Path of a Champion: Cyril Raymond Dominates 2017 GRC Lites Season
To those already tuned in to the sport of rallycross as a whole, Cyril Raymond was anything but an unknown quantity when Olsbergs MSE X Forces named him to one of its full-time GRC Lites cars this spring. After all, Raymond was already the defending European Lites champion—a title he would reclaim in his native France just over a week ago—and had already made his competitive debut in a Supercar in the French national championship.
What nobody knew coming in, however, was how Raymond would adapt to the constantly evolving courses in Red Bull Global Rallycross, none of which he had seen before this year. With six wins in the first 11 races of the season, enough to lock up the title with a race to spare, it’s a question he answered with a highly effective driving style: urgent, yet consistent.
“When I go on the track, my goal is to win,” Raymond explained in Indianapolis, before earning his class-leading sixth podium of the season. “I push very hard to get in the right position. When you are behind it’s hard to stay calm. You have to be patient and it’s really hard to do that in GRC.
“The Joker is very important, and you need to be very strong with your spotter. I don’t like the feeling when you’re behind some other driver. I prefer to be in the front and manage the lead. Sometimes you need to be behind to learn something, and that’s interesting, but you lose a lot of time.”
From the first event of the year, Raymond’s speed was evident as he claimed an immediate second place in Memphis. But a final lap rollover in Louisville knocked him back in the championship standings, leaving some wondering how he would bounce back with two doubleheaders coming up in New England and Ottawa the next month.
He won all four rounds.
“In Louisville, (I pushed) a little bit too much,” he explained after the New England victory. “I think (this win is) a good comeback for the last day. I had a perfect day—I won all the heats and I was consistent. My mechanic did a great job with the car and gave me a great setup. It’s my first victory in the USA, so it’s a dream for me!”
The second half of the year wasn’t without its challenges; Christian Brooks broke Raymond’s winning streak in Indianapolis, while Conner Martell held him off in Atlantic City II before a mechanical issue dropped him from second to sixth on the final straightaway. Each time, Raymond responded as all great drivers do by winning the following race.
Even when disaster nearly struck in Sunday’s final at Evergreen Speedway, when first-lap contact destroyed all of his front bodywork, Raymond pressed on. He grabbed the lead on the restart, only yielding it to Brooks after taking the Joker Lap midway through the race. Brooks would win the battle, but Raymond had already won the war by simply starting the final and avoiding any penalties.
“It’s a long championship—the key is to be very consistent,” he explained early in the season. “You need to get a lot of points and make no mistakes. It’s important for me to be consistent and not crash.”
The championship may be locked up already, but that doesn’t mean Raymond has nothing to race for in Los Angeles. A seventh victory would tie both the single-season and all-time Lites win records, both set by OMSE driver Mitchell deJong three years ago. And then there’s the question of a Supercar drive in 2018 to answer—where Raymond’s strengths, combined with Andreas Eriksson’s faith in young talent, could give him a chance at knocking two-time defending champion Scott Speed off the top of the points table.
“I don’t have a secret,” he admitted. “I think if you want to be a good driver, you have to adapt on the track, and I think I’m good at that. I’ve driven a lot in dry conditions, and I’ve done a lot of races in France—I had a great experience there. It’s actually easier for me to adapt my driving here than over there.”
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Supercar Round 12 Finals: October 14, 4:30PM ET, NBC
Lites Round 12 Finals: October 18, 5PM ET, NBCSN
Photo credit:e Louis Yio