-- by guest journalist John Rettie
At the beginning of the year, Global RallyCross (GRC) organizers said there would be six rounds in the 2012 championship. One date and venue, though, remained unannounced until September. It would be held in a parking lot at the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) Show in Las Vegas in late October. The SEMA Show is the gigantic annual trade-only exhibition that draws 100,000 visitors from around the world. They come to see the latest parts, tools, and trends in modified cars. It’s a wild show with some amazing vehicles on display.
Many GRC regulars who have followed the series since its inaugural race in March 2011 wondered if this would be a suitable place for the final round of the 2012 season. Those doubts were unfounded; the race turned out to be one of the best, if not the best, of the year.
Good as Gold
The Gold Parking Lot, as it is known, normally holds close to 2,000 cars for those attending exhibitions at the giant Las Vegas Convention Center. However, for this event, all but a small part of the parking lot was transformed into a temporary rallycross track and paddock.
Many truckloads of dirt were hauled in, and earthmovers created a figure-8 track with almost half of the course run on dirt, just the way a genuine rallycross track should be. For the first time this year, the 70-foot jump was formed from dirt instead of the unpopular steel jump that had been utilized at previous venues.
Subaru PUMA RallyCross Team (SPRT) leader Sverre Isachsen had finished a strong 3rd at the previous round, garnering the team its first podium finish of the season. The mood was upbeat as the year’s development of the cars was beginning to pay off.
Although the rallycross WRX STI might look similar to the SRT USA rally car from the outside, there are considerable differences under the hood and in suspension setups. For starters, the GRC engine produces close to 600 hp compared to around 300 hp in a rally car. The radiator also is moved to the rear of the car to be less prone to collecting mud and overheating the car and so it’s out of harm’s way in the inevitable fender benders that occur in rallycross events.
The Heats Unfold
Sadly, fender benders kept Isachsen from repeating his success from the previous race. He was punted out of his qualifying round as well as the first heat race and the Last Chance Qualifier, so he was a nonstarter in the Final.
Dave Mirra kept out of trouble in the first heat race and finished 4th, putting him in the Final. Likewise, Bucky Lasek also made it through his heat race for a spot in the Final for the second time in a row.
Even though the first turn (on pavement) at the SEMA course was much wider than prior races this year, it was still important to make it through to the front to have any chance of winning. Ken Block had been fastest in qualifying, so it was not surprising to find him leading the pack of 10 drivers as they scrambled into the first turn. Tanner Foust stayed on Block’s tail until a couple of laps before the finish, when he squeezed by. However, Block had smoke in his car, and he pulled over just as flames appeared. The race was red flagged as fire crews raced to extinguish the fire.
The organizers could have called the race, but decided to let the nine cars rerun the Final – a real treat for the drivers, spectators, and those watching the event live on ESPN. This time Foust got the lead at the start and managed to hold off a hard-charging Brain Deegan to finish 1st in the race and take the championship. Mirra and Lasek finished 6th and 7th, respectively, which were the best results for the two drivers all season.
Lasek was particularly pleased with his showing after completing the Finals in the last two events. He started the year as a rallycross rookie and drove cautiously in the first four races. You could see his increased confidence as he flung his WRX STI around the SEMA course as wildly as anyone. Lasek, one of the world’s top skateboarders, has competed in a variety of racing disciplines. However, this was his first season as a professional race driver.
“I certainly don’t feel like a rookie anymore, and it was nice to end the season with another trip to the Final,” said Lasek after the Final. “I’m steadily getting more comfortable in the Subaru WRX STI; it’s all about seat time and learning the limits this year. This is an amazing opportunity that Subaru and PUMA have given me, and as a new team with a new car, we have all worked so hard this season.”
Isachsen summed up the season succinctly: “2012 has been a learning year for us as we developed the Subaru WRX STI for rallycross; we knew that from the start. We achieved a podium at the [next to] last round, and so we know we have made very good progress. I’m looking forward to 2013 now where we will be even stronger.”
A photo gallery from the race weekend can be seen here.