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GRC Season Review: Pat Moro, Part 1

Image via PMR Motorsports Facebook

Running a competitive team in the Global Rallycross Championship isn’t the easiest of tasks, even for a factory-supported organization. But Ohio’s Pat Moro, a longtime Rally America competitor and two-time Production GT champion in that series, is attempting to do just that with his privateer team, PMR Motorsports.

Campaigning the No. 59 Subaru WRX STi in five of six GRC events this season, Moro carried the backing of S4 Optics earlier in the season before entering a marketing partnership with Michael Crawford Motorsports later in the season. Las Vegas and SEMA saw PMR representing brands like Venom Energy, In-Vest USA, and VP Racing Fuels, all while posting some of its most competitive runs of the season. Despite running with a fraction of the budget that the top GRC teams possess, Moro’s team appeared to be on the verge of breaking out.

In the first part of our season review, Moro discusses switching to rallycross from stage rally, succeeding in the transition to the mechanical jump, and making the most out of his team’s finances:

Image via PMR Motorsports Facebook

You’ve been competitive in stage rally for years, but this year your focus was completely on rallycross and the GRC. When did you decide to make that switch, and how different are the cars you’re racing now from the ones you prepared for Rally America?

These cars—we have two cars that we pretty much put together originally for rallycross, because in stage rally we’ve always done the production-based class cars. That’s one of the issues with going to X Games, we’ve always qualified in a production-based car, (instead of) an open class car or a rallycross car. We actually built those cars two years ago and then made some other changes to the cars to make them more competitive for rallycross.

We pretty much figured at the beginning of last year that we were going to start focusing on rallycross and drift away from stage rally, which was a hard decision for me to make because stage rally has always been a pretty near and dear thing to my heart. We figured that this is the avenue that’s going to have the most growth for us and the direction we needed to go.

Image via Michael Crawford Motorsports Facebook

Some of the sponsorship on your car this year appeared to come over from the Michael Crawford Motorsports organization. How and when did that partnership come about?

We ran into (MCM) at Texas and talked a little bit, and it kind of came about last minute. It’s not really a full done deal by any stretch of the imagination. They brought a little more of a marketing side to us and not so much the technical side. It’s more of a marketing partnership than on the technical side yet because pretty much anything we’ve done we do in-house. So far the technology has been all stuff that we have.

You actually ran two cars at Charlotte, one for you and one for Tim Rooney. Was there any benefit from a data-gathering standpoint to running a second car in the season opener?

Actually, we found out that with the limited budget that we had, it’s probably better for us to back down to one car. We’re not spending twice as much money to get the other car up to the same things that we’re trying, so we found out that it’s beneficial to back down and concentrate on one car than it is to try and run two cars with the budget that we have.

Image via PMR Motorsports Facebook

Texas marked the debut of the mechanical jump, as opposed to the dirt jump that we saw at X Games and other GRC events in the past. Did you have to make major adjustments from using one surface to the other?

You know, I didn’t think it was that big of a deal at all, because your trajectory is pretty much the same. When your car leaves the ramp, you’re pretty much just a passenger at that point. The only thing that was a little bit different was the dirt absorbs the jump a little bit better when you land on it, so it’s a little bit smoother of a landing. It’s a little bit harder (on the ramp), but it was no problem to adjust to it at all.

The question arriving at the SEMA event was, what speed do you have to hit the jump at now that we’ve gone back to dirt? Pretty much all that stuff stays the same. So for me, at least, it wasn’t a big change for me to go from the dirt to mechanical, and the mechanical back to dirt. I thought it was pretty similar for us.

Image via PMR Motorsports Facebook

We’ve seen you compete at X Games plenty of times before, but this year it was the only round of the championship that you missed. Why weren’t you there, and was it frustrating to skip a major event like that?

That was more of a financial situation there for us. An opportunity came available for us if we sat back, it became a little bit better financially for us to not be there. It was a little frustrating because obviously you always want to be there and competing, but it worked out and gave us a lot more strength for the end of the season. It gave us money to finish out the season a little bit stronger than what we had.

It definitely seemed like the car was a lot faster in the second half of the season. Were there any significant changes that you made to the car as the season progressed?

