Rallycross Roulette: Keyes, deJong Betting Big on 24 in Atlantic City, Beyond
Red Bull Global Rallycross drivers and teams kick off racing action in Atlantic City later today, doubling down on this weekend’s doubleheader and betting big on a pair of podiums. With four of the final five rounds of the season coming in back-to-back events, every gamble for the remainder of the season could be the difference between winning and losing a championship.
Those superfans that make their way to the famed casinos that comprise the skyline between this weekend’s course might be willing to bet their favorite driver’s number on the roulette wheel. But it’s the drivers—particularly those running number 24—that may be most in need of luck.
Supercar rookie Mitchell deJong and GRC Lites veteran Alex Keyes both enter this weekend’s action coming off of disappointment in Indianapolis. Keyes was disqualified from the Lites final after heavy contact into James Rimmer’s bumper in the race’s final moments, while deJong was unable to make the Supercar main event entirely.
“We need (a big weekend) because this year has been rough,” Keyes, the defending Atlantic City winner, admitted. “It would be nice to turn things around, especially because I only have one podium so far. Atlantic City was a good track for us last year because I was able to find my flow and the car held together really well.
“Every time that something happens, like if you get hit by a car, rain, even if you didn’t have practice laps, it can really pull you off of your rhythm. It’s important to just be able to find that flow and that’s what we did last year at AC. Everything went right and we were right on the ball; we won every heat race and final. That’s the easiest and best way you want to do it.”
For deJong, who currently sits fourth in points for Honda Red Bull Olsbergs MSE, Indianapolis didn’t cost him any spots in the championship, but it did drastically widen the gap to the top three. Unfortunately for the California native, his streak of top fives through the first half of the season ended abruptly when he was unable to start the semifinal, forcing him to sit out the final.
“We had an alternator go out right before our semifinal,” he explained. “As I was pulling up in tire cleaning, the battery died and we couldn’t start the car or do anything. A small thing took us out of the race. Things like that happen and we just have to move forward from it—it was certainly tough, but we’ve had a strong season so far. The small things make a huge difference, but you move on and get stronger.”
Further complicating matters is the depth of the field in both classes. deJong has to contend with four Supercar race winners so far this year, including his teammate, Sebastian Eriksson. In Lites, Keyes finds himself battling not only championship leaders Cyril Raymond and Conner Martell, but also his Dreyer & Reinbold Racing teammates Christian Brooks and Travis PeCoy, for wins and podiums.
“It’s been tough this year because the competition is definitely at a higher level,” Keyes continued. “Cyril, Christian, Connor and Travis, and everyone who started off the year is at a point where they are at quick lap times, so it’s very competitive. Cyril is one of the toughest drivers you’ll face, and it’s nice to have him to push me.”
Regardless of the challenges ahead, however, both drivers are optimistic—even if their goals are slightly different. deJong aims to reclaim a podium spot, both in the event and in the overall standings, while Keyes is set on defending last year’s victory.
“The last race set us back quite a bit, but we still have the whole second half of the season,” deJong concluded. “My goal is to push forward and hopefully get some more podiums. If we make it to the top three in points at the end of the year, it would be kind of a fantastic achievement for me. Winning is the number one goal, but realistically it would be amazing to be in the top three.”
“I think AC is going to be a huge turning point because all these rough times and all the bad luck will have to change,” he said. “We’re just trying to go out there and have everything line up. We have two shots (at this track) this year—we’re going to make it happen.”
Red Bull Global Rallycross Atlantic City
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Supercar Round 8 Finals: August 12, 5PM ET, NBC // Supercar Round 9 Finals: August 13, 4:30PM ET, NBC
Lites Finals: August 23, 5PM ET, NBCSN
Photo credit: Louis Yio (1, 3); Larry Chen (2, 4)