s points, maybe even reaching the top five, and potentially even scoring a victory.

– Chris Leone

Ian Davies: “Even A Few Tenths During Qualifying Matter”

Image via Ford Racing Facebook

Monster World Rally Team chief mechanic Ian Davies has been keeping busy in the month between Global Rallycross Championship races, both visiting Monster Energy-sanctioned events and dealing with Ford’s withdrawal from the World Rally Championship and his other employers at M-Sport. While he awaited the arrival of driver Ken Block at SEMA from a Gymkhana Grid event over in Europe yesterday, he took the time to talk to us about last month’s race at Las Vegas, setting up the car for the new track, and shed some light into what his commitments will look like in 2013:

After all of the issues at New Hampshire, you guys came right out of the box strong at Vegas by qualifying second and winning the heat race, your first heat win of the season, when Andreas Eriksson spun in the final corner. How important was it to simply make it out of the heat intact after Loudon, and how satisfying was it to take the heat win?

It was very good—it was almost like clockwork right up until the final. The main thing is to try and use your car as little as possible during one of these weekends, so you save your tires, you save your engine life. Our speed was good, our starts were good, again it all went very well for us right up until we went into the first corner in the final. That was a different story.

How much of an advantage is it to be in one of the earlier heat races, take the win, and have extra time to work with the car before lining up for the final?

Oh, it’s a huge advantage! You’re suddenly in control, you’re not playing catch-up all the time. This way, you can have 20 minutes to work on your car, you have a minute to work on your fuel loading, you’re just in control. The whole pit area, the garage, is calm, everybody knows what they’re doing. And you’re looking at other people who are having the nightmares that you normally have, trying to get in the last chance qualifier. Certainly, (we had) the whole calm process of what we did in Las Vegas, having more time. When you’re on a back foot, instead you’re doing catch-up all the time.

Image via Ford Racing Facebook

There was a little bit of carnage at the start of the main event, and Ken came out in the back of it. How much work did Ken leave you with when you got the car back at the end of the race?

There was enough damage… we had to go to the body shop and pull out the back panel, that ended up being pushed in. (We) damaged the exhaust system, the back end of the car was a bit out of alignment. So there was enough damage. It wasn’t (too much), but it was enough damage to put right immediately after the event. It’s a semi-contact sport—it’s not supposed to be a contact sport, but we’d be naive to say it was a non-contact sport. And I think you’ve just got a pack of cars—if you look at the slow-motion camera, at the start line, Ken was first off, and he made a move on Tanner (Foust). And (Brian) Deegan comes in, and it’s just a big squeeze. I think it’s a shame, he got hit from behind, but that’s the track. You’ve got to get off the line and get out of trouble.

I think we had a slight gear selection problem during qualifying, where on our best run the gear cost us a few tenths. It would have put us on pole. Again, it shows the importance of being on the inside, of being on pole, the line that Tanner had. Because there was a lesson that we will take away from that—it is that even a few tenths during qualifying matter. I think we were a tenth or two tenths off pole, which put us off the left hand side of the grid.

Moving on to the race in a couple of days, what are your thoughts on the layout of the SEMA course? Have you made any sort of changes to the car to better suit the addition of more dirt?

Yes, we’re actually still working on the car. Ken’s not here until (Monday) so we won’t use the free practice (Sunday). But yes, we’re a rally team, so we’re not afraid of dirt. Dirt is our thing, we like dirt. So yeah, we adapt to a different suspension setup, a different damper setup, a different spring.

During the next day or so, qualifying and free practice, you sort of work out where the time is won or lost, what your best time is on the gravel section and what your best time is on the dirt section. Sometimes you’re better off setting up the car for the asphalt or tarmac section, because you can make up more time that way, and just letting the dirt the way it goes. Other times it can be a massive advantage in the dirt for you, so you’ll put up with things on the tarmac in order to get good drive on the dirt. The main thing is the dirt is towards the end of the track, so off the start line into the first corner, turn one into turn two and maybe turn three—turn one’s a 90, (then there’s) a hairpin where you come back on yourself and come back on the dirt—it’s looking like we’ll be biased more to the asphalt section for this race. But if you can get the car to do you what you want on the dirt, your chances of overtaking somebody on the inside are far greater.

Image via Ford Racing Facebook

The Fiesta has been one of the most consistent cars on track all year. It’s guaranteed to score the top two spots in the title and Ken has a good chance at taking third. Is sweeping the top three spots in the championship for Ford a priority?

