Red Bull’s Global Rallycross Championship is a genuine enigma among professional racing. The idea and recipe are straightforward and clever: wheel-to-wheel racing on an enclosed course involving traditional rally/rallycross challenges like dirt, pavement, and sometimes gravel and water, rapid elevation changes, a few jumps, and an assortment of other hazards, occasionally including fellow competitors in disabled machines.
But what’s unorthodox in traditional racing is something GRC events tend to have in generous supply: a healthy dose of “demolition derby,” particularly in its pro ranks. With its corporate backing, robust TV package (NBC and NBCSN, Red Bull TV online), and global competition rounds (as well as coverage from media outlets like us!) it attracts a lot of eyeballs, offering valuable exposure for sponsors, and as a result generates big budgets for some of the best teams and most talented racers to go out and have a lot of fun.
“Fun,” in this case, meaning very heated competition, usually resulting in a lot of carnage along the way. Cars broken in any number of ways, multiple crashes in each heat, and the occasional engine fire or rollover. In a lot of ways it’s become part of the strategy—leading drivers have to try their best to steer clear of it all, while the rest do whatever they’re willing to make the leader’s quest that much more difficult.
If we had to pick someone to fill that leader role, it would have to be Scott Speed and his Andretti Rallycross team. Scott entered 2016 as the defending 2015 champion, and before that raced in NASCAR, and earlier in Formula 1 as the first American since Michael Andretti to race the world’s premier open-wheel series. Needless to say, he and his team are of inarguable racing pedigree.
But also on the roster, under the same Volkswagen/Andretti Rallycross umbrella, is another name we might be more familiar with for his rise to professional racing through more – unorthodox means: Tanner Foust, back-to-back Formula Drift champion, renown stunt driver (Fast and Furious, Iron Man, Need for Speed, etc.), and the winningest X Games Rally driver in history. He’s also the guy who gave Scott a run for his money in GRC competition last year and this.
While Scott’s driving might be characterized as analytical, precise, and measured, Tanner’s embodies an amount of those characteristics along his own brand of all-out speed, brute force, and risk taking. It was no surprise to see either Scott or Tanner atop the podium of most GRC races throughout 2016, and heading into L.A.’s doubleheader (one race Saturday, another one Sunday) leading the championship points chase, we felt sure one of them would take the title … but we couldn’t call who it would be.
But then Friday’s qualifying and Saturday’s race happened, where Scott Speed clocked the fastest lap and won the Finals, with Tanner claiming second.
Sunday began with only Scott and Tanner in the running for the championship, separated by only six points (Tanner leading), and both feeling good about their chances. When Tanner beat Scott in the first heat, our indecision grew.
But when Tanner incurred a “rough driving” penalty and failed to advance onto Sunday’s finals, it was locked up for Scott.
That’s not to say the excitement ended there. Tanner went on to win the “Last Chance Qualifier” (LCQ) race and battled his way into the finals, Patrik Sandell took a huge lead on Scott (before Scott eventually passed him, despite incredible pressure from Tanner), and in one of the most unexpected moves we’ve seen in GRC competition, Brian Deegan ducked into his “Honda Joker Lap” and emerged ahead of all three drivers, going on to score his hard-earned and well-deserved first event win of the season.
Lites racing saw larger heats, cleaner competition (for the most part) and drivers Alex Keyes, Miki Weckstrom, and Cabot Bigham conquer Saturday’s podium, with Cabot, Scott Anderson, and Colin Braun taking those honors on Sunday.
Plans are already in the works for GRC’s 2017 season, and just announced will be an all-electric series in addition to Pro and Lites competition. Click through our gallery for over 100 images from Saturday and Sunday’s carnage at the Port of Los Angeles, and for more GRC info, visit RedBullGlobalRallycross.com.