Red Bull GRC Season Opener Establishes Rivalries to Watch at X Games Austin
It only took a single race’s worth of Red Bull Global Rallycross action for some of the biggest-name drivers in the sport to clash with one another. A combination of established rallycross superstars and a handful of newcomers battled tooth and nail at the Bushy Park Circuit, home of Top Gear Festival Barbados, setting up storylines that should carry the sport throughout the 2014 season. Watch out for these head-to-head battles for the rest of the year:
Sverre Isachsen vs. Nelson Piquet Jr.
Piquet Jr. thought he had made it to the first main event of his Red Bull GRC career in Las Vegas last November, only to have his transfer spot revoked after race control penalized him for spinning the reinstated Isachsen in the last chance qualifier. That battle carried on in Barbados, when an all-out war between the two drivers saw spinning wheels and banging bumpers.
Isachsen would brake earlier than Piquet into the corner, often leading to contact from Piquet. The Norwegian made one impressive sideways dive into the first corner to reclaim a position from the Brazilian, but eventually heavy damage forced the Subaru to pull off track.
“It was a hard fight, a hard final,” said Isachsen after the event. “I tried to get a good final, but it’s real difficult when the other guys use me like a brake pedal. They take me every corner and push me around.”
Naturally, Piquet disagreed with his opponent’s views.
“It was pretty dangerous,” explained the Formula 1 and NASCAR veteran. “I hope that the stewards do something about it. I know it’s aggressive in the final, but it’s not like we were fighting for the lead, we were fighting for fifth place or something. It disappoints me that some drivers were doing this, but we finished fourth, so in terms of the championship, it was ideal.”
Brian Deegan vs. Joni Wiman
Deegan is a staunch advocate of clean, hard racing, and he didn’t take too kindly to a late-race battle with fellow Ford driver and Supercars rookie Wiman. The Finn, a protégé of five-time Red Bull GRC race winner Marcus Gronholm, muscled by Deegan, but race director Tim Mayer determined that Wiman’s contact was unnecessary and awarded a 10-second time penalty.
The call reinstated Deegan to the 11th podium finish of his Red Bull GRC career, but “The General” still wasn’t amused.
“My spotter was like ‘hey, coming on your inside,’” Deegan explained. “It ended up being Wiman, and he spun me out. I was like ‘alright dog, you wanna spin me out?’ and I just stayed in the gas and rode it sideways all the way down. He got under me and I had to jump the curb to stay on the track. I was like ‘alright dude, you got me, you punked me out,’ and I got across the finish line and wondered if they were going to rule this thing.
“They told us in the drivers’ meeting, if you go from behind and spin dudes out to gain a position, you’re going to get docked. And that’s what happened. If you want to pit me door to door and beat me, cool, dude, you got me. But he didn’t. I protected the inside, and he took advantage of that.
“If you want to do that, fine—we can spin each other out all day. He’s got a lot to learn coming in this class and acting like that, so he’s got one coming.”
Scott Speed vs. Tanner Foust
The good news, particularly for the new Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross team that campaigns both of these drivers, is that this rivalry isn’t a case of bad blood from on-track contact. It’s a classic case of two immensely talented teammates and perennial championship contenders who are trying their hardest to outrun each other, reminiscent of Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna as Formula 1 teammates in the late 1980s.
Speed and Foust seeded second and third in Barbados and eventually lined up in the same third round heat. Foust was leading until a critical overjump led to significant damage to his car, allowing Speed to pass him, win the heat, and earn a front row starting spot in the final. The mistake compounded for Foust in the last chance qualifier, when he took the joker twice and failed to advance, while Speed earned the overall race victory.
After the race, a gracious Foust congratulated his victorious teammate, but the two-time Red Bull GRC champion wasn’t happy with an 11th place finish. Don’t expect any similar mistakes for the rest of the year—having only missed two finals in his Red Bull GRC career, Foust is consistent, and having finished off his 2012 title-winning campaign with a pair of victories, he knows how to finish strong. How will the Formula 1 veteran respond to his teammate’s challenge over the course of the season?
Photo credit: Alison Padron