Image via PMR Motorsports Facebook

A lot! Being that we had a limited budget, we don’t really have a budget to be doing testing. So all of our testing is actually at the event. When we were at New Hampshire, we thought we had some things figured out—there are a lot of things to learn about the rallycross car compared to the stage rally cars. These cars were a measuring stick, but we made a lot of changes from there.

The biggest change and the biggest help, I have to give some credit to Garrett. They came on board, stepped up, and helped us out with their engineering and some different stuff with the turbos. So at the last round the car was pretty competitive, a lot closer than it’s been at any of the other events. I have to give credit where it’s due. Our guys are understanding the car more, and the more we log that stuff and play with those numbers the better it’ll get.

I think the biggest difference in competitiveness with the car right now is we’re running the H-pattern gearbox, and everybody else is using a sequential. So I think that’s our biggest downfall right now.

Coming up, Moro discusses the second half of his season, going back to the dirt jump at SEMA, and his thoughts on the 2013 season.

—Chris Leone

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GRC Season Review: Brian Deegan, Part 1

Image via Ford Racing Facebook

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

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

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

Image via Ford Racing Facebook

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

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

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

Image via Ford Racing Facebook

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

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

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

Image via Ford Racing Facebook

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

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

Image via Ford Racing Facebook

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

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

Image via Ford Racing Facebook

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

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

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

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

—Chris Leone

GRC Season Review: Andy Scott, Part 1

Image via Hazel PR

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

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

Image via Hazel PR

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

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

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

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

Image via Hazel PR

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

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

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

Image via Hazel PR

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

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

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

—Chris Leone

GRC Insider: Projecting The 2013 Schedule, Part 2

Image via Ford Racing Facebook

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

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

    Chances of appearing on 2013 schedule: Off

    Conflicts with European Rallycross Championship: None

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

    Image via Ford Racing Facebook

    Chances of appearing on 2013 schedule: Likely

    Conflicts with European Rallycross Championship: None

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

    Chances of appearing on 2013 schedule: Unlikely

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

  • August 24: Sonoma Raceway

    Image via Subaru Rally Team

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

    Chances of appearing on 2013 schedule: Unlikely

    Conflicts with European Rallycross Championship: None

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

    Chances of appearing on 2013 schedule: Possible

    Conflicts with European Rallycross Championship: None

  • Image via Ford Racing Facebook

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

    Chances of appearing on 2013 schedule: Possible

    Conflicts with European Rallycross Championship: None (season over)

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

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

    Conflicts with European Rallycross Championship: None, if in October

Image via Ford Racing Facebook

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

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

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

—Chris Leone

GRC Season Review: Ian Davies, Part 1

Image via Ian Davies Motorsport Facebook

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

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

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

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

Image via Marcus Gronholm’s Twitter

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

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

Image via Ford Racing Facebook

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

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

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

Image via Ford Racing Facebook

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

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

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

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

—Chris Leone

GRC Season Review: Stephan Verdier, Part 1

Image via Rhys Millen Racing

Stephan Verdier made the jump from competitive privateer to fully-funded professional race driver in this year’s Global Rallycross Championship, signing with Rhys Millen Racing to pilot the No. 12 Disney XD/Motorcity Hyundai Veloster. It was a big step up from last year’s Subaru Impreza, although he had taken three podiums in that car last season and finished fifth in GRC points.

However, Verdier would have to overcome multiple obstacles to produce a competitive performance in 2012. Most significantly, he would not start the season with the new, high-powered engine that Millen had, and would wait to receive it until X Games. The engine would also suffer delays that would prevent him from racing with his original chassis and the new motor until Las Vegas in September.

But without knowing the delays ahead coming into the season, Verdier produced another podium finish in the season opener at Charlotte Motor Speedway and looked to carry on momentum from there. Today, we talk about the first half of his season, including the highs of Charlotte and the lows of X Games:

After years of competing as a privateer in Formula Drift and rallycross, this was your first year with a factory team as you joined Rhys Millen Racing. You came out of it with a podium finish at Charlotte and sixth in the championship. What were your general thoughts on the season?

