The new Global RallyCross Championship series made its debut last weekend (March 25-26) in Irwindale, California. We asked writer/photographer and longtime rally fan John Rettie to cover the event. Here are his impressions:
Seemingly out of nowhere news of a new rallycross series broke back in February. Despite its grandiose name -- Global RallyCross Championship -- this three-event series is very much a U.S.-only happening, at least for this year. [It will be followed by three rallycross events held in conjunction with The Off Road Championship (TORC). Altogether, the six events make up the RallyCarTM U.S. Rallycross Championship. Go to the RallyCar site for more information.]
Nevertheless, the series is significant, as its three rounds lead up to X Games Rally at the end of July. After the somewhat disappointing rallycross show at X Games last summer, many people were not sure if the inaugural Global RallyCross Championship event held at Toyota Speedway in Irwindale (just east of Los Angeles) this past weekend would be a success.
Fans of rallycross were not disappointed despite initial fears that the tight track would diminish the chance for close races. The track consisted of dirt and paved sections inside the half-mile oval along with a joker 70-foot jump, which is the first time this spectator favorite has been used on a rallycross course outside of X Games Rally.
The first rounds on Friday went off smoothly with just one significant roll by Jimmy Keeney, from Colorado Springs, a privateer driving his Subaru WRX STI. He was uninjured despite rolling end over end several times after failing to gain the speed required to traverse the 70-foot chasm. Ironically, he was the only entrant in the unmodified 4WD class, so he would have won if he’d not crashed.
Incidentally, the 2WD cars, of which there were only a handful of entries, put on a really good show. They did not have to cross the jump as they never would have made it, since the jump speed was 50 mph.
Nobody was surprised that two-time World Rally Championship champ Marcus Grönholm driving the Best Buy Ford Fiesta took top honors on Friday. However, he only just managed to fend off Michael Jernberg, a four-time Swedish rallycross champ driving a Skoda Fabia, who is skipping European events this year to compete in the Global RallyCross series.
Due to the short notice of this new series, several teams were caught out, as they had planned to prepare cars for X Games in July. This included Subaru Rally Team USA, which had to scramble to get an all-new car ready for the first race. The team felt it was more important to test away from the track, so team driver Dave Mirra was a no-show on Friday.
The team was there in full force on Saturday, but inevitably the all-new 2011 Subaru WRX STI, specially built for rallycross, suffered teething problems in its first-ever outing. There were 10 cars in the unlimited 4WD class, and all of them -- bar one -- suffered a failure of one thing or another in at least one of the three heat races. Thanks to skillful driving, Mirra managed to make it into the final race along with three Ford Fiestas, one Hyundai Veloster (driven by Rhys Millen), and another Subaru WRX STI (driven by Stephan Verdier).
Amazingly, there was little bodywork damage, and five cars finished. The biggest surprise was the strong podium performance by Verdier, who took his privately entered Crawford Performance 2006 Subaru WRX STI to a 3rd-place finish, just 2.5 seconds behind Tanner Foust in the Rockstar Ford Fiesta, who was four seconds behind Grönholm. Mirra and Millen finished 4th and 5th, respectively.
The second round of the Global RallyCross series will take place in Snoqualmie, Washington (April 15-16). The third and final round will be in Colorado at the Pikes Peak International Raceway (June 17-18). The leading drivers then will be invited to compete in the sixth running of the rally competition at ESPN’s X Games in Los Angeles on July 31. There is no official word yet on where it will take place. The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum did not pan out last year, and most X Games events will take place at STAPLES Center in downtown Los Angeles. We presume the grand finale of the 2011 Global RallyCross series will take place nearby.
The rallycross action in Irwindale will be shown on a two-hour special on ESPN2 at 10 p.m. EDT on April 17.
In case you did not see the final race on espn3.com when it was shown live, you can watch it here.