Travis Pastrana broke a streak of three disappointing Global Rallycross Championship races in a row to finally score a victory at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Saturday night. Pastrana beat rivals Samuel Hubinette and Brian Deegan to the finish line, while current GRC points leader Tanner Foust came home in fourth after leading briefly in the final. Here are some observations from Saturday’s event:
- This was the first GRC race event to go off with what seemed like no issues. While a lengthy setup period and two accidents shortened Friday qualifying, the series and track were more than ready for Saturday. They set up quickly, the track did not have any issues (especially with safety, as Tanner Foust and Ken Block have organized the drivers to address that end), the presence of sand, a longcut, and the crossover bridge added great new challenges for the drivers, and most importantly, everything was finished before sundown came to the unlit NHMS circuit. Many raved that they thought it was the best event of the season.
- Marcus Gronholm and Toomas Heikkinen remained unavailable for Olsbergs MSE after their injuries sustained at X Games, but Rhys Millen’s absence was completely unexpected until the teams unloaded. Millen elected to let Stephan Verdier drive his car while Verdier’s was being prepared for the final two rounds of the season, and Verdier took full advantage of the speed by qualifying fourth. As for Olsbergs, Brian Deegan set the fastest time in practice, while Tanner Foust took pole on Saturday by over .7 seconds, and David Binks challenged for a podium in the final until having an accident, so they clearly didn’t miss a beat.
- Ken Block had an interesting week, to say the least. After dropping Gymkhana Five earlier in the week, Block qualified second on Friday, only to end the qualifying session by rolling his car off of the crossover bridge. In his heat race, Block and Andy Scott went for the same piece of real estate and made contact, leading Block to require major repairs before the last chance qualifier and final. With a taped-up car and a plastic windshield, Block came home an impressive fifth.
- Aside from Scott’s broken wheel in Friday qualifying and heat incident, Scott-Eklund Racing had a very impressive run overall, cementing themselves as a top-tier team in the GRC despite no factory support from Saab. Samuel Hubinette gave Travis Pastrana a run for his money in their heat race, passing Pastrana out of the tabletop jump only to be bumped out of the way on the crossover bridge. They finished 1-2 in both events, but the finish was good enough to elevate Hubinette to second in points. Scott, meanwhile, made it to the final with his track control arm still damaged and took home a sixth place finish, his best since running fourth in the season opener at Charlotte.
Pastrana drove more aggressively than he had all season, also bumping Foust on the crossover bridge in the final. But, as Pastrana explained, Foust had stalled the car. The shot to the rear gave Foust an opportunity to restart without losing too many positions, but he was clearly upset to have lost a chance to take his first victory of the season. Foust did manage to extend his points lead from five to 12, however, going into the final two rounds.
- Liam Doran came into New Hampshire with high hopes, only to suffer a series of disappointments. Due to Block’s qualifying accident at sundown, his session was cut short, leaving him ninth in seeding. Issues with launch control and his handbrake meant that his efficacy on starts and hairpins was compromised, and while taking the longcut hairpin in the final a later-braking Stephan Verdier caved in his door.
- It’s been a bad year to be a Subaru driver in rallycross. All three—Sverre Isachsen, Dave Mirra, and Bucky Lasek—went home from New Hampshire disappointed after their heat races. Isachsen attempted to cut across the track in his heat, as he had done so well at X Games, only to run into Verdier and spin himself out. Lasek started last due to an accident in qualifying, and brought up the rear of the remaining field in both his heat race and the last chance qualifier. Dave Mirra avoided Block and Scott crashing in his heat, coming home second by default, but would blow a tire on the final lap and was the first driver to pull off in the final. None of the Subaru drivers are in the top 10 in points.
Finally, the series has plenty of interesting storylines in play for the final two rounds of the season, a TBA event in September and the season finale at Las Vegas on September 29. Foust would like to extend his points lead while taking that elusive first victory of the season, while Pastrana and Hubinette established one of the fiercest on-track rivalries in their duels at New Hampshire. With such an unpredictable series, anything can happen; in fact, Brian Deegan hinted during the weekend that this championship may be getting very unpredictable in September.
Race results and point standings can be accessed here. More photography from the race weekend by Matthew Kalish will begin to appear in the coming days.
- Chris Leone