At first glance, the Global Rallycross track laid out in the parking lot across from the Luxor and Mandalay Bay casinos for the Las Vegas season finale didn’t seem to offer the same amount of drama as last year’s design. Seemingly smoother – and almost exclusively tarmac, save for the table jump – the event was also lacking the charged atmosphere that went along with 2012’s championship-deciding race, as the 2013 points win had already been claimed by a dominant Toomas Heikkinen.
It’s always the wrong call, however, to assume that a Global Rallycross race is going to unfold by-the-numbers. Despite the asphalt, the GRC drivers on hand managed to not only deliver an exceptionally exciting main event, but also three nail-biting heats leading up to the ultimate checkered flag of the season.
For those not familiar with Global Rallycross, here’s a quick primer on this unique brand of motorsport. A short course is constructed with jumps, dirt and water elements, as well as optional ‘joker’ segments, which typically offer a short-cut that can be taken once during a particular heat. Occasionally, there are also obstacles that must be braved at least once between flags. Competitors pilot 600 horsepower, turbocharged all-wheel drive compacts and subcompacts that can hit 60-mph quicker than a Formula One car, sliding door-to-door, rally-style, in several qualifying heats leading up to the final race of the night. Each heat is between four and six laps long, with a ten lap decider at the end.
To those used to 500-mile oval races, or six-hour endurance challenges, that might not seem like much of a test of man or machine. Spend even a short amount of time watching a Global Rallycross heat, thoug, and you’ll quickly realize that the amount of abuse that these cars suffer at the hands of not just constant contact from rival drivers but also the punishing jumps and slides that are par for the GRC course is easily the match of any more extensive series.
Carnage was light in the first two qualifying heats Thursday afternoon, although casualties included Brian Deegan’s Ford Fiesta, which suffered severe wheel damage after contact with a barrier. The damage was irreparable, and left him unable to compete in the last chance qualifier or the points race. Rhys Millen also encountered engine troubles in his Hyundai, but scraped the car back together for a run at the final. The last chance qualifier – which is a four-lap scramble to place an entry in the 10-lap money race at the end of the evening – saw the craziest action of the Las Vegas finale, with several cars including Sverre Isachsen’s Subaru spinning into the guardrails just ahead of the table jump only to continue on and finish the event missing huge portions of their body work.
By the time the 10 lap season-ending race got underway, there was no clear favorite as to who would take home the last win of the year. So much depended on the start, due to the track’s first right-hand corner leading into another sweeping right hander that made passing precarious at best. Taking advantage of a stop-and-go penalty handed out to rival Tanner Foust for jumping the gun at the starting line, Ford driver Ken Block was able to snatch the lead and never look back, running a largely uneventful race out front oblivious to the pounding and banging behind him. It was the first series win for Block, despite having won 11 of 14 heats in 2013 alone. Foust’s Ford and Travis Pastrana in a Dodge Dart rounded out the top three.
The second season of the Global Rallycross series was a success for the fledgling series – so much so, in fact, that Red Bull was announced as the title sponsor for the 2014 edition of GRC. The deal spans multiple years and should bring even more exposure to the sport in the United States and abroad.