Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Smack Down at New Jersey Motorsports Park

Tanner Foust and Josh Wimpey Ruled Supreme at Round one of the 2010 U.S. RallyCross Championships

Tanner Foust charging towards his first RallyCross victory: Photo ©Neil McDaid/

By Neil McDaid

Millville, NJ-- August 29, 2010. With most of the major U.S. rally players in place or in attendance, RC-RallyCar group brought European style rallycross to New Jersey Motorsports Park (NJMP). As many had predicated, Tanner Foust in his factory supported Olsbergs MSE prepared Ford Fiesta claimed an impressive overall AWD victory. On the other side of the spectrum, privateer Josh Wimpey in his USRT old school VW Golf, was just untouchable and dominated throughout the heats into the 2WD A final.

The winners in 2WD get some spray going, Randy Zimmer [L] 3rd overall, Josh Wimpey [center] 1st overall and Wyatt Knox 2nd overall. . Photo ©Neil McDaid/

In the days and weeks leading up to this “new to the U.S.” motorsport discipline many among us questioned if the venue was right. Was there going to be too much tarred track and not enough dirt sections? And, more importantly, were the fans going to show up?
Let there be no question that Travis Pastrana is vastly important to the success of the sport, American’s love their sports heroes. Pastrana is a major draw for Rally and RallyCross. At any given time while Pastrana’s car was in the pits, fans stood in long lines for his signature. Let’s hope that Subaru or "another" manufacture can keep Travis in Rally for years to come. Photo ©Neil McDaid/

New Jersey Motorsports Park, the venue for all three rounds of the 2010 Rally Cross Championship, is just slightly over two years old. I have to say this is a very impressive track compared to some of the older and more dated tracks around the U.S. that I have seen. Well, that is once you get there! This is one tough location to get to, or leave from on an August weekend. Traffic on the turnpike was really tough. Flying into Philadelphia seemed to be the best route, but for a driver with his or her own car that’s not an option. Dan Brosnan put it best when he said, “Try checking a Nissan SER in your checked bags.” Summer traffic from the Jersey Shore will have eased up for the next two rounds so hopefully it will not be such a challenge in October.
As I worked my way through the weekend I found NJMP to be a very fan friendly facility. Fans could pull their cars or trucks up along the fence, set up their canopies and chairs and safely get very close to the action. They could also work their way over to the pits and mingle with the drivers via a bridge that crossed the track.
The only thing it may have lacked, and quite possibly because the track did not expect such a large crowd, was not enough grandstands seats for fans that wanted to sit. I am sure this will be easily rectified for the next rounds.

The event was run over two days, which seemed long for such a limited field of 20 cars, but the schedule had been set up originally in anticipation of more entrants. With advanced tickets sold for Sunday, the organizers had to stay on plan.

Some crews began arriving to the track on Friday for a press event, but most arrived early Saturday morning for tech and registrations. After a brief drivers’ meeting, cars were released on to the track for multiple practice laps. As I made my way around the track, scouting photo locations, my initial thought was, “Is this a track event or RallyCross?” I have seen both and thought there was just too much tar and not enough dirt transitions.
Subaru Team driver Dave Mirra, seemed very comfortable and fast in his first RallyCross, so much so, when asked did he prefer this over rally, he just smiled and said “what’s not to like”. Photo ©Neil McDaid/

My impression did not change much as individual cars began their practice. However, here in this vast complex of neatly cut grass, perfect track and un-scarred guard rails the organizers had created a little jump that was incorporated into every lap. They also created a mandatory “Joker” lap that made the cars transition from track to dirt to track via a slight detour extension leading to the jump. This simple but effective little section was by far the highlight of the track layout for fans as they were able to view this from both sides.

After practice, drivers began qualifying starting with the 2WD cars then the AWD. They were released at 5-10 second intervals and qualifying positions were determined by two laps at speed. Travis Pastrana showed well in his factory-backed Subaru, taking pole choice with the fastest time over Tanner Foust in AWD. Josh Wimpy lapped 4.5 seconds faster than Dillon Van Way in the Focus to qualify first in 2WD.

