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GRC Season Review: Pat Moro, Part 2

Image via PMR Motorsports Facebook

For Pat Moro and PMR Motorsports, the 2012 Global Rallycross Championship season represented an uphill battle. Running older equipment on a shoestring budget, positives were few and far between early in the season, especially when the team missed X Games for financial reasons.

But not long after, the No. 59 Subaru WRX STi, the result of PMR’s technical work and the marketing help of Michael Crawford Motorsports, began making strides towards competitiveness. Moro finished 12th in New Hampshire and 11th at Las Vegas, and was fast enough in its first heat race at SEMA to suggest that a main event appearance shouldn’t be too far off.

In the second part of our season review, Moro gives his overall assessment of the season, while also hinting at his 2013 plans:

You finished 16th overall in points, with a couple of strong heat and LCQ performances. Given the limited budget you had to run with, are you satisfied with what you were able to do? Or are you more frustrated that the budget didn’t allow you to be more competitive?

Image via Michael Crawford Motorsports Facebook

I’m not really too satisfied with the performance—I think that we’ve had to be very cautious with everything. It’d be great if we secured a bigger budget moving into next year, that would be the biggest difference. I think that it’s a little rough to say, but we didn’t have the budget to do testing any of the dates before the races. We’d like to secure enough (of a) budget so we can go there a little bit ahead of time and do some. You hear about everybody else doing testing at this place or that place two or three days before the event and we just didn’t have the budget to do that. I think that’s a key part in making us run better.

The other thing is, we really have to look after the equipment with the little budget that we have. And that kind of affects it. You know, with a factory ride, you can pretty much just leave it all hanging out, and then everything’s fixed. If we lose a motor—we have a spare gearbox and stuff, but if we lose a motor, then we’re done for that event. So we have to be very cautious of that. And I think that affected our performance a lot.

I think that the last round we should have been in the main. I felt like we should have been into the main in New Hampshire, but like I said, there were some growing pains that we were going through there. I feel that we’ll be stronger in the future, and a consistent player into the main.

Image via Michael Crawford Motorsports Facebook

We saw a couple of major accidents by other privateer teams in the final two rounds of the season. You’ve said you’re pretty confident with the jump, but did you ever stop for a minute and rethink that in the wake of those incidents?

It’s really never been a problem for me. I just try to look at it as, I have a little bit of experience on motorcycles, so I think once you’re committed to that jump, you have to fully be committed. I would say that those accidents were situations where those guys weren’t completely, fully committed to that jump, and I believe that they somewhat panicked. Once you commit to doing it, you have to be fully committed and just do it.

In my opinion, on the jump, everybody’s so worried about that crucial speed. I don’t think it’s the crucial speed as much as jumping is a feel thing—you try to do it from the seat of your pants. But it’s never really been a concern for me. Maybe I’m not smart enough to think that much ahead! (laughs) But I think the jump is something that we’ve done (for) years and years at X Games, and to me it’s a little bit old hat. It doesn’t mean that we can’t make a mistake on it, everybody can make a mistake, and it’s an unfortunate thing.

I hope those guys recover from it well and it doesn’t deter them from coming back. But for me, you commit to it, you do it, and you don’t think any more about it. The more you think about it, you psyche yourself out.

Image via Michael Crawford Motorsports Facebook

The GRC obviously grew and expanded over the course of the season, and the series looked different in the finale at SEMA than it did in the opener at Charlotte. Overall, how do you think they handled race promotion and safety this year?

I think all the guys at GRC did a really good job with communications this year. What I don’t think everybody remembers is that those guys have a huge job that they’re doing and there’s so much that they need to look after. With everything there’s always growing pains. I think that as far as safety goes, if that refers back to the accidents that have happened this year, the thing is so new that there’s always going to be stuff that’s unforeseen, or that needs to be looked after. They have made adjustments, and I think they’re always looking for adjustments.

But I think when you look at the safety, you look at a European rallycross car, which was never meant to do the jump, or meant to be in the tight confines that we are putting these cars in. I think these cars, with the GRC stuff, will progress, be a little bit stronger, and progress in the safety features of the car. But everybody that’s really had some big crashes has come away—I wouldn’t say unhurt, but for the type of crash that they’ve had, they’ve come away pretty good, in my opinion. I think that they’ve definitely looked at it.

