Sunday, April 24, 2011

Battle of the Brands, Ford Continues to hold off the Competition at Round Two of The Global RallyCross Championship

Report and Images By Neil McDaid

Snoqualmie, WA. Round two of the 2011 Global RallyCross Championship, Andreas Eriksson who was filling in for Marcus Gronholm in the Best Buy/Ford Fiesta took top honors in the Super Rally on day one, while his Ford teammate Tanner Foust in the Rockstar Energy Ford Fiesta made it a 1-2 for Ford Racing as he claimed victory on day-two in RallyCross. The winning weekend for Ford has moved them to the top of the manufactures points in the GRC Championship.

For round number two of the Global RallyCross Championship, [GRC] teams headed northwest to Snoqualmie Washington. The second event on the GRC calendar would be held on the grounds of the historic Snoqualmie Falls Lumber Co., which is now the home of DirtFish Rally School.
Converting the open grounds of the old mill to a RallyCross park for the weekend posed some challenges for the organizers in how they would accommodate an unknown number of fans.
GRC organizers setup several large spectator grand stands at one side of the course, but it soon became apparent they didn’t come close to accommodating the large numbers of fans that showed up for this rapidly growing form of motorsport.

It’s critical to the success of this sport to have great vantage points and facilities for the fans, so they can get up close to the action. The large multilevel grand stands were located near the jump giving those lucky enough to get there early a great viewing location. For others left viewing from the ground level the k-rail that lined out the course blocked some of the action as the cars raced around the flat track layout. There is no question that spectator seating can be improved should the GRC return to DirtFish in 2012.

With the exception of the gap jump the course layout was a drastic contrast from what driver’s tackled at round one in Irwindale Speedway.
The course was a 60/40 split, give or take, between tar [60] and gravel.
Drivers would launch from a standing start from one of the tarred sections followed by a short straight into a tight right hander and then onto the first gravel section.
After they completed the first gravel section, they would then charge down through a large warehouse, a very unique feature of this facility. After exiting the warehouse on the other side, drivers would have another short tarred section before facing the mandatory gravel jump. AWD cars had to take the jump at least once, and only once per heat. We figured by taking the Joker / jump section drivers had about a thirteen second advantage over the twisty maze of concrete K-rail that lined out the rest of the track.
The 2WD cars were not required to take the jump, their joker lap ran alongside the jump which was also on gravel. Their joker advantage was about the same as taking the jump, about 13 seconds.
The joker section on most RallyCross tracks is normally the longer way around, but in this particular layout it was definitely the expressway. .

Day One:
For some unknown reason the jump set up dimensions/angle were not the same as Irwindale, and it took several passes and a hard landing from the “jump tester” Tanner Foust to get it all dialed in. As we have seen several times in the past, all cars do not fly over gap the same, over the two days of racing the jump would claim yet another car and a few parts from others.
Organizers would eventfully get things underway with the Super Rally event. Now, in my humble opinion GRC should just ditch the Super Rally portion and concentrate on running two days of RallyCross. These events are so similar that I feel fans really don’t see any difference, with the exceptions of the finals.

For Subaru Team driver Dave Mirra, his weekend was set to get off to an awful start, Dave would clip the edge of the gap ramp and roll his Subaru. The car did a full roll and landed back on all fours, Dave was able to get it fired up again and limped back to the pits where the factory team made some record fast repairs, the first of many on this weekend.
The carnage did not stop with Mirra; Joseph Burke who lost his speedometer due to an electronic dash malfunction had to take a “best guess” at his approach speed to the jump. The correct approach speed is absolutely critical, too slow and its head first into the landing ramp, too fast and it’s a long flight with an unpredictable landing, the approach speed also seems to vary greatly depending on the car.
Carrying just a little too much speed, Burke launched like a scene from Smokey and the Bandit, clearing the front edge of the landing ramp by a good 30 feet, then landing nose down into the gravel, Burke had the nerve to stay on the power and somehow avoided total disaster, nonetheless the car sustained heavy front end damage and his day was done.

We would also see the departure of one of the two Team Hyundai Veloster cars entered, Marcus Dodd contacted the wall while battling door to door on the gravel and damaged the steering, Surprisingly Marcus would not return to competition on day two.
Working through the qualifying rounds in AWD we would see Tanner Foust edge out a victory over Steven Verdier to move Foust to the Super Rally final.
One of the best battles in the AWD on day one would come to us courtesy of two of Europe’s top RallyCross drivers. Andreas Eriksson, who we mentioned earlier, was filling in for Marcus Gronholm in the Best Buy Fiesta, would go head to head with Mikael Jernberg in the Skoda Fabia.
These guys left nothing on the track, Eriksson throw down his classic sideways blocking move into the first transition onto the gravel and took the early lead, Jernberg hung tough swapping the lead back and forth, before Andreas finally opened a slight gap and took the victory.
The AWD Super Rally final was now set to be an all Ford affair with teammates Foust and Eriksson on the line.
But it was to be a short lived final, fighting for position into the first turn, Foust would make contact with a course barrier, jolting the steering wheel in such a way that he dislocated his shoulder; the race was over as quickly as it started. With Foust unable to continue, Andreas Eriksson would take the overall victory, the injured Foust would have to settle for second with Steven Verdier taking the final spot podium.