Evan Cline leads out his 2WD heat, which he would go on to win. Unfortunately for Cline, an off course excursion would see him disqualified from the heat. Photo ©Neil McDaid/

Around 2:30pm RallyCross finally came alive in the first of three heats leading to the finals. Unless you have launch control, standing starts are extremely sore on the equipment but are so exhilarating for the fans to watch. This is so much better than the “Boogity, boogity, boogity; let’s go racin’ boys” rolling starts of NASCAR. This is even more evident when the 500+hp AWD cars are launched.

Lined up side-by-side on pit lane, off they went door-to-door into turn 1, a sweeping right hander. This was followed by an immediate left into a short dirt section. Drivers would then navigate several high speed turns on the track; those with clean lines clearly making time. Then, they went through another small dirt section before a hard charge down the high speed back straight towards the Joker and the jump. After taking the jump, they headed down the long front straight with speeds exceeding 110mph, completing the lap by again charging hard into turn 1.

The long front and back straights of the track took a lot of the door-to-door action out of the 2WD cars in the initial heats. Yes, this is somewhat to be expected but, nonetheless a few longer dirt sections or at least a chicane or two on the straights would have keep things tighter. As we progressed into the AWD heats the gaps were not as bad but, again, the track layout did seem to separate the factory teams from the private men for the most part.

Moving into day two, activities got underway with an official opening ceremony followed by heats 2 and 3.  Several great battles developed in these heats.

In AWD, Joseph Burke and Arkadiusz Gruszka, both piloting Mitsubishis, definitely made for some very exciting racing, bringing the fans to their feet on several occasions.
Made for TV action, Joseph Burke and Arkadiusz Gruszka had been battling hard all weekend, until this off course excursion ended Burkes run. . Photo ©Neil McDaid/

Unfortunately, in heat 2 Burke broke a gear shift cable at or around 120mph going down the front straight heading into turn 1. Both Gruszka and Burke took to the grass with dirt and dust flying. Gruszka eventually emerged from the cloud of dust and back onto track while Burke was stranded unable to select gears. With 10-12 ESPN cameras located around the track their battle will surely make for some great TV.

Team Subaru driver Dave Mirra also found himself in several battles with Nos Energy sponsored Andrew Comrie-Picard [ACP] in his Mitsubishi Evo. They definitely got in a few love taps along the way; who said there is no rubbing in rally?

In 2WD, the tightest door-to-door racing, or at least the most entertaining, was between Dan Brosnan in the Nissan SER and Justin Carven in his unique Greasecar sponsored VW Golf.

As the heats draw to an end, cars seemed to be very fairly lined up for the A and B final.

Drivers in the 2WD B final were first to attack. Brian Johnson’s Honda had a little better top end on the straights, leaving Brosnan and Carven to continued their battle. In the end it would be Johnston, Brosnan, Carver. Wining the 2WD B final qualified Johnston to move forward to the 2WD A final.

The 2WD A final brought to the grid a much anticipated line up of Josh Wimpey, Dillion Van Way and Wayatt Knox, in the Tim O’Neil Mazda 3.
Bringing it home old school, Josh Wimpey was in a league of his own in the retro Golf , he dominated 2WD. Photo ©Neil McDaid/

Josh Wimpey’s dominance of the heats carried straight into the finals as he launched into the lead in turn 1 and never looked back. Dillon Van Way and Wyatt Knox were bumper-to-bumper on the back straight but they connect hard just after the jump. Van Way only made it to the end of the front straight where he eventually retired.

With Van Way sidelined, Knox managed to hold second as Wimpy cruised to victory. Veteran rally driver Randy Zimmer pushed his 2WD Impreza past John Tancredi in the Playboy Cup Mazda MX5 for third.

