Red Bull GRC Indianapolis: Rookie Roundup
Swedish rallycross magnate Andreas Eriksson is responsible in some form or fashion for most of Red Bull Global Rallycross’ top drivers; whether they raced for his Olsbergs MSE team in a Supercar or advanced through the OMSE-built GRC Lites car, Eriksson’s eye for talent has greatly shaped the series’ on track product. In fact, all but one of the drivers running full-time in Supercar this season (Chris Atkinson) can say they’ve raced OMSE equipment in the series.
It should be no surprise, then, that OMSE drivers were the top rookies in both classes last weekend at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis. The future looks bright with this group of drivers working their way up the ranks—here’s a look at how they did:
Oliver Eriksson (4th)
Eriksson managed Honda Red Bull Olsbergs MSE’s best finish in Indianapolis, just over a month after the manufacturer took the Indianapolis 500 win with Takuma Sato. The 2015 GRC Lites champion bounced back from two last-place finishes in the heat rounds to take third in his semifinal, and despite getting fully sideways in the oval corner before entering the dirt, he managed to regain control and keep all four tires intact to cruise to a Supercar career-best fourth place result.
“We had a good run and we had a good pace in the semifinals, so we knew we could compete for a podium finish,” Eriksson explained in a release. “We started in the middle of the second row so we knew we face carnage from other competitors. Into the first corner I got hit, but I had a big save there. I was in fifth gear, four-wide but I managed to save it. Unfortunately, I think I burnt my tires, which caused my understeer. It was a tough weekend but we persevered.”
Cabot Bigham (9th)
Up until the main event, Indianapolis was a banner weekend for Bigham. Racing in Bryan Herta Rallysport’s hometown of Brownsburg, the 2016 GRC Lites champion won his first round heat and finished second in the next two, giving him the pole position in the second semifinal. Things didn’t quite go to plan from there, as he ended up ninth in the main event after some contact and a mid-race incident, but the California native proved that he could run up front reliably and keep out of the early-event trouble that set some other drivers back.
“This weekend was a success in my opinion,” said Bigham in a release. “Throughout the entire weekend, the car was on pace and really easy to drive. The team had a lot of chemistry in the pits and everyone was really looking forward to standing on the top step this weekend. This wasn’t the ideal way to end the weekend, but with that being said the entire community in the GRC paddock has been very kind to us and has spoken very highly of how we performed this weekend. I personally believe this was my best weekend to date. There are a lot of positives to take away and I know that Atlantic City is going to be a tough track, but I’m ready for the challenge.”
Mitchell deJong (10th)
The top rookie in the championship, deJong entered the Indianapolis weekend within reach of championship leaders Tanner Foust, Steve Arpin, and Scott Speed. The good news is that he maintained the fourth position in the standings. The bad news: after issues on the semifinal grid forced the team to miss that session, he was unable to advance to the final. With 60 of a maximum 81 points on the line in the parts of the event he missed, he only came out of the weekend with 13 points overall—leaving him 70 points back of third, instead of the nine-point deficit he faced at the start of the weekend.
“It was a very difficult weekend; a lot of ups and downs,” deJong admitted in a release. “I think we had good pace at certain times and other times we had some drama with contact. A small mechanical issue caused us from not making the Semifinal and then not making the final by way of not starting a semi[final] was tough. It’s unfortunate, but things like that happen, so we just need to move on and move forward.”
It was a mixed bag for both Cyril Raymond and James Rimmer, the two drivers running their first full GRC Lites seasons. Raymond, as he has for much of the season, was one of the fastest drivers on track, but found himself unable to claim his fifth straight victory in Indianapolis. Instead, the points leader settled for second, still enough to extend his championship lead for Olsbergs MSE X Forces to 76 points and guarantee that he’ll stay on top through the next final.
Rimmer, meanwhile, continued to knock on the door of his first heat victory or podium, but neither were meant to be. Instead, his Indianapolis final ended with an unceremonious incident with Alex Keyes, the latter plowing into Rimmer’s rear bumper and sending him into the wall. The DirtFish Motorsports driver would be classified fifth after penalties were applied, and now ranks a career-best fifth in the Lites standings heading into Atlantic City.
Photo credit: Louis Yio