I think our priority this weekend has to be getting that extra point we need to get in front of (Samuel) Hubinette to be on the podium, to make it a Ford 1-2-3. I think, should we get on the podium this weekend—or should we gain the points to be third in the championship, let’s not say get third on the podium—then we will not have had a bad rookie season in rallycross. We didn’t have the best of starts, we got to learn a lot, our car has improved massively, and we know we can put it on the front row of the grid. But it’s just a bit of racing. If you stay out of trouble, get a third or fourth place—look at the Subaru, they’ve done a tremendous job this year, coming from nowhere and getting on the podium in the last race. And the situation in New Hampshire, where Travis won out of nowhere. Rallycross is unpredictable in that respect. But our priority this weekend will be, I’m sure, getting that extra point or two points needed to get in front of Hubinette in the championship.

The GRC season ends Tuesday, leading into the rest of the SEMA Show. I know you’ve said that most of the team is sticking around for that, but what else is on your calendar for the rest of the year? Will you be at the WRC season finale in Spain, and are you following Ken around anywhere?

No, I regret to say that my year is basically done when we finish here. But you have to understand that rally season probably starts again at the end of January, possibly in the United States, so we have cars to rebuild and lots of other projects to sort of complete during the winter. And Christmas in Europe will probably take two, three weeks out of the calendar. I will be looking to be back in the United States in the middle of January for rebuild, for upgrade, and for testing of next year’s rally program. So we’ve sort of got a month or six weeks back home—engines to rebuild, transmissions to rebuild, we’re busy enough at the moment.

I’m sure we’re just waiting for the calendars for next year. I think everyone’s sort of waiting for calendars around SEMA Show, and then Ken will sit down and decide what they want to do. But I think that they want to do some of the American rally championship stuff more next year, so the rest of our year will be to get the car ready for the start of next season.

Image via Ford Racing Facebook

Have you given any thought to the 2013 season yet? Do you have any indication as to where GRC is headed and when, and does that affect any other commitments for the Monster World Rally Team?

It’s up to people much higher up the food chain than me to decide what we do next year. I think Ken and his management team sit down with the sponsors and they decide where their priorities will be and what they want to do. As far as I’m concerned, my priority is to work on Ken’s cars to make them more competitive in both rally and rallycross for next season. We’ve been usually dominant in the rallies that we’ve been in the United States this year, but we still have a few upgrades that we need to do to make some of the components a bit more reliable. So we intend to do that for next season in rallying.

I’ll be doing rallycross car designs with my thoughts and changes for next season. And I think when Ken comes back to the sponsorship meetings they’ll decide exactly what we’re going to do with rallycross and what they wish to have prepared—to rebuild this car, to build a new car for GRC, that’s up to them—that kind of point of view of getting the design and having the consultation on what we get rid of for next season, what our priorities will be, to make our car even more competitive.

I think it’s going to be the next three weeks to four weeks with our technical partners in deciding what we can do… looking at a lot of video footage, seeing which suspension to go with next season, talking to our electronics people about new products on the market that they want to display inside the vehicle. It’s that sort of time of year, if that makes sense.

Image via M-Sport Facebook

Finally, much has been made of Ford shifting its factory participation out of the WRC and likely into rallycross. You work in both forms, but in particular you’ve been with M-Sport, who are affected by the shift, for a long time. What are your thoughts about that decision?

No it doesn’t. I mean, it’s important, the situation with Ford and M-Sport, but actually when you get to see the closure of the factory in Kent where they laid 4,300 people off, in the UK where there’s 4,170 people left, you can see why Ford couldn’t justify the continuation of a rally car program which is mainly based in Europe, where they’re closing those factories and laying those workers off. From a Ford point of view, Ford have actually ended the sponsorship part of its program with M-Sport as I understand, but its technical partnership continues. So from a technical point of view, Ford will still give M-Sport assistance in a lot of areas, with homologation of vehicles, parts, and design work.

From my point, my relationship is probably with M-Sport more than Ford. I’ve had several meetings with them in the past couple of weeks, and they’ve shown more interest certainly in rallycross in Europe as well. And I think that now their perspective has to shift a little bit in terms of World Rally, it’s probably not their absolute priority, but I think from a rallycross perspective, we will benefit in the next 12 months. But next we have a little bit more time on our hands looking for a slightly different direction for that company.

