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


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

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

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

GRC Insider: Five Drivers Battle For Third In Championship

Image via Rhys Millen Racing

The battle for this year’s Global Rallycross Championship may be down to two drivers, Olsbergs MSE and Rockstar Energy teammates Tanner Foust and Brian Deegan, but there’s a wide open battle for third place brewing behind them.

Currently, Samuel Hubinette holds the spot with 50 points, but four drivers—Ken Block, Rhys Millen, Stephan Verdier, and David Binks—are within eight points of the position. Theoretically speaking, any of them could leave SEMA with the third spot on the championship podium.

Hubinette will leave SEMA with at least 55 points, given his 50 points plus a drop score of five from Las Vegas last month. The Eklund Motorsport driver has shown an ability to run up front when the car is working well, but the Saab’s durability has proven an issue; mechanical failures took him out of contention at both Texas and Las Vegas. But with another run like his runner-up performance at New Hampshire, which saw him briefly take second in points, third won’t be changing hands.

Image via Ford Racing Facebook

But the drivers behind Hubinette will be looking to steal the spot, and Block is first among them. The X Games silver medalist won his first heat race of the season at Las Vegas to climb to fourth, and will look to put another Ford Fiesta in the top three in points with a strong run at SEMA. He has 49 points, dropping the two he scored at Charlotte.

The next two drivers share a pair of Hyundai Velosters, in what will likely be their final race as the brand ends its North American motorsport involvement. First is team owner and lead driver Millen, who has competed in four of five races this year, scoring 48 points. He’s never finished worse than sixth in his starts. However, he’s yet to crack the podium this year, placing fourth at both Texas and X Games for his best finishes of the year.

Image via Rhys Millen Racing

In his first year as Millen’s teammate, Verdier scored a third place finish at the season opener at Charlotte before struggling to run up front with an underpowered engine for a few rounds. He rebounded with a fifth place run at Las Vegas, marked by taking the shortcut to pass multiple cars on the last lap, though the drop score takes him out of a tie for fourth in points and leaves him in sole possession of sixth with 46. Jumping three spots would mean the world to the former privateer, who has indicated his pleasure with Rhys Millen Racing on multiple occasions this year.

For Binks, third place would mean would mean two things: an Olsbergs sweep of the top three spots in points, and a bit of luck that he’s been desperately waiting for all season. “We didn’t have any luck whatsoever in Vegas!” he exclaimed in our last interview, and such was the case; for the first time all year, he failed to make it to the main event at Las Vegas. Those three points currently serve as his drop score, and he ranks eighth overall with 42 points.

All five drivers are likely to make the final at SEMA, which will feature a depleted entry list with the absence of Travis Pastrana. Third in the championship will likely come down to which of these drivers scores the highest finish on Tuesday. Given the tight and unpredictable nature of the track, that’s going to come down to whoever has the best luck. In the GRC’s return to Vegas, all bets are off.

– Chris Leone

Ian Davies, MWRT Chief Mechanic: “You Will Never See One Of My Cars Wheeled Back In The Garage Broken”

Image via Ian Davies Motorsport Facebook

Ken Block is one of the most popular race drivers in the world nowadays, taking his Monster World Rally Team Ford Fiesta across the globe to compete in stage rallies, rallycross events, and gymkhana demonstrations. But every skilled driver has a similarly skilled mechanic backing him up; for Block, that mechanic is Ian Davies, who brings over 20 years of experience to the table in various forms of motorsport from World Rally to touring cars. On Tuesday, Davies chatted with us as the MWRT team crew began the process of readying Block’s car for Saturday’s Global Rallycross Championship event at Las Vegas Motor Speedway:

Rallycross fans will know you best as chief mechanic for Ken Block, but he’s not your only client. Who else have you worked for in your career, and what are you up to when you’re not working with MWRT?

I do a lot of my work for M-Sport, the company that runs the world championship Ford program, so I’ve been with them for a considerable number of years now as a contract engineer. They’ve been sending me to South Africa and other places around the world doing jobs and it’s just the time I have to fill in between races. I looked after Henning Solberg for many years with as part of an M-Sport project, again, but I’ve also worked with Carlos Sainz, Marcus Gronholm, I worked with the late Colin McRae. I worked with all of these people, sort of as you do in the sport for different races. Recently in the last few years I’ve been working with Mohammed ben Sulayem, who’s an FIA vice president, and actually I engineered him for seven years before taking on Henning Solberg. What happens is, drivers leave the sport, contracts run out, and you get a new directive for a few years.  You know, things change over between clients and everything’s a one or two year contract.