Image via Rhys Millen Racing

On the sport of rallycross, I think it was great. We had a lot of issues, but I think overall the sport that we showed to the American fans was a good product. I think it was definitely a success. Me and Rhys worked out great, much better than I was expecting—it’s always hard to do business with a friend, but Rhys was fantastic in the way he handled everything. We had some disappointment during the season with the enging on my car not being ready when it was supposed to, but that wasn’t really anybody’s fault. That was the only big part of it.

I think the Hyundais, the way RMR built the car was great. The car was really reliable. We didn’t have any mechanical issues while we were on track, the few we had were caused by a crash or something. Otherwise, we never had to stop because we lost a tranny or an engine, everything was perfect. That was a success.

On my side, finishing sixth was a disappointment. I wanted to win the championship, but it didn’t work out. On the drivers’ side, I think the one big mistake I made was New Hampshire, when I crashed into Liam (Doran). That was the one that cost me a lot. The rest, I think the season was great, even the last one at SEMA—I think (my run) was bad luck, but it wasn’t my fault or anybody else on the team. But overall, I think it was good! I was pretty happy with the season, I would do it again. If I had the money or the sponsor I would re-sign with Rhys tomorrow! (laughs)

Image via BeyondTheRedLine.org

Let’s talk about that podium at Charlotte. How important was it for you and the team to start the season off on the right foot by coming in third in the first race?

Oh, it was huge. It was huge for me personally, because always when you come as a new driver into a team, you always talk the talk, but you have to prove it. It was even better because my car had the small engine. Managing to get third in that race with a little bit of luck was still amazing. It was the first podium for Hyundai and the team in rallycross, so it definitely (said to) the team, “we have the right equipment, we have the right drivers, it’s going to be a good season.” It was definitely a great start—I mean, it could have been better if we had won!. But apart from winning the race, it was great, especially with the two Fords in front of us. We thought “okay, we can hang tough, and we can keep up with the Fords.” That was the big thing.

You seemed to have some struggles in qualifying at Texas. But you made it through the last chance qualifier and eventually salvaged sixth place in the final. You even kept third in points heading into X Games. What did you have to overcome in that race?

Image via Rhys Millen Racing

In Texas there were some issues with the turbo. They were old turbos from last year, and unfortunately, because we were supposed to have the new engines, we were not planning on using those turbos this year. With the engine being delayed every race, we couldn’t use that it equipment, and it would bite us. So we didn’t have a choice. It wasn’t a good weekend on the qualifying, but we got by the LCQ and did pretty good in the finals.

Going into X Games, we were hoping to get the engine for that race, so I was really pumped to go in third place. I thought X Games could be the one where we’d do really good, and secure for us a spot in the top three in the championship. Especially when you have six races, every race is really important. It was definitely an average result, but it translated into a lot of confidence going into X Games.

Of course, you’ve called X Games a disappointment before. It was your worst finish of the season, in 12th place, as you couldn’t quite chase down Liam Doran in the last chance qualifier. What kept you from being competitive there, and why didn’t you push Liam out of the way in the LCQ?

Image via Rhys Millen Racing Flickr

The engine. (laughs) That’s what it was. We were hoping to have the engine for X Games, and we got it about two days too late. It wasn’t enough time to put it in the car and take all the chances, so we had to go to X Games with the small engine. And when you have less horsepower than everybody else, it’s always tough. Being X Games, everybody was pushing 100 percent, pushing the engine to the max.

In the LCQ I was against Liam in the C4, and that car is a monster. I tried everything I could. I was catching up in the corners, I was catching up in the dirt, but as soon as the straight came between the corners he put two lengths between me every time. I was trying really hard to get close and come back to him, on the last lap I was really, really close to being right next to him. There was one turn where he made a mistake. And we both said “how come you didn’t push him?” Well, I tried! (laughs) I was about six inches too far. I tried to touch him or give him a nudge, but it was six inches too far forward.

At that time, that was my biggest disappointment, because I knew then it wasn’t the chassis that held us back. It wasn’t me. It was the engine. We couldn’t compete with the rest of the series because the power wasn’t there. It was really disappointing, but it was one race we wanted to be good at. X Games is the Super Bowl of rallycross for us in the U.S., and that was the first time I didn’t make the final. It was really sad to stay on the sideline and watch these guys driving, but that’s the way it was.