– Chris Leone

David Binks: “We Had A Hell Of A Weekend In Vegas”

Image via Olsbergs MSE Facebook

Olsbergs MSE driver David Binks had somewhat of a breakout weekend in the Global Rallycross Championship race at New Hampshire in July, running up at the front of the pack all weekend until a driveshaft broke in the final. He had been hoping to build off that momentum in Las Vegas with the No. 17 eBay Motors/RePlay XD Ford Fiesta, but unfortunately a series of mechanical failures plagued him all weekend. For the first time all season, Binks failed to make it to the final round, finishing a disappointing 14th.

Now eighth in points, Binks is nonetheless optimistic about his chances going into the GRC season finale at SEMA on October 30. Mathematically, he can still finish as high as third in the championship, as OMSE teammates Tanner Foust and Brian Deegan attempt to settle the title among themselves. On Wednesday, Binks talked to us about the struggles in Vegas, the fun ahead at SEMA, and if all goes well, doing it all again next year:

Your heat race got off to a bit of a strange start, as two different drivers jumped the start on separate occasions. But the second time, you still went. What was going through your mind as drivers kept jumping?

Well it was a bit of a strange one, you know? At the drivers’ briefing in the morning, they said if there’s a false start this weekend, i.e. at Vegas, the drivers can go, and the driver who was deemed to jump the start would get a 30 second time penalty. The first time Andreas jumped the start, and pretty much everybody went. He did jump the start, he should have gotten a time penalty and the race should have continued. Obviously, they red flagged it and brought us all back on the grid.

Image via Olsbergs MSE Facebook

We lined up again, Andreas moved back, and then Rhys jumped the start by quite a margin, but he hit the brakes. Then the lights changed green. So I went again because at the end of the day, if the rest of them went, and I finally decided not to go, and they decided not to bring it back as a red flag, you’ve still got to make that start. And we’re so tuned up, watching those lights, and even though the other car moved, I go on the green. And that’s why I took the start.

Once you finally got going, you had a bit of an off in the banked dirt turn—what happened there?

That was the third start of the heat, and by then the tires were getting sticky. You’ve got to give it a bit more revs, slip the clutch a little more to give it the perfect start. We’d already nailed the other two starts—when Andreas jumped the start, we were pushing him in there on the first one, really right on his bumper, and the second start was another good start. The car launched well. It was critical that I wanted to get that third start and beat Ken (Block) into the first corner. We got a good start, I carried a little bit much speed into the corner and it understeered a little bit too wide! I didn’t get it turned enough on the dirt and ran a bit wide, allowed the other two cars to get back on the inside. It was a schoolboy error, really.

Image via Ford Racing Facebook

What happened to cause your car to spin out later in the heat?

When the car spun out? The car broke! We had a hell of a weekend. There was a driveshaft broke in practice, there was a driveshaft broke on the third lap of qualifying, there was a driveshaft that broke in the first heat, so that’s why we didn’t finish the heat. The driveshaft broke for the third time of the weekend.

Jeez, I wish I had more nice things to ask you about during this weekend!

I was tempted not to do the interview, because I said to you in the last one ‘it’s about time I had some good luck.’ We didn’t have any luck whatsoever in Vegas! (laughs)

I asked you if you thought you could take a podium at New Hampshire too. Am I a jinx or something?

(laughs) Unfortunately the car let me down in Vegas. We went out, we tested the cars prior to Vegas and the car ran really strong. The times were good, I was really upbeat about going in the event. Then in the practice sessions we had a recurring problem, which is actually what happened in New Hampshire—we broke an outer shaft. The guys changed it, we went back out for qualifying.

The first lap was a decent time, the second lap was getting on the pace, and my third lap, the splits were on speed with the fast boys in our team. And on the second split as we went through the chicane and came over the tabletop, as it landed, just it was gone, no drive again. I had to three-wheel it down onto the jump. That was going to be my quick lap, it was probably going to put us in the top five, six. So qualifying was terrible. The guys repaired it, they assured me they’d solved the problem of why we kept breaking the same part on the car.

Image via Ford Racing Facebook

We went out in that first heat, the qualifying heat, and when I came over the big jump that time, I was reeling back in on Rhys and Andreas and catching them back up. And when I took the gap jump, we landed and there was a moment where I just felt like something didn’t feel right as it landed. I went up the gears and everything felt good, so I kept it full throttle down the straight. I hit the brakes for the bottom corner, went down to second gear, went back on the throttle and there was just nothing there. The engine just revved up and the car spun around and hit the tires.

