We sensed something was fishy when the Red Bull Global Rallycross Championship – at one time hailed as the “action sports of motorsport,” and portrayed as the savior of racing among millennials – announced a few weeks ago its headlining “Supercars” – the term it used to define the heavily modified, production-based, top-tier racers everyone commonly associates with rallycross – would be replaced by “Gold Class” cars, which the series characterized as an evolution of the series’ GRC Lites (for all intents and purposes custom-built spec cars). In the intervening time it’s shut down its website and ticketing site, events already booked have been cancelled, and it’s gone dark on social media. And as you might guess, no one from the GRC is talking.
No one from the GRC is talking, but others who have dealt/are currently dealing with them are. New York’s Lancaster National Speedway & Dragway, which was to host the championship’s season-opening event, communicated via Twitter it was informed the series was officially ceasing operations for 2018 and would be offering refunds to those who already purchased tickets. It has been widely known that works teams from Subaru, Honda, and VW would not be returning this year after saying so at the end of the 2017 season. Throw in the threats of legal action flying around – from GRC against Subaru, for breaching an agreement to stay through 2018 (which Subaru denies); from the state of Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources against the GRC, seeking user fees for an event held in 2015; and others – and things clearly don’t look good for the rallycross championship.
Fans of rallycross saw the series as an enormous opportunity to expose the North American market to a different, exciting form of motorsport that meshed the most thrilling bits of rally racing with the most thrilling bits of circuit racing. Depending on who you talk to, the GRC got rolling in either 2009 or 2011, and at its peak commanded audiences via networks like ESPN and NBC Sports, as well as the X Games, but in recent years the luster of the series had arguably faded, some say due to Volkswagen’s domination of the championship over the past three seasons. (Since announcing their split, both VW and Subaru have revealed they will be competing in the new Americas Rallycross Championship, which ironically only partly takes place in the Americas.)
We honestly can’t say we are all that surprised about the way things shook out, especially in light of the Gold Class cars revelation. As much as we saw the GRC as an excellent opportunity to broaden horizons among enthusiasts, we don’t believe most would want to see spec racing like it proposed. In our view, there are two traditional elements motorsports needs to offer in order to connect to fans: a dramatic spectacle (which is to say the “wow” factor of close racing, and the extremes of motorsport in general) and brand relatability (because people connect to OEMs). We remain hopeful Global Rallycross can get its act together and mount a comeback in 2019, but at least for now things appear to be on the backburner.