Image via PMR Motorsports Facebook

I think the guys at SMI, when we went to New Hampshire, did a great job of putting on a great show, and I thought they did a pretty good job down there at Texas. And they started to implement the dirt. When we started the season at Charlotte, we didn’t really have any dirt, and we went down to Texas and didn’t have any dirt, but we had the jump. And it’s progressively gotten better every event. And I think the more obstacles that you put in with these cars, you’ll see what they’re really capable of doing. But when we went to Charlotte, you didn’t even see a quarter of what the car can do, compared to later in the season, when they started to show a little bit more of their capabilities and they got to be way more exciting to watch.

Finally, what are your thoughts on the 2013 season? Are you planning to build a new car or bring back this year’s model? What are your thoughts on the schedule for next year with the Global X Games rounds?

Image via Michael Crawford Motorsports Facebook

The Global rounds sound great. There’s still a big question of who’s going and who’s not going. Those dates are approaching very fast. Our plans for next year are, we’re planning to build a new car. We’re still trying to secure the money, the sponsorship to finish the build of the car, we’ve actually already started on the car. I really don’t want to say what kind of car it is at this time, but we have started on a new car. It’s just, if we can secure enough money to complete the car. If that would be ready for the first couple of Global Rallycross (rounds) or not, I’m not sure. It depends on the finances of the whole thing.

But we feel that the current car is too big of a car, too heavy of a car, and the H-pattern gearbox is not going to make it a competitive car. It’s a decent car, but the plans are starting with a new sheet of paper, so to speak, putting the new car together, and making it something that’s very competitive with the Fords.

Pat Moro can be found on Twitter @59moro. PMR Motorsports maintains a Facebook page, Twitter @PMRMotorsports, and website. Michael Crawford Motorsports, which provided a marketing partnership for Moro in the second half of this season, can be found on Facebook here.

—Chris Leone

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Subarus Come Up Big In GRC Season Finale

Image via Subaru Rally Team

After a long and frustrating season of on-track incidents, mechanical failures, and continued car development, the Subaru Puma Rallycross Team and drivers Sverre Isachsen, Dave Mirra, and Bucky Lasek came into the Global Rallycross Championship season finale at the SEMA Show looking for a strong run to finish the season.

Finish strong they did—both Mirra and Lasek advanced to the final directly from their second heat races, scoring season-best finishes of sixth and seventh, respectively. Meanwhile, Isachsen cracked the top 10 in points, only a single point behind former Subaru driver Travis Pastrana.

Image via Subaru Rally Team

Mirra’s event looked to get off to a difficult start after a spectacular fire took him out of his first heat race on Monday night. But safe, conservative driving enabled him to avoid the troubles that Brian Deegan, Pat Moro, and Isachsen faced in the second heat, and he brought the car home in the fourth and final transfer spot. In his third final appearance of the season, he managed to avoid trouble once again to come home in a respectable sixth.

Lasek finished third in his Monday heat race and followed the same strategy as Mirra to transfer into the main event. It was Lasek’s second consecutive appearance in the final, after making the first one of his career at Las Vegas last month. While he didn’t finish in the final, he still managed to outlast European champion Timur Timerzyanov, off-road champion Bryce Menzies, and Ken Block to take seventh place.

Unfortunately, Isachsen was unable to join his Subaru teammates in the final after failing to finish both of his heat races and the last chance qualifier. However, by adding five points to his 35-point total, he managed to total 40 on the season, best among the team and enough to surpass Andy Scott for the final spot in the top 10.

The Subaru team will now focus on further developing its WRX STi model in preparation for the 2013 season. Isachsen will once again spearhead the charge, as the three-time European champion will begin the second year of his three-year contract with the team. Lasek and Mirra are expected to return as well.

– Chris Leone

Sverre Isachsen: “Everything Is Going As Planned So Far”

Image via Subaru Rally Team USA

Three-time European Rallycross champion Sverre Isachsen has had quite the transitional year in joining the Global Rallycross Championship for 2012, currently ranking 11th in points as part of the Subaru Puma Rallycross Team. Though his position in points isn’t somewhere he’s used to running, the ever-positive Isachsen insists that the team is making all the right moves in developing its WRX STi model.

Isachsen backed that up at the end of September, giving Subaru its first podium of the season at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. This week, he took some time out of his schedule to answer our questions about the second half of the season and upcoming finale at SEMA:

(Interview coordinated by Chris Yandell)

First question: you’ve changed series and cars in a big way this season after three years of ERC titles. How big of an adjustment has this season been for you?

It’s a big adjustment because I’m driving a different car from what I had been driving for several years and won three ERC championships with. The Subaru is different, but has a huge potential, something we showed in the last race in Las Vegas. The GRC is quite different from Europe also, with different type of track. I’m used to the permanent rallycross tracks we have in Europe with a lot of gravel, but here we drive on temporary tracks on ovals. It’s different, but a lot of fun.