I tried to pull away again and that was it, the drive was gone, and this time the inner shaft had gone. I think it was the accumulation of the two outer ends of the shaft going that, maybe they should have changed the full shaft. But that’s one of those things in the time restraints you’ve got. The boys did a good job, got me back out every time. But unfortunately, the car broke again and that was what sent us into the last chance qualifier.

The good news is that Las Vegas doesn’t count for you in the championship right now, so it doesn’t hurt your previous score. You weren’t a big fan of the dropped race last time we talked, but does this race change your mind?

Image via Ford Racing Facebook

It depends how the last race goes! In Britain and Europe we’ve always sort of had a drop score, but obviously it’s only come into the Global championship quite a way through it, it’s actually been made public that there is one. Like I said, the first time I found out about it was talking to you. We only got three points in Vegas. In the last chance, I made a good start, but I had nowhere really to go and ended up in a bit of contact. I apologized to Dave (Mirra) afterwards, that’s not my driving style and I was a bit upset with myself for missing my braking point and hitting the back of Dave. But we had a puncture, the first time all year we’ve had a puncture on the car. So to be able to walk away from Vegas and only have to drop those three points is probably a bit of a godsend for me. It doesn’t take us out of the fight completely to get a good strong top five finish at the end of the year, maybe a little bit higher. It’s going to be tough, but if we get a good result we can still make it up the points a bit.

Looking forward to SEMA, have you had a look at the new track layout? What can you tell us about it?

I’ve seen a rough outline of the track and what’s coming, and it sounds interesting. The guys, each time we’ve come to a new circuit, the teams have worked from the last event and made the next one better. I really think this one’s going to be great. SMI aren’t involved with this one, I don’t think, but they’ve done a great job all year. This one’s going to be a bit more true rallycross, a bit more dirt, so I think it’s going to be good. It’s going to suit our car and our driving, and I’m really excited about getting out there.

Image via Ford Racing Facebook

You’re going to have a new teammate this weekend at Olsbergs MSE—have you given any thought to the new driver on the grid?

I don’t know that we can rely on team tactics, it’s each driver for himself. Within the team, yeah, but I’m going out to prove that we can get that car up there. We’ve been sort of around the edges of it all season. We didn’t have the luck or the car at Vegas, and I’m not going to finish this championship on a low. I want to walk away from this year with people actually knowing I can do this and getting the results for eBay that they deserve.

You’ve been doing a lot for eBay Motors over the course of the year—I know you’ve been writing a blog for them, for one. Will you be doing any appearances for them at SEMA?

eBay’s going to be at SEMA and doing some great stuff, we’re just busy working those details out now. I’m really excited, it’s the first time I’ve been to the show. This year’s been great, I sort of had to learn everything we’re doing this year, the activation and the PR stuff, it’s totally new to me as well as driving at this level. I’m pleased to hear that we’re doing okay! We’re always trying to do better in that as well, and hopefully we can do some great stuff at SEMA and rolling on through the winter and into next season.

Image via Olsbergs MSE Facebook

Finally, speaking of next season, you mentioned the last time we talked that you were hoping to have a better idea of your 2013 plans sometime very soon. Have you been involved in those discussions yet?

Not 100%. I do want to be back in GRC next year, I do want to be back in a competitive car and hopefully the Ford, and my ultimate Christmas wish would be to be in the eBay Motors Ford Fiesta again next year. We’ve got a lot of work to do to get that pulled together for them, and I hope I can get a good result for the team at the end of the season at this last race. That should hopefully make things happen. I’ve enjoyed it so much this year, with the team, working with eBay Motors, working with OMSE and RePlay, and all these different guys that have made this happen. It’s been such a learning year, such an exciting year, we’re getting our head around it now where we should get the results. We proved we can keep the car up there. We need that final podium, it would be ideal to finish the year off. I’d like to think that everybody’s enjoyed working with me and we can pull it all together for next season and come out with a good eBay Motors Fiesta backed by RePlayXD and see where we end up.

– Chris Leone

Stephan Verdier Reviews New Hampshire Race Weekend

Photo credit: Matthew Kalish

Global Rallycross Championship competitor Stephan Verdier is one of only a handful of drivers to break the Ford stranglehold on the podium this season, scoring a third place finish in his Rhys Millen Racing-prepared Hyundai Veloster at Charlotte this season. After struggling at X Games with an older engine, Verdier was looking forward to a stronger run at New Hampshire in his first experience with the new power plant.

