Event Coverage: 2014 Global Rallycross Vegas Style
The 2014 Global Rallycross season wrapped up for the 3rd consecutive year in Las Vegas, but at the Linq Hotel and Casino for the first time. The Strip's reputation for being flashy and over-the-top could only be upstaged by one of the most exciting finales in Red Bull GRC history. Four drivers were vying for top spot on the podium in the Supercar title- Joni Wiman, Ken Block, Nelson Piquet Jr., and Scott Speed.
Subaru Rally Team USA driver Sverre Isachsen held off Wiman and Brian Deegan to be the victor at the last race at DirtFish Rally School in September. Would he be capable of spoiling any contenders in Vegas?
Previous winners of the Vegas GRC include Ken Block last year and Tanner Foust in 2012, also locking up the championship, and both were back for this event. Lots of skill on the track, so let's round out the top contenders. “In this corner…”:
– Joni Wiman in #31 Olsbergs MSE Ford Fiesta ST- rookie and defending GRC Lites champion has a 12 point lead over Block. There are 56 points available at each Red Bull GRC event so his margin is pretty narrow. Wiman could clinch the championship with a 2nd place finish and even possibly seal up the title with a finish as low as fourth place.
– Ken Block in #43 Hoonigan Racing Division Ford Fiesta ST expressed his concern that the sand dragged onto the pavement coming from the sweeper to the hairpin turns will “make for some very tricky racing.” Just my type!
– Scott Speed (29 points behind) was the only Supercar driver coming into Vegas to have competed in every main event in the 2014 season even after having to pull off advancing in four of the last five last chance qualifier races. Speed took pole position posting the fastest time in qualifying at 39.406 seconds.
The track at The LINQ is a 0.627 mile (0.592 mile joker lap), counterclockwise course that is a mix of 62% pavement and 38% dirt. A few sweepers, a few long stretches, multiple hairpins and bonus- the track was wide enough to offer passing opportunities. The joker lane circumvents the jump (shorter track) leading to a hairpin just before the finish line can allow a driver an advantage one lap per the 6 lap race. Strategy- take it first lap to get in front of the crowd or last lap to overtake at the end?
The penalty box was introduced in 2013 and keeps officials from having to red flag a race or restart for on-track infractions like a jump start, aggressive driving, or joker lap infractions. When signaled, an offender must sit in a 50m lane off track as their penalty until an official says that they can proceed. If there's no time for the penalty box, a time penalty will be assessed.
GRC Supercars are all wheel drive and rated around 600hp and can go from 0-60mph in less than 2 seconds. Besides power, they're built to handle like rally cars and can withstand jumps up to 70 feet. They also must deal with car-to-car contact. Rallycross cars are not equipped with electronic traction aids.
Drivers are broken into three rounds of heats of 4 cars with seeding determined by the drivers' qualifying speed. Heats are 6 laps long and the top 2 finishers in the final heat move on to the main event and can go pit and let their crews work on their cars. Drivers who don't advance from the heat results go into a last chance qualifier race to vy for the remaining qualifying spots. In the end, 10 cars compete in the main event.
The top 16 finishers each race are awarded points based on a table. 1st place gets 50 points, 2nd place 45 points, 3rd place 40 points and down 5 point intervals until the 10th car from the final round. All other drivers that start the heat get 1 point towards the championship.
Bonus points are also awarded in the second and third round of each heat, with the winner getting 3 points second place 2 points, and all others 1 point. The top 2 point-scoring drivers per manufacturer are also awarded points in the manufacturer's championship. Who hit the jackpot? Who took a gamble? And who went for broke?