Image via Subaru Rally Team USA

New Hampshire 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?

I love the combination of tarmac and dirt, and that’s why I love rallycross. The dirt section in New Hampshire was definitely good for the track, and made it more challenging and fun.

You had an incident at the start of your heat race at New Hampshire. What was your view of what happened, and how much damage did it do to the car?

The start was earlier than expected because of the live TV, so I didn’t have a good start, and I had an incident in the first corner. I don’t like when we have a chicane as the first corner. But incidents are a part of rallycross, and I’m always trying to be positive and look forward. That’s what I did in New Hampshire as well, even though the crash ruined that race for me. But we came back strong in Las Vegas, just as planned.

Image via Subaru Rally Team USA

Las Vegas added 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.  How was it and What did you like about
it?

Las Vegas was a lot of fun, and it was a track that suited me well. It’s interesting experiencing these different types of track layouts, as long as they are both exciting and safe.

Tell us about your podium in Vegas.  What were your goals for the Las Vegas race weekend and how did it feel to finally reach the podium after so much bad luck earlier in the year?

Our goal for this season was a podium, and we reached that goal at Round 5 in Las Vegas. We have a three year plan, and 2012 is just a learning year for us, to develop the car. I won three titles in Europe, and I’m not satisfied with just podiums in the USA. I’m going for the win, but everything is going as planned so far.

Image via Subaru Rally Team USA

Do you have anything to lose by driving all-out at the final event at SEMA?

No, not really. Another podium would be nice, and I think the track outside the SEMA show at the convention center will be a good one. We want to finish the season on a high.

Finally, how did you spend the two months while the GRC took a break before Vegas?

I was home in Norway, where heavy rain had ruined a lot of roads, and also my local rallycross track. So I volunteered to help with rebuilding the track again. It’s never a boring minute in my life!

– Chris Leone

Dave Mirra: “My Subaru (Has) Taken A Big Step On The Competitive Side”

Image via Subaru Rally Team USA

2012 has been a tough year for Subaru PUMA Rallycross Team driver Dave Mirra, with only two final appearances in the first five races of the season. But as the man with two dozen X Games medals will tell you, nothing significant is ever accomplished without perseverance and optimism—two traits that are very apparent in hearing him talk about this year. With a renewed confidence in his car, Mirra answered our questions via email about the past two race rounds and his high hopes heading into the season finale at SEMA:

(Interview coordinated by Chris Yandell)

You’ve had issues with other drivers coming into contact with you in a couple of races. Does that affect the way that you have to race, and do you change the way you drive around drivers that you’ve had issues with?

I have had a few unfortunate situations this year but I guess that’s rallycross. I don’t let it affect how I drive.

Image via Subaru Rally Team USA

Your New Hampshire heat race was one of the most wild of the season, as you had to finish it out with a shredded tire. What was taking the jump like with a three-wheeled car and how did you manage to keep it together through that last lap?

I had a blast in New Hampshire and that was the point when I felt my Subaru had taken a big step on (the) competitive side. The car felt great. (Brian) Deegan and I had a fun heat race and I really liked how the track was set up. Unfortunately I got a tire puncture on the 3rd lap and I was all in at that point of the race so I upshifted to 4th and hit the gap jump at a steady pace to keep the car stable enough to make it without any major issues. The Subaru is a tough car and can really take anything you throw at it.

We saw you start the final at New Hampshire, but you pulled off relatively quickly. What was wrong with the car, and did it have anything to do with the jump?

Just after the race started I noticed the car pulling to either side, but really inconsistent. So before I hit anything solid I figured I would call it and exit the race, play it safe. The steering had been damaged at the end of the previous race, likely landing hard on the big jump.

Image via Subaru Rally Team USA

Las Vegas added 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. What did you like about the new layout?

I love the Vegas track. We’re all learning and the last two tracks were so much fun. I can’t wait to see what the SEMA track has in store for us.

What was your mindset entering your heat race in Vegas with both of your teammates also in the field? Did you try to race differently in order to avoid accidents?

That was pretty cool. We all agreed that if any of us had an opportunity to pass then take it. Commit to your line but keep it clean. I was really happy for Bucky (Lasek) to make it to the main and Sverre (Isachsen) getting a podium in 3rd. That was huge for the subaru puma rallycross team.

What happened to you in the last chance qualifier at Las Vegas?