Unfortunately, things weren’t meant to be for the French driver. Despite qualifying fourth, Verdier had a difficult start in his heat race, had to make his way into the final via the last chance qualifier, and then suffered mechanical issues that relegated him to a ninth place finish.

As we move closer to the Las Vegas round on September 29, we’re going to let Stephan tell the story of his New Hampshire race weekend in his own words:

The car we had was Rhys’ car at New Hampshire, because my car didn’t have the new engine yet. Before X Games we didn’t have time to put the new engine in my car. So all those races up through X Games I had last year’s engine, which had 100 horsepower less than the new version we have now. So because Rhys wasn’t doing New Hampshire, he let me take his car, which has the same chassis as mine but had the new engine in it.

Photo credit: Matthew Kalish

We went to New Hampshire with no test, because the car had a completely different engine and the power band is completely different. So there’s a big difference in speed, and 200 horsepower too. So we were hoping to get some practice time on the track, but there were long delays on building the track and we never got to practice, actually. The first four laps we did were the first qualifying laps. But the car was amazingly fast—I said to my crew ‘that thing is a rocket.’ We set the fourth fastest time, except Tanner (Foust) was way ahead—first, second, third and fourth place, we were like two tenths of a second (apart). So I was really, really happy, because at X Games I got my butt kicked pretty hard because of horsepower. But now the car is amazing, so after qualifying I was really excited.

We went into the first heat, and Tanner was on my right, (David) Binks was on my left and (Sverre) Isachsen was one more to left. The problem, what happened on the start was—(normal) procedure goes to line up the cars, there’s a two or three minute heat up, then they give us a 30 second board and that’s when we start activating the launch system. It seems like a lot, but you have to put the car in gear, figure out whether the clutch is engaged, start the anti-lag, and that’s why we have that 30 second board. What happened is, they never showed the 30 second board. They went from the two minutes to the 10 second board. And at the 10 second board, all the systems should be activated and you have to be at full power for three or four seconds to make sure the anti-lag is (activated).

Photo credit: Matthew Kalish

When they showed the 10 second board, everybody was going through the (process). So everybody was looking at the lights, and when the lights turned green, I had a really bad reaction time because of that. I talked to Tanner after the race and he said “Yeah, I never saw the 30 second board either.” It didn’t really bother us that much, but I had a bad start.

It was four cars, and Isachsen, I don’t know what happened—I saw him cutting in front of me, trying to avoid spinning. I saw Binks pushed him, I think he got into Isachsen and Sverre pushed into him, so he went to the right. And I had no idea where the chicane was, so he pushed and hit my front tire so our cars went to the left and into the tires. I tried to avoid him on the left side and I went right into the chicane. It put the car sideways and I hit the chicane wrong, I went right into it.

Then after we kept going, Tanner decided to take the jump, which obviously we weren’t supposed to do on the first lap! And we were saying “What is he doing this for?” After that it was just a question of putting good laps in. I was struggling with the hairpins, and the wooden hairpin going over the track. I actually was making up time off Tanner and Binks, but on my second lap I went into the hairpin—I think it was the right speed, but a little bit too hot. And the problem with the hairpin is, coming from the sand, we would bring the sand in our wheels and dump it on the wood when we took the hairpin. So you would come into the hairpin and one lap you’d have perfect traction, and on the next lap you’d have zero traction.

Photo credit: Matthew Kalish

When I came into it, my car started sliding, and luckily there was a fence, and I went sideways into the fence. I lost about a second there, and that was the second that I was catching Tanner. On the third lap I did the joker. Binks did the joker last, and the second that I lost off of Tanner was the second that Binks had on me, and he passed me in the sand. So it was unfortunate because the car had the power. I was staying with the Ford. And we couldn’t make it into the top two but we won the LCQ.

In the main—it takes them a long time to give the start. And the car starts heating up, and the more it heats up, the more hot it gets. And as I was waiting for the green light, the car started moving forward without me doing anything. So I put on a little more of the E-brake, I engaged the clutch a tiny bit, and as soon as I did it is when the green light came. So I was maybe a tenth, two tenths of a second behind on the start, so I lost a few positions.