Check back tomorrow as Stephan breaks down the second half of his season and more.

—Chris Leone

GRC Insider: Nine Races In 2013

Photo credit: Matthew Kalish

According to a source with knowledge of the situation, the 2013 Global Rallycross Championship schedule will consist of nine rounds, rather than the eight previously alluded to in national broadcasts.

Four of the rounds will follow the Global X Games series as previously announced. Those events will take place in Foz de Iguaçu, Brazil on April 18-21; Barcelona, Spain on May 9-12; Munich, Germany on May 27-30; and Los Angeles, California on August 1-4. The Winter X Games rounds in Aspen, Colorado and Tignes, France will not appear on the schedule.

What is currently less certain is where the series will run its five standalone events, all of which will take place in the United States. A return to the SEMA Show in Las Vegas, scheduled for November 5-8, is likely given the success of that event.

Though the official list isn’t finalized, it reportedly features a return to some NASCAR tracks as well as IndyCar tracks, suggesting that there could be more city street races in the GRC’s future. While the source did not name any venues explicitly, some of the more successful events, like Texas and New Hampshire, would fit into current gaps in the schedule. Andretti Sports Marketing, which promoted the SEMA event, also runs IndyCar events at Milwaukee (set for June 15 next year) and Baltimore (September 1), and would like to stage a race in Fort Lauderdale, Florida next season as well.

—Chris Leone

GRC Season Review: Samuel Hubinette, Part 1

Image via Hazel PR

It wasn’t until the very weekend of the Global Rallycross Championship season opener at Charlotte Motor Speedway that Samuel Hubinette had nailed down a ride for 2012. Even then, it was only a one-race deal; he would drive the second Scott-Eklund Racing Saab 9-3 with sponsorship from ENEOS Oil and Magnaflow, with the rest of the season an uncertainty.

Two weeks later, after a fifth-place finish in the season opener, Hubinette was equipped with a full-season contract and exactly one weekend’s worth of seat time in the car. But the versatile stunt driver and two-time Formula Drift champion, armed with the Saab’s muscle and top speed, managed to run up front in nearly every subsequent race.

While the finishes didn’t always come, Hubinette still managed to score third place in championship points with 63, even as Scott-Eklund Racing dissolved and gave way to Eklund Motorsport in the final two races. In the first of a two-part interview, he talked to us about overcoming obstacles, racing without pressure, and staying positive as his team worked through the early-season kinks:

Image via Hazel PR

Your deal came together the Thursday before the race. You were with a privateer team that had no factory backing, driving an older and larger car. And despite all that, you managed to post a third place finish in the championship. How did you put together a consistent run like that all year?

I think it’s the combination of several things, that we ended up in third place. We had some ups and downs throughout the season, too—it wasn’t like we were flowing easy with no mechanical problems. I had those going on for me, too. At Charlotte I lost power steering in the A final, but still managed to get up to fifth place there. At Texas, we ran strong in second or third place but then the prop shaft broke. We moved on to X Games, and that’s where I was running really strong in the first A final, where I was in third place chasing Tanner (Foust). At that time (he) had power steering issues, so I felt like I was going to possibly pass him, but then we got a red flag and a restart. Then at the restart I was run into from behind in the first corner, got a flat tire, and got taken out there.

Then we moved to New Hampshire, and New Hampshire was the best race of the season, where there was no restart going on. I was fighting for first place and was happy finishing second there and being on the podium. It felt like a great bonus there with so much trial and error coming up to that event. After that we moved over to Las Vegas, where we really had a rough week. We had boost problems which unfortunately the team couldn’t quite figure out. So I didn’t have power in a regular start with the launch button and such, and then finishing up with a flat tire. We really had a lot of rough stuff… it’s amazing we finished third.

Image via Hazel PR

Then going into the last round, I got the short end (of the stick). I was the unlucky one, running in second place again behind Tanner, and then only a lap and a half away (from the finish) another red flag comes out. We did a full restart again. And after that full restart put me in my original starting spot, not where I was placed—I expected to be in second place, knowing I was running in second place. After that, I had some mishaps there, following Tanner, and ended up fourth place. But with a small budget, finishing third place for the whole season, that means many other teams having a lot of driving too, a lot of big crashes and such. It’s a combination of us running stronger than many other guys with multimillion dollar budgets. All of us are very happy that we could bring home third place for our sponsors, ENEOS, Magnaflow, Denso, and of course Eklund Motorsport after putting in so much effort here.