Day One – 2WD
After missing round one in Irwindale due to issues with the importation of his car Mikael Eriksson’s mighty Porsche 911 was finally here and set free to run riot over 2WD.
This Porsche is a far cry from anything we have seen competing in 2WD in the GRC to-date, putting out somewhere in the region 360-400hp [??] it easily had 150-200hp on its nearest rival.
We were somewhat surprised to see several of the returning podium finisher from round one getting eliminated in the 2WD Super Rally Quarter finals.
Matthew Johnson in the Mazda RX-8 would fall to Dillon Van Way in the Ford Focus.
Kris Dahl in a Honda Civic would take out Randy Zimmer in the Miata.

Onto the semi finals, local 2WD legend Cody Crane in his little green Honda CRX, would go head to head with Dillon Van Way in the Focus.
Cody is without question one of the fastest and most exciting 2WD drivers currently competing in U.S. rally, unfortunately due to lack of budget he rarely competes outside of his local northwest events.
The semi final battle between Van Way and Crane was neck and neck until Crane made an unbelievable pass on Van Way on the closing lap and snatched the victory.

Crane was now paired up against Mikael Eriksson’s Porsche in the 2WD Super Rally final. Watching the Porsche rip up the track throughout the day may have left many thinking that this was a no win situation for Crane in the CRX, but apparently no one told Cody.
Although, Eriksson’s Porsche never gave up the lead to Crane, he seemed to have a lot of trouble shaking the little green Honda especially throughout the technical gravel section. Down through the warehouse the Porsche would power ahead, but Crane just kept the Honda matted, never lifting trying to keep in touch. In the end Eriksson would claim victory, but just barely as the little CRX was stuck to his rear bumper. Cody may have lost this battle but to the fans in the stands he was the hero as they cheered loudly as he took his place on the 2WD podium.

Day two
Day two would see even more fans  showing up to check out the RallyCross action at the Dirt Fish facility, and we would witness yet another spectacular wreck on the gap jump.
Polish driver Andi Mancin, who has competed in the Rally America Championship in recent years, would lose a turbo pipe as he approached the jump. Andi barely made it across the gap; the car would land on the edge of the landing ramp and was then flung into the air with front end parts flying everywhere. After pile driving the nose into the landing ramp, the car would come to rest with a hard landing on it’s roof.
Rescue crews were quickly on scene and Andi was extracted from the wreckage. Andi was sore from the belts but otherwise fine.
After the qualifying rounds we would move directly to the heats. In 2WD it was total domination by the by Mikael Eriksson in the Porsche setting the fastest times throughout.

Most fans were unaware that both Super AWD and Limited AWD cars were mixed together during the heats, as they have no distinctive markings to identify the classes.
As the series grows, organizers will most likely break out these classes into their own heats and finals. In the AWD unlimited class Andreas Eriksson would set the pace in his Ford Fiesta, and just seemed untouchable throughout the heats. In the AWD limited class, despite having another run in with the jump Joseph Burke in his Mitsubishi would manage to win his heat and take max points in class.

With the heats completed it was onto the 2WD finals, as with AWD both the Super and Limited classes of 2WD cars were mixed together. To no-one’s surprise, it was Mikael Eriksson’s Porsche that tore off the line and had the lead into the first turn, Eriksson never looked back.
Matthew Johnson slotted into second, Johnson who had just acquired his Mazda RX-8 before the last round in Irwindale spend most of the weekend tweaking the car to extract every last bit of power from the high revving rotary mill. In the final, Johnson definitely found some extra grunt in the Mazda as he seemed to hold off Dillon Van Way in the Focus with ease. Positions would stay unchanged throughout the race, in the end it was Eriksson, claiming the victory over Johnson, and Van Way taking third.

With the 2WD final in the bag, it was onto the grand finale, the AWD A-Main.
On the line, Ford team mates, Tanner Foust and Andreas Eriksson, were joined by Michael Jernberg in the Skoda, Hyundai team driver Rhys Millen, and Privateer Stephen Verdier in his Subaru STI. Lining up behind the main field was Subaru team driver Dave Mirra. Despite showing some great speed, Mirra had a challenging weekend, with his roll on day one, and then followed by a hard lick off the concrete k-rail on day two; Mirra was brought into the final as an organizers option.
As they launched from the line it was Andreas Eriksson with the edge, and off in to the first corner making his Best Buy Fiesta as wide as possible flicking the rear out while blocking the inside line with the nose. Foust and Jernberg were door to door jockeying for position, with Verdier and Millen in tow. As Eriksson began to open a slight gap on Foust and Jernberg it seemed that he was set to sweep the weekend, but a puncture on the penultimate lap would see Foust move to first. Andreas would also concede second to the Skoda of Michael Jernberg, Andreas barely held off Stephen Verdier who was also slowed by a puncture for third.
With Tanner on the podium it capped off a great weekend for Ford, privateers Michael Jernberg and Stephen Verdier proved it is possible to hang with the factory teams. Hyundai drivers Rhys Millen and Marcus Dodd despite not yet making it to the podium showed great promise for the Veloster.
Foust’s win in Seattle moves him to the top of the point’s standings after two rounds. A single point separated Michael Jernberg and Stephen Verdier for second and third.
Jimmy Kenney leads Joseph Burke in AWD limited class, with the current standings Keeney has unofficially qualified for XGAMES, while Burke just needs to secure a few points in round three to clinch the remaining spot for AWD limited drivers. In 2WD it’s neck and neck between Matthew Johnson and Dillon Van Way, Johnson holds a mere four point advantage on DVW.
We take a break from RallyCross for a few months, and turn our focus back to stage rally. Round #3 of the Rally America Championship, Olympus Rally gets underway on April 29th in Ocean Shores Washington. Check back for updates and also check in with for more info and the official spectator guide.