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AutoMatters & More: Red Bull Global Rallycross Season Finale

With sailboats in the harbor, the scenic 2017 season finale of the Red Bull Global Rallycross Championship took place once again by the water at the Port of Los Angeles.

Red Bull GRC combines the high-flying thrills of supercross with rallying and wheel-to-wheel, fender-to-fender, bumping and banging racing. Red Bull GRC drivers compete in one of two distinct classes – SUPERCARS and GRC Lites – in high-powered, specially prepared, Honda, Volkswagen and Subaru racing spec rally cars adorned with colorful graphics and sponsors’ logos.

The drivers hail from a wide variety of popular, worldwide action sports including NASCAR, Formula 1, rallying, motocross, BMX and skateboarding.

Car image
Checking out the underside of the car ahead Jan Wagner

To maintain a high level of excitement and competition, the Red Bull GRC format consists of several short races. First, following qualifying, there are three heat races of five laps each and with three to five cars. Seven points are up for grabs.

Next, the drivers from those races compete in two semifinal groups, based on their results in their first heat. These semifinal races are six laps each, with a total of 10 points on offer.

The top four finishers from each semifinal race transfer into the ten lap main event but, before they race, the remaining drivers have one last chance to join them. They compete in a four-lap, last chance qualifier to round out the 10 available spots in the main event.

The tracks – each measuring between half a mile and a mile in length, present a varied set of challenges, and are contested on a combination of dirt and pavement. Each course features a 70-foot jump, which requires a skill not common to most other forms of motorsports. Failure to get the timing just right can end with the car nosing hard into the dirt and getting damaged. Adding to the challenge, the races are sometimes run in the rain (see #411 – the 2015 season finale – “Stormy Weather in Las Vegas”).

Dirt turns
Loose dirt makes for interesting turns Jan Wagner

The course for each race includes what is called the “Joker Lap.” Each driver must divert to the Joker section of the track once and once only. Sometimes the Joker Lap extends the lap time, and sometimes it is quicker. Strategy comes into play. In racecourses where the Joker Lap extends the course, drivers may try to take their Joker Lap late in the race, in an attempt to build up enough of a lead to maintain their position.

If all these rules and twists and turns sound complicated, don’t worry about it. The bottom line for spectators is that there is continual, very close competition on the track. Close contact often results in the shedding of paint, bodywork and car parts. In between races the crews try their best to put the cars back together, although sometimes they do not succeed.

While some contact is inevitable, given the close racing, there are rules. Violations of them result in time outs in the penalty box – a 50-meter lane to the side of the track. A track official will hold violators while they serve their penalty. If the infraction occurs too late in the race to serve a time out in the penalty box, a time penalty will be assessed. Examples of possible infractions include jumping the start, rough driving and failing to take the Joker Lap correctly.

For those who cannot make the races in person, they are televised.

Traffic jump
Synchronized traffic over the jump Jan Wagner

In Los Angeles, with only 30 points separating Tanner Foust and Scott Speed at the beginning of the weekend, Foust did all he could do and won the SUPERCARS event, but Speed repeated victory in the Series Championship for the third consecutive year. Both raced for Team Andretti in dominant VW Beetles, also taking the Manufacturer’s Championship.

Speed’s performance throughout the season proved the importance of consistency – doing well at a majority of events and not too badly at the others. He raced smart, kept out of trouble and gave up only five points to Foust in LA to take the Championship. Steve Arpin finished in third place.

Foust Speed
Tanner Foust leads Scott Speed in the event but not for the Series Championship Jan Wagner

In GRC Lites, Cyril Raymond had dominated the season, clinching the Lites title at the previous round in Seattle. However Conner Martell went out fighting. In LA he was absolutely unbeatable in his DirtFish Motorsports entry, sweeping every session and winning his third event of the year.

For more information, visit http://redbullglobalrallycross.com.

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Copyright © 2018 by Jan Wagner – AutoMatters & More #522

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