Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Sebastien Loeb Grabs XGames Gold for RedBull/Citroen Racing; Ken Block Holds Off Brian Deegan for Silver

Sebastien Loeb celebrating with Ken Block as they take Gold and Silver at X Games RallyCross
Photo: Neil McDaid
Los Angeles, California.  It was just another day in the office for eight-time WRC Champion Sebastien Loeb as he masterfully steered his Citroën DS3 to overall victory at X Games RallyCross. Not only was it his first time at the X Games, it was also the first time Loeb participated in a RallyCross event and the French rally ace still took home the gold medal.

A man of few words, Loeb commented on his victory, "We know it's a high level event and I'm really pleased to win, but maybe my main rival, Marcus Grönholm, wasn't able to race. I'm just happy he's OK."
But the real story of the RallyCross final was Monster World Rally Team driver Ken Block. After dismal showings in Charlotte and Texas, Block surprised many with his hard-charging, fast pace as he tightly chased Loeb on the opening laps of the RallyCross final. Block picked up a flat on lap three finally letting Loeb pull away from him, Block kept his focus and hit the best possible line through every turn to hold a sizeable lead on third place.

The reverse course layout for 2012 RallyCross aided Block as there were only two real left turns that he had to fight through when his right rear went flat. Not daunted by this adversity, Block threw caution to the wind and attacked the course and jump regardless of the flat. Somehow Block managed to stay ahead of a charging Brian Deegan to grab the silver medal.

"Tire Slayer" Ken Block shows us the
remains of his right rear tire.
Photo: Neil McDaid
Deegan, who would eventually finish in the bronze medal spot, had battled from the rear of the field to close the gap on a hindered Block.  As Ken took the checkered flag the Metal Mulisha “general” was right on his rear bumper; another lap and silver would surely have been Deegan’s.  
“This is incredible for me,” said Block. “This season of GRC has been tough; I’ve had some mechanical issues and bad luck. But, to come out yesterday and qualify first, ahead of the legendary Sébastien [Loeb], then come from starting on the second row in the final to work my way into silver medal position—and to hold onto it after suffering a puncture and losing my right rear tire? The feeling is amazing. I’m super stoked on how this race went for me!”
As Loeb, Block and Deegan celebrated their medal victories; they all wished a speedy recovery to Marcus Gronholm who had been injured during a hard crash in qualifying.  

How the X Games RallyCross unraveled for others:
OlsbergsMSE /Ford Racing

With the exception of Deegan’s bronze medal, just about anything that could go wrong did go wrong for the most successful team to date in the 2012 Global RallyCross Championship.  Things started to unravel for the team on Friday evening when team driver Toomas Heikkinen came up short on the large metal jump, taking himself and his Ford Fiesta out of the games. Just barely 24hours later the team would lose yet another driver and car from the competition. WRC Champion Marcus Gronholm, who is currently leading the 2012 Global RallyCross Championship points, clipped a concrete footing for a light post during qualifying and took a front wheel off his Best Buy sponsored Fiesta. Marcus was knocked unconscious by the impact and was rushed from the scene by ambulance.  Marcus was a hot favorite for the gold coming into X Games 18.

British driver David Binks, in the second of the Best Buy Fiestas, had a rough time in the heats on Sunday. He first got caught in the wreck that took out Travis Pastrana [see below].  After the track was cleared of Pastrana’s car, David took victory over fellow Brit David Higgins in a Subaru. This was a short lived victory as Binks, while sitting fourth in the final, spun backwards into the wall while battling with Hyundai driver Rhys Millen. Binks retired a short while later.

With the team’s leading driver in the hospital, the torch was passed to Tanner Foust and Ford team mate Brian Deegan to bring it home for OlsbergsMSE /Ford Racing. Tanner got off to a flying start in his RockStar Energy sponsored Fiesta in the first of two attempts at the final.  Tanner was able to get tucked in behind leader Loeb until the race was red flagged. On the restart Ken Block got the hole shot on Tanner and grabbed second behind Sebastian Loeb, pushing Tanner to third. Steering problems eventually slowed his progress and he conceded third to a hard charging Deegan.

Deegan’s incredible run from the back of the starting grid to the bronze medal spot on the podium was the only bright spot for a team that had high expectations of sweeping the podium at X Games RallyCross.

Sverre Isachsen aka “The Viking Warrior” holding off Brian Deegan in the heats.
Photo: Neil McDaid
Although Subaru USA is making strides in the development of their first RallyCross-specific STI, they still have a ways to go on their road to a podium.
Dave Mirra is experiencing some awful bad luck in RallyCross this year. He has DNFs in both of the opening rounds of the GRC and X Games 18 proved no better. Mirra would tangle with long time sponsor and friend Ken Block in the heats and would retire on just the second lap. Subaru mechanics would work furiously to get Mirra out for the last chance qualifier (LCQ) only to see his STI retire with further mechanical issues.

RallyCross rookie Bucky Lasek continues to make improvement in his driving, but despite the passion to win, he still lacks the experience and speed to be in the hunt. A surprising last minute entry from the Subaru’s Rally America ace David Higgins did not yield the team any better luck. Higgins, although fast on the track, was clearly uncomfortable pushing on the large jump. Higgins would also retire in the final with mechanical issues.