Your first practice in Charlotte was the first time you stepped into the Saab 9-3. I know you’ve driven all sorts of cars in your career, but how quickly did you adjust to this one?

To adapt to different vehicles has been my strength, which really helped me there. First of all, I had never done a full launch control start with this type of car, so just the start procedure and getting it right had to be learned really fast, and I didn’t get to do too many starts before the actual race because I did just roll into Charlotte the same day as qualifications, in the afternoon. At that time I hadn’t driven the car more than to the wrap company. I picked it up because we didn’t have time to roll down the trailer. I grabbed the car and drove it straight into the infield.

Image via Hazel PR

The positive thing was that I had no expectations on me. No one thought that I was going to do well at all with no seat time and also a car that hadn’t been sorted out for GRC. So that put me in a nice position where I could sort of be relaxed and just have fun, and I really did. I was having a blast! And to learn everything as quickly as I did, as quick as possible, really worked out well. I was running in third place into the last lap, where I got rear-ended and spun out and ended up finishing fifth in that race.

So that was a good start, and it was giving all of us a great boost to continue pushing strong and getting all the racing details figured out after that. That was a one weekend deal at the time. After that weekend, I had to go back and work on a season contract and all the financial aspects involved with that. It was a crazy, stressful time.

You got the full season deal done and continued to run strongly. You were running as high as second at both Texas and X Games before the mechanical issues at those tracks. But given the lack of results at the time, does that become frustrating that you’re running up front and having bad luck? Or was it something that made you say “we can be there, and the finishes are going to come eventually”?

You’ve got to just be mentally strong in racing, because if you take each technical problem too (hard) you’re going to go into depression and lose focus on achieving victories. When those things happen, you look at all the positive things, like you said. “Hey, you know, we were up there, we can be there as soon as we get all these different pieces together. That’s going to make a podium finish.” It really gave me hope to see that I was running up there in the top three several times. The red flag came out and a big restart happened, and then things went down and such. That’s how it is—just be a positive thinker and move forward.

Check back tomorrow for Part 2, in which Hubinette breaks down the second half of his season and more.

—Chris Leone

GRC Insider: Hubinette Pushing For Championship Despite Team Shakeup

Image via Samuel Hubinette Racing Facebook

Coming off of a second place finish in New Hampshire, Samuel Hubinette ranks second in Global Rallycross Championship points heading into Saturday night’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Though he’ll be competing in the same No. 77 ENEOS Motor Oil Saab 9-3 that he has all season, it will no longer be under the banner of Scott-Eklund Racing.

“What’s different now is that I’m running with Per Eklund only, not Scott-Eklund anymore,” Hubinette said via phone interview on Thursday. “It’s only Per Eklund with me. So there have been some changes due to, I guess, some internal issues. But I’m still in the same car, same sponsor, same mechanics, so I’m very excited about this upcoming weekend.

“It’s been great having Per working with me. We’ve been communicating really well. He’s been really helpful.”

Per Eklund Motorsport campaigned Toomas Heikkinen in the 2011 European Rallycross Championship, while Eklund himself won a Swedish national event last September in the 9-3 as well. Owing to the split, Eklund will only campaign a single car for the final two races of the season. Despite the disadvantage of losing a teammate, Hubinette admits that there are definite positives to the downsizing.

“You know, the reality is now all focus is going to be on my car, and actually the second car is now spare parts for me,” Hubinette added. “Now I have more parts and the crew is only focused on my car. It turns out to be not a bad deal for me.”

Image via Samuel Hubinette Racing Facebook

With the team unrest settled, Hubinette can focus on closing the gap between him and points leader Tanner Foust. He currently has 50 points, while Foust leads the championship with 62, but his focus is single-minded: taking victories.