What happened was that I was behind Samuel (Hubinette) and Bucky coming out of the chicane leading to the table-top jump. Bucky went to the left and Samuel was on the right side of the tabletop. I had to pick a side, so I stayed right, but right then Samuel had a mechanical problem of some sort and he suddenly slowed over the jump, right as I was committing to the jump up the ramp and shifting into 4th! That was it, no chance to avoid him and I just hit him in the rear pretty hard. I pulled of the track right after that as I knew I damaged the engine.

Image via Subaru Rally Team USA

Finally, the last round of the GRC season takes place at SEMA on October 30. You’ve said that the team is getting your cars better prepared to run up front each race weekend. What would it mean to score a strong finish at SEMA, and how confident are you that you can pull it off?

We are all very excited for SEMA. The team is working so hard and the cars are getting closer to the front of the pack, we are nearly there now but have so much more potential in these cars still, we are taking it one step at a time and making good progress each event. A great finish at the last race of the year would be huge for the entire team. It would be a huge way to end the 2012 season. Fingers are crossed. See you there!

– Chris Leone

Formula Cross Adds Subaru-Inspired Body Type To Pre-Orders

Image via Formula Cross Facebook

While the folks at Rhys Millen Racing have been hard at work on getting their new Formula Cross project off the ground, one of the aspects of the car that many had been hoping for was the option to change body styles. In fact, the official Facebook page asked fans on August 21 what they would like to see as a second body style, after the current Hyundai Veloster-inspired vehicle.

Yesterday, RMR came through with a second body design, as shown in the photo. This design is based on the current Subaru WRX STis campaigned in the Global Rallycross Championship, and can be chosen to ship with pre-orders. The goal is to make fully interchangeable bodies available for all models. The series page boasts that teams can change out these bodies in about two minutes.

Formula Cross is also still accepting designs for its paint scheme contest, which runs through October 31. Participants can still download the car template from the official website and post their designs on Facebook. Winners will receive official Formula Cross gear.

– Chris Leone

Subaru Drivers’ Rotten Luck In GRC Continues At X Games

Image via Subaru Rally Team USA

Many American rally fans recognize Subaru as the pre-eminent manufacturer of rally cars in the world, given the long-standing successes of Imprezas both home and abroad. That good fortune hasn’t translated into results in the Global Rallycross Championship this year, however, as rival manufacturer Ford has been burning up the time charts and snapping up the majority of podiums all season.

In fact, not until Sverre Isachsen’s dive-bomb into the first turn of his heat race from the outside lane at X Games had a Subaru been in position to win a heat race, which the three-time defending European Rallycross champion eventually did. But from there, everything seemingly went downhill.

The bad luck began as early as the very first heat, when contact with Ken Block helped rip off the front end of team leader Dave Mirra’s car. The damage was so deep that when Mirra went out for his last chance qualifier run, he had to pull off almost immediately, his car rendered useless. He finished a disappointing 14th, missing the final for the second round in a row.

Bucky Lasek’s learning experience continued in Los Angeles as he finished a distant third, outside of a transfer spot, in his heat, and unlike Stephan Verdier’s Hyundai, was unable to close in on Liam Doran’s Citroen in the last chance qualifier. In the end, he was listed 13th.

Image via Subaru Rally Team USA

Isachsen took a front row starting spot into the final by virtue of his victory, but on the first attempted start took bumper damage that proved too much for the car to handle after the jump. Isachsen’s disabled car sat in the dirt section, blocking off the track, and for the second race in a row, he finished 10th in the final after losing his car on the first start.

Ironically, it was David Higgins, the lone participant these days in Subaru’s stage rally program, who scored the best finish overall. Higgins managed to avoid Travis Pastrana and Andy Scott’s wreck in the fourth heat, drove safely to second place to advance, and managed to come home in seventh place in the final despite throttle issues.

Coming into this week’s event at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, no Subarus are in the top ten in points. Isachsen’s 19 points are good for 11th through three rounds, a de facto 10th place as Sebastien Loeb is unlikely to compete again this season, but Mirra ranks 13th with 16 and Lasek ranks 15th with 13. For a team that came into the season with such high expectations and fanfare, 2012 has been a rough year for the Vermont SportsCar-prepared organization, and Loudon represents one of minimal opportunities to turn the season around.

– Chris Leone

X Games Preview: Subaru Puma Rallycross Team

Image via Subaru Rally Team

For years, Subaru represented the dominant manufacturer in rally racing, and such was the case as the sport began to catch on in America. Behind four-time Rally America champion Travis Pastrana, gymkhana expert Ken Block, BMX legend Dave Mirra, and 2011 Rally America champion David Higgins, Imprezas dominated the sport, leading to increased interest from rival manufacturers. Only Mirra made the transition to rallycross with the brand, but he joins two formidable drivers – three-time defending European rallycross champion Sverre Isachsen and skateboarding expert Bucky Lasek – as the brand attempts to take its first win of the season at X Games.