You’ve been involved in a few stage rally victories with Ken and Alex Gelsomino this year, including Canada’s Rallyé Defi earlier in the month and Olympus Rally last week. You’ve also been a part of the silver-medal winning team at X Games. What has been your favorite achievement so far this year?

Image via Ken Block Facebook; Photo credit: Tony Harmer

I think the X Games was my favorite. Because a year ago, before X Games when we started the project, it was a little bit unique to build the hybrid car with the list of requirements that Ken had. It’s no secret we didn’t have the best of X Games in 2011 with some of the issues, the technical issues we had. And I think for us to go away in the last few months of 2011, sorting the spec of the car rates and going to win (Rally in the) 100 Acre Wood has been a major step forward for the team to get some reliability and consistency. And then to go to X Games this year and to get the silver medal I think will be the. I mean, I thoroughly enjoyed last weekend—we beat David Higgins and the Subaru team in Olympus Rally, when there was no championship to go for. It was all everybody had, you know, the championship had already been sorted. So it was a straight shooting, fast weekend at Olympus Rally. To win that by four and a half minutes was a fantastic achievement. But for me personally, I think to go back and lay those ghosts to rest from the 2011 X Games. That silver medal, and on a puncture at the end… Sebastien Loeb is the greatest rally driver that the world has ever seen, and it’s no disgrace finishing second to him.

Ken has a reputation for driving all out, which I’m sure keeps you busy, but what’s it like working with him? What are some of his needs out of the car compared to some other drivers?

Image via Monster World Rally Team Facebook

Two of the most difficult things for me in the transition to working with Ken were one, understanding where the finance comes from, I think understanding the marketing. Ken markets himself and his team in a very unique way, which is why he’s been very successful, so for me understanding that everything that we do is filmed, every test session we do is filmed, has taken a little bit of getting used to. From a driving point of view, Ken is a very flamboyant driver. He likes to entertain the crowd. I think car setup wise, Ken would have the car oversteering all the time because that’s where the show comes from. But I think about balancing that show, coming back and trying to get a car that allows him to be flamboyant when necessary, but also to be very quick—I think about balancing that with Ken Block, which I wouldn’t have to (do) with some of the other drivers because they just want to go. Ken wants to race and win, he’s a very good racer, but he’s also very mindful of the show he puts on, if that makes sense.

You get to do some real fun stuff as part of MWRT, including Ken Block’s Gymkhana 5 video this year. How many of those videos have you been involved with? How long does a process like that take, and how often do you actually work on the car over the course of a video shoot like that?

Image via Ken Block Facebook

I did Gymkhana 4 and Gymkhana 5 because they’ve both been done with this car that I designed and built. One was done in the studios last year, and then San Francisco (this year). It’s sort of like doing any other motorsport race or event. On set, we arrive at four or five o’clock in the morning to rig the cameras, and filming normally starts at around eight o’clock. And then they will film a scene, and then there will be a break where either we move venues or reset the cameras. And we tend to do our normal service, the same as we would do in a rally, in that time. So whenever there’s a break, we will change tires, we will check the car, we will fix any body work that may have been damaged or a wheel that may have been bent, because we all know that you strike the occasional curb and do a bit of damage when you’re making these. They’re not quite as easy as most people think. And typically there are five days of filming, depending on if we don’t have many problems. But we do rebuild the car every single evening. When we stop, about seven, eight, nine, ten o’clock at night, we go back to the workshop, we strip the car out, we reshim the clutch, we do the things we need to make the car reliable again for the following day. It’s like doing any sort of race or rallycross or rally.

Different events require different setups, but do they require different parts as well? If so, what do you have to change on the Fiesta to go from a rally event to rallycross, and even to gymkhana?

Image via Ian Davies Motorsport Facebook

We’re actually doing that now. The car arrived from Olympus Rally (Monday) evening. So we’re in the garage here at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway and we’re just embarking on our 48-hour changeover. So the radiator is moved from the front of the car and the cooling package goes into the rear of the car, where the spare wheel normally goes. We take in the air from the side of the car, and we have water lines that go underneath the car because they’re not allowed by regulation to go inside the car. Because of the air flow, or lack of air flow, in rallycross, we choose to put the radiator in the rear because the cooling efficiency is far greater than putting the radiator in the front, and also (with) the touching and banging that goes on, it’s much safer inside the car than what it would be in the front. The suspension, we have different shock absorbers, different springs, different arms, and some different bracketry to the bottom of the uprights to change the roll centers. Also we take the co-driver’s seat out of the car, we take out the jacks, we take out the spare wheel, most stuff that we would normally use for stage rally. So it’s about a—it can be changed over in about 24 hours, one working day is what we take for four people to swap it over. But we’re also rebuilding after the stage rally, so we’ve got to go from one to the other and swap back again.