“I’m going out to win, that’s always what I’m doing, and then we’ll see what happens with the rest. It’s a tight battle for the championship now, and we get to drop one event too, which mixes it up a little bit. As of now, I’m second, which is cool, and we’re very proud of that achievement knowing that we shook hands on the Thursday before the Charlotte event, the night before, and went out there and had no experience in the car.”

With that in mind, however, Hubinette won’t dodge the possibility of bad luck, which took away two potential podium finishes at Texas and X Games. He suffered part failure in Texas, while Sverre Isachsen’s incident in the X Games final reset the field while Hubinette ran second; on the restart, contact dropped him to a ninth place finish. The 17 points that he theoretically lost in those events would put him in the championship lead.

Image via Samuel Hubinette Racing Facebook

“Staying away from bad luck is a lottery,” Hubinette admits. “I’m just thinking positive and doing my best to stay away from contact with other cars. But we’re talking about Global Rallycross. It’s six laps and everybody wants to get into the first corner first, so anything can happen. I’m going to do my best to get a good start and have a good qualifying lap so I can be up on the front row.

“I’m confident, but bad luck can happen to anyone. You don’t know the future—it can happen to all of us. You can’t predict an engine failure or gearbox or tires or someone running into you from behind, like happened to me at X Games when Ken Block ran into me from behind. You just have to stay positive and do your best, and hope for some luck too. If you have the combination and do some flawless runs, then you can be on the podium.”

Hubinette also admits that overcoming the other Swedish-based team—Olsbergs MSE, which fields Ford Fiestas for Foust and the other three drivers in the top five in points—will be a great challenge.

“I think I have some tough competition—the Ford Fiestas have been running good, they were developed for years with Andreas Eriksson and they’re much lighter cars than the other cars in the field, including my car. The weight disadvantage that I have doesn’t help me in small hairpin corners when you’re coming out real slow in first gear, that’s when they basically leave you and you have to make it up in some other place. So it’s a challenge having a much heavier and bigger car. I’m just going to have to drive smart and try to make it up where I can.

“(But) I’m definitely fired up, it’s really cool to have the ENEOS Motor Oil rally car up in second place in the championship chase.”

– Chris Leone

GRC Insider: Foust, Deegan Tied For Lead In Discount Tire/America’s Tire Cup

Photo credit: Matthew Kalish

Six drivers are within 11 points of the lead in the three-race Discount Tire/America’s Tire Cup, the $25,000 “championship within a championship” that the Global Rallycross Championship will award after the completion of Saturday night’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Through the first two races at Texas Motor Speedway and New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Olsbergs MSE teammates Tanner Foust and Brian Deegan share the lead in the standings with 32 points apiece. Scott-Eklund Racing’s Samuel Hubinette ranks third with 28 points, while Travis Pastrana holds fourth place with 23. Behind them, three drivers—Ken Block, David Binks, and the still-inactive Marcus Gronholm—share fifth place with 21 points each.

Theoretically, any of these six drivers could walk out of Vegas with the $25,000 bonus.

Foust and Deegan are the likely favorites, given their consistency all season. Foust scored finishes of second at Texas and fourth in Loudon, while Deegan placed third in both events. They’re also the only two drivers in the series to win heats in both events.

Photo credit: Matthew Kalish

Pastrana and Hubinette both established themselves as legitimate threats for the bonus at New Hampshire after finishing 1-2 in both their heat race and the final. For Pastrana, the victory was a relief after a series of DNFs in the first three events; for Hubinette, it was the realization of untapped potentials after multiple mechanical failures while running at the front of the pack at Texas and X Games.

For Block and Binks, the road has been a bit more difficult. Each has scored a fifth and an eighth place finish in the two previous bonus events, leaving them 11 points back of the lead. The position must be especially frustrating for Binks, who had been running exceptionally well at Loudon before a broken driveshaft ended his final early.

Two other drivers—Stephan Verdier and Andy Scott—are tied for eighth with 19 points apiece and could mathematically steal the title, but Scott announced on Wednesday that he would not race at Las Vegas. As for Verdier, he’d need a lot of help; to start, either Foust or Deegan would have to miss the final, while the other would have to finish 10th without winning a heat. Beyond that, the other drivers ahead would have to miss the podium in almost every case.

– Chris Leone