Here’s what to expect from the Puma-backed factory effort in Los Angeles:

#40 Dave Mirra (9th in points, 13; best finish 9th): From 1995 to 2009, Mirra scored a total of 24 medals at X Games, primarily in BMX; he scored a bronze in head-to-head rally in 2008, marking his only racing medal. This season has been a tough one for the Miracle Boy, who saw his Charlotte final end at the hands of Toomas Heikkinen and failed to make the Texas final after a poor jump landing in practice threw off his entire race day. The face of Subaru’s rallycross team doesn’t take too kindly to struggling, however, and won’t be looking to stay low in the running order in Los Angeles.

Image via Subaru Rally Team

#11 Sverre Isachsen (10th in points, 12; best finish 10th): If anybody expected the transition from European to American rallycross to be an easy one for that continent’s three-time defending champion, especially against a lot of former ERC competition, they’ve been proven very wrong. Isachsen missed the final at Charlotte when he inexplicably slowed in the last chance qualifier, and crashed out in the first of three attempts at the Texas final. Adjusting to the Subaru hasn’t been easy for the longtime Ford driver, but perhaps X Games will provide an opportunity to get back on track.

#81 Bucky Lasek (13th in points, 9; best finish 11th): One of the sport’s true rookies (remember, skateboarding was his first trade), Lasek has been adapting respectably to four much larger wheels than he’s used to. He hasn’t made it to a final yet, but his failed attempt at skipping the jump at Texas was one of the series’ most exciting moments this year, and adapting to this sport took time for the other action sports athletes who made the transition, too. Expect more from Lasek in the future, but for now, it would be a surprise if his love for X Games led to game-changing gains in his skill behind the wheel.

– Chris Leone

GRC Insider: What Makes A Rallycross Car Unique?

Image via Scott-Eklund Racing PR

To the untrained eye, the cars of the Global Rallycross Championship may appear to be no different than any other rally car. Newcomers to the series will be most familiar with the Ford Fiesta; not only do many of the series’ top drivers race Fords, but it’s also a car model that runs competitively in the World Rally Championship. Subaru and Citroen run WRC cars similar to their GRC counterparts as well, while fellow GRC entrant Hyundai prepared a WRC car of its own in the early 2000s.

But these rallycross cars aren’t the same as the ones that fans would see in the WRC, as Scott-Eklund Racing technical director Per Eklund explains. “On a World Rally car today, they’re restricted to 34 millimeters on the turbocharger. In rallycross, we have 45 millimeters. Also, the World Rally car has a maximum of 300 horsepower. In rallycross, we have 500 horsepower.”

The result is one of the quickest racing cars in the world. “The standing start on these cars, getting from 0-100 (kilometers per hour) in 2.2 seconds,” Eklund continues. “They’re quicker than Formula 1 cars (in getting to) 100 kph. And at Charlotte, in the finals, we had 10 cars with 600 horsepower that all started together.”

Meanwhile, one of the more surprising vehicles in the May 26 GRC round at Charlotte was the Saab 9-3. Scott-Eklund campaigned two Saabs, making it to the main event with both, and finished fourth and fifth with drivers Andy Scott and Samuel Hubinette.

Image via Scott-Eklund Racing PR

Scott has been a Ford driver in Europe, taking a Focus to second in last year’s British championship and 11th in the European championship, and says that both manufacturers offer their own advantages.

“The Ford is a high torque car, so you’re short shifting all the time. The quickest way around the circuit is to keep making it pull using all the torque that’s available. The Saab is a different animal. It has a wider power band. It’s not as strong at the bottom end, but it’s strong at the top end. It’s a different driving style for both cars.

“At the moment I have a lot more seat time with the Ford, but each time I get in the Saab I get more comfortable with it, and a little quicker. So I’m hoping that there’s still more to come through the year as we get more seat time.”

“The good thing with the Saab is the engine,” notes Eklund. “We have a very, very strong engine. It’s a steel block with a lot of horsepower. It’s a strong car. I think it’s very good for this Global Rallycross.”

The GRC race setup, with its jumps and hard landing on tarmac, proves demanding on the cars, requiring tough cars and even tougher suspensions. Between races, Eklund says that teams have to do a complete rebuild on their cars.

“We did all the preparation for the car, we rebuilt everything after the last race. Everything is ready for next weekend. So Monday or Tuesday the first car needs to leave from the workshop. We’ve been working every day, so this has been a hard week for us. But this is the game.”

– Chris Leone