One of the things that we’ve noticed over the course of the year is that the Fiestas seem to be the strongest cars in the series. What about them is so well suited for rallycross?

I think the engine’s very good. I think the two liter Durotec engine that we use is a very good base engine. And I think that’s the first thing that makes a huge difference, having a good base car. It’s quite a small car in the way it’s packaged, so it’s quite nimble. If you look at some of the other cars, like the Dodge Dart for example, it’s a much bigger body than we have. So it makes the car a lot less nimble. Travis did win in New Hampshire, but as a general rule the Fiesta is a very nimble car and the Durotec engine is very strong.

Photo credit: Matthew Kalish

The MWRT crew has had to do some heroic repair jobs during GRC events to keep Ken on track this year, with the most impressive one coming at New Hampshire after the heat incident. What was broken on the car, and what were you able to fix between your heat and the final?

(From the end of the heat) we had six minutes if we were to make the last chance qualifier. There were no fenders left at all, they were smashed. The front bumper was smashes, the hood was smashed, the windshield was smashed, and there was a little bit of suspension damage to the front. (But) we’re rally guys. It’s sometimes not pretty, yeah there’s a lot of duct tape, (but) we carry a plastic windshield. It’s a matter of getting out the build conventions, cutting it out quite quickly. It’s all very crude—you might have seen one of our mechanics inside in the drivers’ seat, kicking out the windshield with his feet, getting it out the quickest way possible. And we got the car fixed up and patched up, and as long as the wheels turn in the right direction, then we have to qualify. And at the end of the day, Ken got fifth in New Hampshire, and got some points. Had we had a better start to the season, who knows where those few points may have led us? You will never see one of my cars wheeled back in the garage as a broken car. We will always, always try to fix it on the track and get Ken back out. And we always work and plan for that.

Is it frustrating as a mechanic to have so little time to work on the car when the GRC races themselves start?

Image via Ian Davies Motorsport Facebook

It’s like any motorsport event—you need to adjust. We go to rally and we get 20, 30, or 40 minutes the fix the car, whatever the schedule is. In Global Rallycross, if you’re in the first heat and there’s a problem and you go into the last chance qualifier, you get 40, 45 minutes, it can even be an hour. If you’re in the last heat and something goes wrong, you have six minutes. A little bit is the luck of the draw, we all know that, and we all work to those rules and regulations. It’s also very important for Global Rallycross to keep a compact event. Yeah, we have a stadium mentality. We have people watching, they need to be excited, they need to see the sport in its raw element. But it must happen quickly, and I think that’s part of the interest. I believe that what Global Rallycross is doing is fantastic. Sport in the United States certainly needs what we’re doing here. (Sometimes) you’ve got six, ten minutes, but hey, you know? We work with that.

Finally, the biggest schedule-related news out of the series came very recently when the GRC announced that it would be going to SEMA at the end of October. As mechanics, are you and the MWRT crew especially looking forward to racing at a car show like that?

Everybody is massively excited about going to SEMA. And it’ll be a great platform for our sport, with all the people there, and every person selling something at that SEMA show or showing something is a potential sponsor. As mechanics, all the guys are taking holidays after the race because they want to stay on, actually look at SEMA and spend some time here. So (for) the mechanics, it’s very exciting. You know, SEMA’s a big name around the world, because in the UK, the majority of us are from Europe, the work team, and it’s not really feasible for those guys to pay for a ticket and go to the SEMA show. But we’re here and there’s a race on, so we are very excited about the prospect of the two mixing.

– Chris Leone

GRC Insider: Olsbergs Scoring Most Points Per Entry

Image via Ford Racing Facebook

Swedish-based Olsbergs MSE may be loading the Global Rallycross Championship field with up to five cars per race weekend, but its best teams are so strong that they’re scoring the most points per entry of the seven premier teams over the course of the year.

In 16 starts spread over its five teams, Olsbergs-prepared Fords have scored 204 points, for an average of 12.75 points per start. They’ve scored two wins, both belonging to Marcus Gronholm, and seven podiums in that time frame, while only one car (Toomas Heikkinen at Texas) has missed a final event in that time.

Second in the category is the now-dissolved privateer Scott-Eklund Racing, whose Saabs have taken 88 points in eight combined starts for an average of 11. Samuel Hubinette scored the organization’s best finish with a second place at New Hampshire, while both Hubinette and owner-driver Andy Scott added top five finishes to open the season at Charlotte.

Third strongest is Rhys Millen Racing, whose drivers Stephan Verdier and Rhys Millen have tallied 76 points in seven combined starts to average 10.86 points per start. Verdier has the team’s lone podium at Charlotte to start the year, making three of four main events in the process; Millen has scored at least 11 points in each of his three starts, with best finishes of fourth at both Texas and X Games.

