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AutoMatters & More: Stormy weather at the Red Bull Global Rallycross Season Finale

Tanner Foust takes a wild ride in his yellow Beetle
Tanner Foust takes a wild ride in his yellow Beetle

Sometimes we luck into our once-in-a-lifetime events. They are even sweeter when we expect them to be routine and predictable — and then they are not. Such was the case on Nov. 4 in Las Vegas.

I travel there every year to cover the SEMA Show — an enormous automotive trade show that showcases products and services for the automotive aftermarket on countless customized vehicles. Major auto manufacturers feature their latest and greatest high performance models.

Blasting through the mud as fans look on
Blasting through the mud as fans look on

I used to go to the SEMA Show solely to cover the show itself, but eventually I could not resist the lure of the off-site, major motor sports events that take place the same week.

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This year I also covered Robby Gordon’s Off-Road Stadium SUPER Trucks, the Optima Batteries Ultimate Street Car Challenge, Formula Drift at SEMA Ignited and, last but certainly not least, the season finale of the Red Bull Global Rallycross series.

In Red Bull GRC, two classes of cars compete: Supercars and Lites. Each class runs heat races and a main event, guaranteeing plenty of exciting action for the fans, lap after lap.

Earlier this year, I covered both Los Angeles rounds of the Red Bull GRC. Located by the water on a beautiful Southern California weekend, it was very entertaining. The course, as usual, consisted mostly of pavement but also a dirt section, with a jump. Seeing compact, high-powered rally cars launch — sometimes side-by-side — and then soar through the air until they came crashing down on their front tires was thrilling. How could it get more exciting than that?

Brian Deegan of Chip Ganassi Racing launches over the jump
Brian Deegan of Chip Ganassi Racing launches over the jump

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Las Vegas provided the answer, in the form of unusually stormy weather. Heading into the season finale, on a large, purpose-built course across the street from the Luxor, only two drivers — Scott Speed and Tanner Foust — had a mathematical chance to win the championship. Scott was the odds-on favorite.

First it began to rain — hard. Then I started to feel something more solid than raindrops pelting my sun hat (which I’d kept on for warmth). I opened my palm and held it skyward. It quickly filled with hail. Without rain gear, I was getting soaked, as were my cameras. A plastic bag sort of protected one. Thank goodness they are weather-sealed, professional Nikons. Then lightning came, and the on-track action was abruptly halted.

Cars sliding every which way in the mud
Cars sliding every which way in the mud

An urgent announcement was broadcast over the loudspeakers: Everyone had to immediately evacuate the facility. The grandstands and chalets were made of metal, so a lightning strike could have been disastrous. We were told that we could return if and when the lightning stopped. It was suggested that we go to our cars or to a nearby hotel to wait out the bad weather.

I joined the drenched fans and we streamed out of the gates (pun intended). I was about to walk to the nearest hotel when I realized that I was next to the pits. In various tents, mechanics were working on mud-covered rally cars, repairing damage and fitting rain tires. Spectators were huddled together in the few covered spaces they could find.

Rather than join them, I thought that this was a golden opportunity to take photos. By that time I was soaked, so it didn’t much matter anymore. I just hoped that I didn’t end up getting pneumonia again (for my third time).

After less than an hour, not only did the lightning stop, but so did the rain. People returned to the track and the racing resumed.

Scott Speed celebrates his season championship
Scott Speed celebrates his season championship
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Soon, however, the rain began again — in earnest. The dirt had long since turned to mud, and it spread to the paved areas. Cars were slipping and sliding all over the track. Trailing rooster tails of water on the straights, they had become almost unrecognizable.

The action was spectacular, so I remained outside and kept shooting. A few of those photos are here. I hope that you enjoy them. More will appear on my website someday, if I ever find the time or some help to create a new one.

Scott Speed finished third in the main event, beating his VW teammate Tanner Foust and winning the season championship. This was the first Red Bull GRC title for Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross.

For a racing recap — and to see more photos — go to www.redbullglobalrallycross.com, click on News, and then scroll way down to “Red Bull GRC Race Recap: Las Vegas.”

As always, please write to AutoMatters@gmail.com with your comments and suggestions.

Copyright © 2015 by Jan Wagner – AutoMatters & More #411


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