In the AWD B final, Chris Duplessis in the 0-60/ Go-Pro Subaru seemed to cruise to victory over Arkadiusz Gruszka. We really missed Burke in the B final, but the Evo had enough of the young gun for one day. Paul Tingaud claimed third in the Audi.

On to the grand finale, the pinnacle of RallyCross, the AWD A final. On the grid was a fitting line up for this first America final: Tanner Foust, Travis Pastrana, Dave Mirra, ACP, Ramana Lagemann and Chris Duplessis, who progressed from the B final.

The 5 second board is displayed, revs are up and they are off! Tanner launched into the lead followed by Travis, who just barely cleared the end of the pit wall as he attached himself to Foust’s rear bumper. They are followed closely by Lagemann and Mirra. We barely got a lap in and there is trouble. Pastrana nailed a few water barriers and goes off course; the race is red flagged.
Some hard cutting at the end of the front straight into turn 1 added just a little more dirt to the course layout. ©Neil McDaid/

Cars returned to the grid and Pastrana heads for the pits. After several minutes it’s announced that Pastrana is disqualified for going off course. Following a quick drivers meeting with race directors it’s decided that, in the best interest of the inaugural event, Travis should be allowed to race. I am thinking this will be last “get out of jail free card” issued in U.S. RallyCross, but I totally agree it was the right thing to do. There is no question in my mind that Travis was the hook for many fans.

On to the restart. It was again all Foust taking the lead into turn 1. ACP and Mirra continued with the love taps with ACP getting into Dave’s door.

Pastrana would battle his way past Duplessis and Mirra on the first lap then set his sights on ACP and Lagemann while Foust opened the gap out front. With Mirra taking the Joker early, he almost took second back from Pastrana but a slight mistake let Travis slip ahead and on to claim second. Mirra claimed third with Lagemann and ACP in tow. Duplessis had to retire early in the final with steering issues. Tanner Foust was elated to claim his first RallyCross victory made all the more sweet claiming it on U.S. soil.
Tanner Foust [center] and his crew from Ford racing/ Olsbergs MSE celebrate on the top step of the podium.
Photo ©Neil McDaid/

Ford Men, Ramana Lagemann [L] driver of the #74 DSG/ Olsbergs MSE Fiesta, pictured here with Jost Capito Director, Ford Team RS, and Tanner Foust. Capito’s attendance at the first U.S. RallyCross confirms Ford desire to develop the Fiesta in U.S. Motorsports. Photo ©Neil McDaid/
Despite needing some changes to the course layout in an effort to keep things tighter, this was some very exciting racing and looks like it has a bright future in U.S. motorsports. From the chatter at the event and on some forums thereafter, it looks like we will see a much larger field of cars for the remaining 2 rounds.

Although actual attendance numbers have not been released it’s estimated that there were several thousand fans in attendance with the larger crowd on Sunday as expected. Many Ken Block fans were disappointed not see him in action during the weekend. A conflict with WRC France will also keep him away for round 2, but if his schedule allows we might see him at round 3 later in the Fall. Adding the likes of Brian Deegan into the mix would also be a plus because he brings a tough guy, Metal Mulisha attitude to the event. He was like the guy from long past gladiator days at the XGames, all he was missing was the spikes on the wheels.

ESPN’s Jen Horsey was on the move all weekend tracking down drivers and crew chiefs, while also trying to explain RallyCross to a new American audience, Jen is pictured here interviewing Chris Duplessis driver of the 0-60/GO-Pro Subaru. Photo ©Neil McDaid/

One issue does deserve a mention. The buzz around the pits, and the question on many minds, is: Will the RallyCar group move their focus from U.S. stage rally to RallyCross? In my opinion - yes. The reasons I feel this way are: less issues with spectators, less issues with road closure, lower overall prep cost, tracks are near major metros, fans will be drawn to the familiar multi-car racing format and with ESPN on board for TV….need I say more? Stay tuned.