Image via Ford Racing Facebook

The Monster World Rally Team of Ken Block has scored 40 points this season for an average of 10 points per start, ranking it fourth on this list. Block has seen his share of struggles, including incidents in heat races at both Charlotte and New Hampshire, but turned in one of the most heroic drives of the season at X Games by placing second in the final despite suffering a punctured tire. In fifth place is another Monster Energy-backed team, Liam Doran’s Monster Energy Citroen Rallycross Team, which has only made three starts but scored 27 points for an average of nine per start.

Sixth place Pastrana199 Racing has seen a challenging year thus far, with lead driver Travis Pastrana suffering bad luck in each of the first three events of the season. Pastrana missed the main events at both Texas and X Games, where his team campaigned two cars apiece, and thus scaled back for New Hampshire. In response, he won there, taking the victory and 21 of his team’s 38 total points. Over six starts, that’s an average of 6.33 points per race.

Rounding out this list is the Subaru PUMA Rallycross Team, which has campaigned three cars all season and added a fourth for X Games. Unfortunately, that extra X Games car, belonging to current Rally America champion David Higgins, has scored the team’s best finish of the year, an eighth place in the final. Higgins, Dave Mirra, Bucky Lasek, and three-time defending European Rallycross champion Sverre Isachsen have combined for 74 points in 13 starts for an average of 5.69 points per car per start.

– Chris Leone

GRC Mid-Season Review: Ken Block

Photo credit: Matthew Kalish

No. 43 Monster Energy Ford Fiesta, Monster World Rally Team

STANDINGS: 6th, 40 points

POSITIVES: Block’s silver medal-winning drive at X Games was nothing short of heroic, as he spent almost all of the final running on three wheels; in fact, it may be the most impressive single run of the entire season. He’s shown that ability to recover from misfortune in each of the past two rounds, taking beat-up Monster World Rally Team Fords to two top five finishes beyond their physical potential.

NEGATIVES: Of course, Block’s road (and his mechanics’ jobs) would have been easier if he could have kept his cars in one piece. A spectacular wreck at Charlotte left him with a crippled car that relegated him to a 15th place finish, while he spent the majority of the New Hampshire event with major damage after an incident with Andy Scott at the start of their heat.

OUTLOOK: Whether you admire Block’s skill behind the wheel or think he’s undisciplined, you’ve got plenty of evidence from the first four races of this season to make a case. The truth is that Block is just remarkably inconsistent—when he’s off of his game, parts will fly, but when he executes the way that he does in his Gymkhana videos, he’s one of the top drivers in the series. It’s just impossible to predict which Block is going to show up on any given weekend.

– Chris Leone

X Games Preview: Single-Car Teams

Image via Ford Racing Facebook

Though the majority of the entries in this year’s X Games are part of multi-car operations, a good portion of entries will come from independent camps. Of course, the four names involved are some of the biggest in the sport. Ken Block helped create the rally craze in America over the past few years with his series of Gymkhana videos, while Liam Doran took an impressive win in last year’s Super Rally event over Marcus Gronholm, and Pat Moro is one of the most active pure independents in the sport.

Here’s what to expect from these drivers come Sunday’s event:

#43 Ken Block (12th in points, 11; best finish 8th): As one of the drivers whose exploits in a rally car built up the young fanbase that made the GRC possible, Block is the kind of figure that is beloved at X Games. But only twice, in 2006 and 2008, has he ever medaled at the series’ signature event, and even then he only scored bronze both times. Block has been beating the daylights out of his poor Ford Fiestas all season, leaving some to wonder if the gymkhana pioneer has the discipline to keep his car together long enough to make it to the finish in Los Angeles.

#59 Pat Moro (15th in points, 7; best finish 13th): Moro runs an older model Subaru Impreza and was added to ESPN’s entry list as a late invitee. He’s appeared in both events thus far, but failed to advance past the last chance qualifier in either event. Moro is a strong competitor in Rally America, having won the Production class championship in 2010, but in four X Games attempts thus far, has never placed better than 10th. He’s got one advantage, though: the jump is supposed to be bigger for Sunday’s event, and Moro was the only driver to clear the original jump at Texas (according to a Block tweet).

#33 Liam Doran (16th in points, 5; best finish 12th): Electing to compete in a European event rather than the season-opening Charlotte race likely ended Doran’s hopes at an automatic X Games bid before they even started, but last year’s head-to-head winner would love nothing more than to add a second gold medal in this year’s event. He showed plenty of speed at Texas, qualifying third, but had car troubles that kept him from the final.

– Chris Leone