Photo credit: Matthew Kalish

I went into the chicane, everything was good, and when we came to it, I was planning on going for the regular track, not taking the joker. So I started going into the regular track, but then I realized that nobody was taking the joker, and I changed my mind at the last second, which was a mistake. I overshot my braking zone and just T-boned Liam (Doran’s) door, which was all my fault. What happened was, a frame rail in my car moved into the alternator and popped the alternator belt. So half a lap into it, my battery was too low and my car wouldn’t rev over 4,000 RPM. So everything was good on the car, except that I couldn’t rev up. And I didn’t want to take the risk of taking the jump with no power.

Rhys and I both have the same car right now, everything’s the same. We had an issue with the engine built in England, but for the next two races both cars will be exactly the same, back to the same level. And the car makes a huge difference.

I really believe we can win a race or two with that car. When I had the old engine, the chassis was good, but it was sitting in a straight line, we were getting caught by everybody. But now with that engine, it’s amazing. Even at New Hampshire we were not pushing the engine hard because we wanted to make sure it lasts, so if we really need to put up the power, turn the boost up a little bit more, we can.

The car is just fantastic, and I’m really excited. I think we’re going to win a race! I think we definitely have the car for it now.

Verdier now ranks seventh in points with 39, ahead of top drivers like Millen, Travis Pastrana, and Liam Doran. We’ll have more from Stephan in the coming days as we look forward to the final two rounds of the season, including his thoughts on the new Las Vegas track and the addition of the new event at SEMA.

– Chris Leone

Brian Deegan: “There’s No Strategy Besides Being The Fastest Guy”

Photo credit: Matthew Kalish

Brian Deegan’s career accomplishments speak for themselves. He has more than a dozen X Games medals, mostly in the sport of Freestyle Motocross; he’s one of the quickest rising stars in off-road racing, challenging for his third consecutive Lucas Oil Driver of the Year award; and he’s one of the most skilled drivers in this year’s Global Rallycross Championship, having taken three consecutive podium finishes and ranking third in points through four events.

And yet out of all of the drivers in the GRC, Deegan may be the closest to resembling the traditional racing champion in mindset. Heavily focused on his craft, the 37-year-old Omaha native attacks rallycross with the same razor-sharp precision that has allowed him to be so successful on both two wheels and four. Any driver can talk about winning races, but Deegan knows that the job is simple: be the fastest competitor out there.

With two races left on the GRC schedule, the time is now for Deegan to show that speed. Earlier today, he took a few minutes out of his busy schedule to chat with us about translating skills from one sport to another, his Olsbergs MSE team, and facing off with teammate Tanner Foust for the championship:

First question: you’ve been plenty busy this season, not only with Global Rallycross but also with the Lucas Oil Off-Road Racing Series, where you lead the Pro 2 points. What does it take to be competitive in multiple series over the course of a given year?

I just focus on being an all-over good athlete at multiple things. Having the foundation of growing up a motocross racer has been my best skill set, and I’m just able to really study who are the best guys and why they’re the best. And I study video, and I read a lot of books on racing. I just do my homework, I go out there, and I go out to win. That’s what’s in my head, and that’s why I feel like I’ve been able to dominate at multiple sports.

Looking back at New Hampshire—it was the first time that the GRC was able to get dirt involved on a NASCAR track, as well as adding an elevated hairpin over the pit wall. In short, it was perhaps the most unique layout of the season. What were some of the biggest challenges on that track?

Photo credit: Matthew Kalish

For me, I’d say it was when they put the dirt on the track—it adds more of a challenge so it isn’t just a road course race. I think once the sand got kicked out onto the track it made it real slick, and that was the most challenging. Then they built that jump down the front straightaway, that just shot you straight up in the air and landed you out in the flat-on pavement. That one was a pretty brutal landing.

You’re one of three drivers tied for second in the series with three heat wins, including one at New Hampshire. How important has scoring that front row starting spot for the final been this year?

Rally’s such a short race, it’s just like a sprint, so you really need to get on the front row to have a chance at winning. It’s a short race, so I feel like that starts with qualifying and getting on the front row. It’s all about clean, good starts. I feel like from motocross I have the advantage of being a good starter, and that’s been my specialty.

You had to race teammate Tanner Foust down the final straightaway for third place at New Hampshire. Does the Ford team usually take it easier with one another, or is it every man for himself in the final?

