Full-Time Red Bull GRC Drivers Prepare For X Games’ Unique Challenges
Since the early days of Red Bull Global Rallycross, winning a gold medal at X Games has been an ultimate goal of every driver. After three years of competing in Los Angeles and a 2013 season that saw the series compete for X Games glory worldwide, this year’s gold rush centers on Austin, Texas, where Circuit of the Americas will play host to a series-record 20 drivers chasing glory.
All 13 Red Bull GRC drivers from Top Gear Festival Barbados will return, as well as seven additional competitors—five of whom, including former gold medalists Travis Pastrana, Liam Doran, and Toomas Heikkinen, will only be racing at X Games Austin. For the series full-timers, that can mean a strategic approach for the star-studded event.
“There’s obviously some really good cars and some competitive guys coming,” said Scott Speed, who comes off a thrilling victory in the season opener at Top Gear Festival Barbados with the brand new Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross operation. “For us, absolutely the goal of the weekend is just survival and to collect points. There’s a lot of guys doing a lot of crazy things at X Games, and if we can just avoid getting crashed and make the final, I’ll call it a success.
“Our cars are surely going to be fast, but there are a lot of other good cars as well. Right now our focus is on survival and collecting points, because we know over the horizon we’ve got the Beetle coming, and we know then we can lay it down.”
Among series regulars, the prevailing sentiment is that the additional variables will create a very different racing environment than they saw in Barbados. Steve Arpin, who opened up the season with a runner-up finish, noted that X Games’ unique race format—which features four quarterfinals of five cars each, two semifinals of six cars each, and a six-car final—will be an intriguing new challenge.
“I’m really excited that they announced the format for X Games this week,” he said. “We’re going to have some time to go racing, and some time to work on our cars and get faster and faster. I definitely think we have a good shot of being (in the final), but it’s one of those deals where you only have six lap heat races, so you’re not going to have as much time to get up there. I think you’re going to see some real aggressive racing. We’ve got 20 guys fighting for six spots, and there’s no time for give and take there.
“(But) if I didn’t think we were able to make the main, we definitely wouldn’t be going!”
The do-or-die race format has undoubtedly attracted the attention of series competitors, both rookies and veterans alike. Austin Dyne, whose first Supercars race saw him frequently run toward the front of the pack, is among the drivers who will be well prepared for anything come Saturday.
“You’ve got 20 cars, and starting six (in the final), there’s going to be a lot of luck involved in getting through wrecks,” noted the rookie. “Drivers are going to be really aggressive and not patient, because after heat two, if you don’t make it (through the quarterfinals), you’re done. So that’s definitely going to be how it is—it’ll be like a short track on the last few laps. Hopefully it’s not going to be bad, and I’m trying to stay as optimistic as I can about it, but I guess we’ll see on Friday and Saturday.”
“It’s going to be tough, don’t get me wrong,” said Arpin. “We’ve got a bunch of our regular GRC guys, and with just six cars in the final, it could be anyone. There are far more than six drivers of just the regulars that deserve to be there.
“Then you throw in the one-off guys—Pastrana’s going to be there, Topi’s going to be there, (Anton) Marklund’s going to be there, Liam’s going to be there. You throw all of those guys in the mix, and it’s one of those things where anything can happen.”
Photo credit: Alison Padron