As we had predicted, Sverre Isachsen aka “The Viking Warrior” was the best bet for a podium finish for Subaru at X Games. Sverre delivered in his heat. In classic European RallyCross style, he dove across the front of the pack from the outside to take the lead into the first turn. He held off Brian Deegan in a bumper-to-bumper battle to win the heat and grab a front row starting position in the final. Despite a good start in the final, Sverre would retire with damaged steering, ending any chances for a podium for Subaru.

Dodge / Redbull / Discount Tire
Fans got to see Travis Pastrana take several practice runs before Andy Scott took him to the wall.
Photo: Neil McDaid

The woes at Team Dodge / RedBull have carried over from the GRC right into the X Games. Travis Pastrana, who jumped on board with Dodge in the new Dart with high hopes of taking the new platform to victory, just cannot seem to catch a break. Travis had one of the fastest cars in qualifying and was clearly the favorite in his group to take a heat victory.  But a “racing incident” put Pastrana in the wall in the first corner of his heat race ending his X Games. Andy Scott in the Saab, who had a poor start off the line, quickly made up ground on Pastrana heading into the first turn, but the Saab did not seem to have the stopping power of the Dodge.  

"Amazing. I had the inside lane on the start, got to my standard braking spot and I was starting to turn in and picked up 30 mile-per-hour. The guy behind me (Andy Scott) forgot to brake.  Just incredible,” explained a frustrated Pastrana. "I started inside, pole. We had a great start and I was clear of everyone heading into Turn 1 and got punted. The next thing you know I'm in the wall and my heat race is over."

Bryce Menzies, in the second of the Dodge Darts, definitely showed some great promise during qualifying, in his first ever drive behind the wheel of a rallycross car.  “These Dodge Darts are really fast and great to drive. It's one of the fastest cars that I've ever driven," explained Bryce. He goes on to explain his departure from X Games in the LCQ.  "It was crazy. I had a great start but Andy (Scott) jumped the start and got red-flagged…On the second restart, I let my foot off the clutch just a touch too quick and jumped the green flag which forced a third restart. I got a great jump and was ready to give them a great run. I went off the little dirt jump and either a shock or tire blew out. It stuffed me into the wall and ended our day. Just a bummer."

Rhys Millen Racing:

Team principal Rhys Millen faired the best of the two Hyundai cars the team fielded at X Games.
"What a final! Because of this Hyundai's reliability, we had our best finish yet at X Games," said Millen. As mentioned, David Binks turned into Millen attempting to defend his driving line which spun out both drivers. But Millen quickly got back in line, passing Binks and two other drivers but was unable to stay with the pace of Deegan in the closing laps and finished just out of medal contention. "We have this Veloster at the competitive level it needs to be on top. I have no doubt in my mind that next year we can bring Hyundai its first gold medal," said Millen.

Stephan Verdier, in the number 12 Motorcity Hyundai, had hoped to have a new, updated engine for the DisneyXD car coming into X Games. Unfortunately for Stephan, it was not to be and he was clearly down on power as he struggled to match the pace. "I had a lot of fun here at X Games driving the Motorcity car. Special thanks to DisneyXD and the team at Motorcity for their help in making this door-to-door rally action possible," said Verdier.

Scott Eklund Racing:

If you want to piss off NASCAR fans just put Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in the wall. Well, putting 11-time gold medalist Travis Pastrana in the wall has just about the same affect at X Games. I have no doubt that it was not an intentional act, but more adrenaline on the part of Andy Scott. I would go as far as to say if it were any other driver that Andy tangled with he may not have been black flagged.  

“I didn’t get the best start, but then picked up momentum, and as we entered the first corner Travis braked earlier than I expected, and I ran into the back of him. It was purely a racing incident, but nevertheless not the way I wanted to start my X Games campaign,” said the fisherman from Scotland. Scott was allowed to move forward into the LCQ. “We managed to get the car repaired just in time for the Last Chance Qualifier, but sadly it wasn’t enough to get through to the final,” said a disappointed Scott.

Samuel Hubinette drove the second of the Scott-Eklund Racing Saab 9-3s with ENEOS Motor Oil as his primary sponsor.“I’m very excited once again to bring home a first place in the heat. I made a great start but after two laps my clutch started to go away, but luckily I had enough of a lead to keep Ken Block behind me. I’ve been fortunate now to win all my heats so far this season so that’s a great testament to the performance of the Scott-Eklund Racing Saab 9-3 with Eneos Motor Oil.

“But unfortunately in the final we had a red flag and while I was running third and feeling very strong about challenging for second, I got smacked from behind into the wall. But that’s racing, and sometimes that happens. But overall I’m happy with my performance and the car’s performance, the gear changes we made overnight were great, and having rally legend Per Eklund alongside me has been fantastic. I can’t wait for the next round and hopefully that will be my time to get on the podium.”

The next round of the Global RallyCross is at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 14. For tickets and more info check out www.nhms.com
Photo © Neil McDaid / Rallyworldnews.com
Report: Neil McDaid, Donna M. Tocci
Source: Dodge/Fordracing/Scott-Eklund Racing/RMR