It’s every man for himself, you know? It’s racing, and there’s a lot of guys on that team. You know, actually, Tanner’s helped me a lot. Out of all the guys, he’s helped me the most. But when we’re on the track, he’s a competitor, and we have to try to beat each other. That’s our job.

Image via Ford Racing Facebook

Loudon marked your third consecutive podium finish. The only exception this season has been Charlotte, where you had mechanical issues despite winning your first heat race. Do you think about Charlotte and wonder where you’d be in the championship if that hadn’t happened, or do you put it out of your mind?

The thing is, a lot of people don’t know that they let you drop one race in the GRC series. As of now, I get to drop my worst race, so I get to drop that race. So right now, me and Tanner are pretty much battling for the championship.

As it stands, you’re third in points right now, 13 out of the lead and only one behind Samuel Hubinette in second place. With two races left, how does that affect how you approach the end of the season? Are you confident that you can make up that deficit, and will you drive more aggressively to do so?

I’m going to try to win the last two races. That’s what I’m here to do, and I feel like that’s what I’m going to go to the track to do. That’s what I do in all the other series I try to race; I’m here to win. So there’s no strategy besides just going out and trying to be the fastest guy.

Las Vegas adds new modifications to the layout from Charlotte and Texas, adding six-degree banked dirt in the NASCAR infield and putting the shortcut through the gap jump. Have you looked at the new layout? What do you like about it?

Yeah, I think it’s good! Any time you can add dirt and the jumping over each other on the gap jump, I think the crowd really likes that. So I think that’s a good weekend for the sport.

Image via Ford Racing Facebook

Fords scored five of the six podium spots at Charlotte and Texas, and Las Vegas is similarly tight. What about the Fiesta makes them so good on the smaller tracks?

I just feel like (Olsbergs MSE) have put the most time and improvements into the Ford Fiestas. You can just tell the team is a league above all the others. (But) I feel like everyone’s catching up, and the other teams are getting harder to beat, and our advantages are getting shortened every race. It’s just up to Andreas (Eriksson) and the other guys to run the team and keep us ahead as far as technology goes.

Finally, you’re tied with Foust for the lead in the $25,000 Discount Tire/America’s Tire Cup, which concludes at Las Vegas. Are you thinking about the bonus, and does it make you view the race as sort of a head-to-head battle with Tanner? Do you think that it’ll take a victory to bring that prize home?

Pretty much. It depends who beats who to get that one. That’s the way I like it—I like it to come down to the wire and come down to who wins or who beats each other to win the prize, and that’s why I do it. I love the pressure, I feed off it. So I’m glad I’m even in that position to battle, and my goal is to win that.

– Chris Leone

Hubinette’s Strong GRC Season Built On Heat Race Dominance

Image via Scott-Eklund Racing

Here’s a question for you. Through the first three rounds of this Global Rallycross Championship season, what has Samuel Hubinette done that no other driver has accomplished?

Give up? The answer is win a heat race on all three tracks – Texas, Charlotte, and X Games.

That’s right. Coming into X Games, Hubinette was part of an exclusive club that included only four drivers – the other three being Olsbergs MSE teammates Marcus Gronholm, Tanner Foust, and Brian Deegan. But even driving for privateer Scott-Eklund Racing, and even with a larger Saab 9-3 (part of Olsbergs’ success lies in the smaller, quicker Ford Fiesta), Hubinette managed to score one heat win each at Texas and Charlotte.

Deegan matched Hubinette, winning once at each track, while Gronholm and Foust had each won all three of their heat races coming into X Games. But each would encounter problems in Los Angeles that Hubinette would not.

Gronholm, of course, missed Sunday’s events due to injuries from his Saturday practice crash. Foust was no match for eight-time World Rally champion Sebastien Loeb in heat two, while Deegan fell to an aggressive first-turn move from Sverre Isachsen in heat three, and both finished second.

Hubinette, meanwhile, beat fastest qualifier and eventual silver medalist Ken Block to the corner in the first heat and ran relatively unchallenged from there. That gave him a front row starting spot in the final, though Loeb’s heat-winning time had been faster, giving the Frenchman the inside line and helping to aid him in his gold medal-winning run.

Hubinette, meanwhile, suffered damage and fell to ninth. Luckily for him, however, he’ll ride into New Hampshire in a tie for fourth in points, only 15 back of championship leader Foust. With a little bit of luck and a strong run, Hubinette can set himself up for a championship challenge in the final rounds of the season.

– Chris Leone