We’ll be honest – the press release we received this morning from Red Bull Global Rallycross about its new Gold class barely registered around here, just another racing series touting something amazing about the season ahead … that is, until we looked at the social media backlash from the announcement. It’s at that point we dug back into the specifics of the release to unpack them, slowly realizing just how much of a wholesale change this could mean for the series and its fans.
The gist of the news is this: GRC will replace its headlining “Supercars” – the term it used to characterize the heavily modified, production-based, top-tier racers everyone commonly associates with rallycross (think WRX STI, all-wheel-drive Fiesta ST, et al) – with “Gold class” cars, which it describes as an evolution of the series’ GRC Lites. A development class, Lites feature a standard car developed by OMSE, with a spaceframe chassis, a plastic body resembling the Ford Fiesta, a rear-mounted, naturally aspirated, 2.4-liter 320 horsepower Duratec engine, and four-wheel drive – for all intents and purposes, GRC’s “spec” racing before today’s announcement was made.
Not much was revealed about what the new Gold class cars will feature, apart from the hyperbolic “aggressive bodywork” and “strategic mechanical updates.” The purpose for introducing a new vehicle is perfectly clear, however – to level the playing field. GRC is suggesting with all cars being equal, competition becomes more about the driver rather than what is being driven. As another news source reporting on the release noted, there’s no greater proof of the series’ imbalance than the Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross team and its drivers, Scott Speed and Tanner Foust, who have dominated for the last three seasons. But it is this point that is most contentious, with the loudest fans complaining that taking out production automobiles (or at least production-looking cars) betrays the essence of the sport and turns it more into UTV racing, and not something descendant from rally racing.
Conspicuously absent from the announcement was any word of automaker involvement in the championship this season. This may not have been the forum for any sort of OEM intimations, but in the past Ford, Hyundai, Chevy, and Dodge have backed cars and teams in the GRC, and as recently as the last few years the likes of Volkswagen and Honda have stepped up involvement as well. While it may be too soon to tell, something in the pit of our stomachs is telling us GRC is attempting to at a minimum recast what rallycross looks like – and from the social media wrath, people don’t seem to be buying it.
News about GRC’s Platinum class – still another new category, this one set to race in 2019 – is expected to be released later this week, which could hopefully clear things up a bit – or not; many believe this will be the announcement of the series’ electric car class, which GRC has promised since last year and could likely also be a spec class, or possibly even one with car manufacturer support. Gold, and eventually Platinum class cars will join Polaris GRC (and GRC Lites, maybe?) at competition weekends for a lot of evenly matched battles in vehicles very few people care about. Red Bull Global Rallycross kicks off its season with a doubleheader, June 9th and 10th at Lancaster Speedway in Buffalo, New York. This saga is probably far from over – stay tuned.