The steel-plated “Mega Ramp” that marks the defining feature of the Global Rallycross Championship hasn’t exactly been the easiest challenge to overcome for the sport’s drivers, as experienced and talented as they are. Adding extra length – that is, moving the sweet spot of the jump from 70 feet at Texas Motor Speedway to 79 feet at X Games – has certainly multiplied the challenge, and Toomas Heikkinen’s medal hopes became the first casualty of it on Friday. Heikkinen undershot the jump, hitting steel head-on and flipping his car, suffering a broken left ankle and abdominal injuries in the process.
But for the other 17 drivers taking part in Sunday’s marquee event, it was just another day in the office. (A short day, as Heikkinen’s flaming Ford Fiesta forced the cancellation of subsequent jump practice, but a day nonetheless.) And while Heikkinen’s incident is sure to be a concern that the series will have to address, these drivers aren’t likely to be unnerved by the monstrosity put in front of them. As long as they have the faith that the GRC will alter the jump to make it safer from here on out, and that their concerns will influence the decisions of the series moving forward, the race weekend – and sport – will have a chance to move forward.
To start, the extension of nine feet may simply be too much for these cars to take. The GRC is looking to bring rallycross into America with as much buzz surrounding it as they can muster, but doing so by pushing the cars’ limits this far comes at great risk. Heikkinen’s impact was effectively head-on with a wall at about 40 miles per hour, and not with the SAFER barrier that dominates most American race tracks these days. The blunt edge of the jump is, clearly, something that needs to be reinforced in the case of future impacts.
The dirt jump (and its softer landing edge) that defined X Games in the past is gone, and would be impossible to build on such short notice. In fact, the steel ramp appears to be here to stay for this GRC season, with layouts in New Hampshire and Las Vegas both reliant on its presence. Any fan looking for major change may have to look to next season, when the series’ contract with Speedway Motorsports Inc. tracks is up; the steel jump is mostly in use because of the inability to quickly clean up dirt on the tracks during a NASCAR or IndyCar weekend.
For now, the job is to make do with what’s present, something that the sport’s drivers and teams alike understand. From day one, this was destined to be a learning year for the organizers of the Global Rallycross Championship, as they sought to bring rallycross to major American markets while still adding something fresh and new to the sport. The steel jump requires significant alterations for Sunday’s event, and it may need to disappear after only one year in use. But Heikkinen’s shunt doesn’t need to mean an end for jumps in rallycross entirely – just, perhaps, for that one.
- Chris Leone