Red Bull GRC Memphis: Rookie Roundup
It looks like Supercar rookie contenders Mitchell deJong, Oliver Eriksson, and Cabot Bigham will be getting quite familiar with one another this Red Bull Global Rallycross season.
The trio of former GRC Lites champions finished fourth, fifth, and sixth in Saturday’s season opener at Memphis International Raceway. While none of them cracked the podium or took a heat victory just yet, all three drivers came out of the weekend with plenty of reasons to hold their head high—and perhaps even some unfinished business heading into Louisville:
Mitchell deJong (4th)
The top performing rookie of the weekend, deJong was exactly as he’s always been advertised: a constant presence in the faster heats of the weekend, he earned three runner-up heat and semifinal finishes, and ran in a podium position for a good chunk of the final despite turbo issues. His heat results were good enough to put him in a tie for third with Steve Arpin in the Supercar standings.
“The final was really interesting for me,” deJong said. “After the initial start, going into Turn 2, I got hit from behind, and it knocked the turbo hose off. So I had no turbo, effectively, after the restart, and that was really tough. We got another decent start, and we just tried to make our way through—we were in a good spot for the podium, but unfortunately we had no turbo, so we didn’t really have the pace or the speed. Fourth was about the best we could do given the circumstances.”
Oliver Eriksson (5th)
Eriksson won a Supercar event in Sweden the week before traveling to Memphis, but the 600-horsepower tune-up couldn’t have predicted the battles that he would face in Tennessee. Qualifying fifth, mechanical issues caused him to fall back from the rest of the field in the faster first-round heat. But he continued to find pace as the weekend went along, and despite taking contact during the main event, the 2015 GRC Lites champion placed a respectable fifth.
“It was a great learning experience,” Eriksson explained. “We built up speed and confidence through the weekend—we were a bit off in the beginning, but after the semifinal we had really good pace, so I felt confident going into the final. It was a bit messy in the first few corners, but we came out of it in an okay spot. We tried to push as hard as we could, but a puncture unfortunately stopped us this time.”
Cabot Bigham (6th)
Last year’s GRC Lites champion had some bumps and bruises along the way—most notably first-round contact with Chris Atkinson that ended both drivers’ hopes of heat victory—but impressed his crew and the fans with his willingness to race aggressively. While contact in the first start of the final left him too damaged to compete for the win, Bigham raced smartly despite the disabled car and even managed to crack the top six by simply hanging on.
“I couldn’t have been more happy to finish sixth!” he said after the final. “We had a good start—we were on the outside of row two, and I ended up passing a couple of people into the banking. As soon as we headed into the corner right before the jump, everything bunched up. I ended up hitting the bumper of the person in front of me just in the slightest way to where we punctured the intercooler, so we had no boost. The learning curve was really brought to our attention this week, and we still have a lot to learn and improve upon for the next race, but we handled it really well.”
Series newcomer Cyril Raymond of Olsbergs MSE X Forces is already an established driver in a Lites car, having won the European title last year. In his first crack at GRC Lites, he proved to be one of the series’ top title threats, winning his first two heats and placing second in the semifinal and main event. He enters Louisville only five points off of the championship lead.
“It was a great weekend for me and the team,” Raymond said from the podium. “It was my first race in the USA, and I learned some lessons for the next race. I’m very happy to be here—there is a high level here, and it’s very hard on the track, but I came here to gain experience, and this is a very good championship.”
Running his first full season after making three starts last year, James Rimmer posted a career-best fifth-place finish for DirtFish Motorsports despite engine troubles that prevented his car from starting on Friday and caused him to miss his first heat. Across the paddock, experienced off-road and sports car racer Burt Jenner made his debut for AF Racing, keeping pace with the field and winning the last chance qualifier but earning a disqualification in the final for taking the Joker Lap on the first lap.
Photo credit: Louis Yio