As Kurt mentioned yesterday, the first ever European-style RallyCross race to be held in the U.S. took place this past weekend. Well, I decided to check it out for myself, and on Sunday, I trekked out to the New Jersey Motorsports Park in breathtaking Millville. I didn’t know what to expect. I’ve been to stage rallies before and I know the SCCA has off-road autocross that goes by the same name, so I figured it would be something like both, except with multiple cars driving simultaneously and some tarmac in between. Little did I know I was about to witness a balls out racing spectacle.
RallyCross first appeared in the states in this past July’s X Games. European motorsports enthusiasts, on the other hand, have been a rapt audience since the 1960s; the most popular series being the FIA European Championship for Rallycross Drivers, with races taking place all over the continent.
The basic idea behind RallyCross is that several cars compete on tarmac and on dirt surfaces (the track this weekend was 70% tarmac and 30% dirt). They flat out race against each other at insanely high speeds, so paint trading is delightfully inevitable, along with some pretty wild crashes – especially when they’re all clustered together, taking a sharp turn at high speed, engines howling like a pack of furious wolves, and – ah! – the terrain switches to dirt. Suffice it to say, the barriers truly proved their worth this weekend.
There’s also an added “Joker Lap” – a short, challenging area that breaks off from the course and is designed to add extra time to the lap. All drivers have to take the Joker Lap once during the race or face a 30 second penalty, so timing the Joker is everything. A small jump made it into the course which provided great entertainment, especially when the AWD behemoths roared over it, somehow narrowly defying catastrophic mid-air collisions. It seemed as if Travis Pastrana got the least amount of air out of the drivers, gaining distance faster on all four wheels than his rivals did taking flight.
Still, AWD A Main was Tanner Foust’s race, as he dominated the class in his 600 hp monster Fiesta that devoured everything in its path, maintaining a clear lead over the others the entire race. I believe Foust was the only American driver in the pack with FIA Rallycross experience, which may have given him an edge – or else he’s just a really amazing driver with an unbeatable car – which is also entirely plausible. I heard he was driving his actual competition car from the European RallyCross races.
I should note that Pastrana wiped out in spectacular fashion early on in the race, plowing into a barrier right in front of me and getting the back end of his STi airborne. I thought I was about to eat Subaru, but his recovery was equally stunning – he spun the car around, drifting through the grass, back onto the dirt and plowed on. The race, however, was restarted from the beginning, with Pastrana relegated to last place. He wound up finishing second.
The 2WD A Main race was quite a spectacle. The winner, Josh Wimpey, drove a 1987 VW Golf GTI. A Mazdaspeed 3 driven by Wyatt Knox finished second. In an earlier heat race, the 3 battled it out with a crowd favorite, an MX-5/Miata, driven by John Tancredi. Honestly, I never thought I’d ever see a Miata bounding over a dirt jump but I’ll think twice next time as the car did a good job keeping up, and though it didn’t manage a victory, its near passes made the race extremely entertaining. In the final 2WD race, the Miata valiantly soldiered on, despite hitting a barrier and shedding metal.
Another intriguing contender was Justin Carven’s vegetable oil-fueled 1979 Rabbit TDI. I saw the car leave the track via tow truck, but it definitely got in a few really impressive runs beforehand.
Despite the unwavering heat that Sunday, I had a phenomenal time. RallyCross combines all of the best elements of my favorite motorsports into one race – tricky corners, thrilling tarmac straightaway blitzes, elevation changes, hair-raising passing and glorious dirt-sailing drifts. It was a little surreal – I never thought I’d ever see some of my favorite rally drivers literally racing each other, head-to-head, on tarmac – which was an absolutely thrilling experience. And seeing rally liveried STis and Evos drift through the corners on the track was like a Gran Turismo wet dream.
Unlike other professional racing events I’ve attended, this one was extremely accessible to spectators. During a heat race, Dave Mirra took out a tire wall. He drove his car to the Subaru pit in the parking lot and the Subie crew just jacked it up right there, stripped it of its damage, and fixed it. I was standing about six feet from the car with a handful of people. And all you had to do was pick your spot next to the track and you were guaranteed a good view.
Everyone was having a blast. No one could resist the remarkable enthusiasm of the hilarious Swedish commentator, people were really chill, Pastrana and Mirra were out signing autographs and talking with fans. The mood was good and the drivers were obviously enjoying themselves. At the end of the AWD Final race, Foust, Mirra, and Pastrana burned some serious rubber doing donuts in front of the cheering crowd.
I suggest that if you’re within driving distance, you should take a day trip out to Millville to check this series out. I heard that since the Sunday event was the first, management took it easy, looking to gauge the reactions of the drivers and audience before the next race. On Sunday, rumor was that Rally America is going to go all out for the October race in Millville. I’m definitely going to check it out and you should too if you enjoy rallying and road racing. If the excitement I witnessed on Sunday is telling of its success, RallyCross will be an immensely popular new addition to U.S. motorsports.
AWD A Main Final
1) Tanner Foust – 2010 Ford Fiesta
2) Travis Pastrana – 2010 Subaru WRX STi
3) Dave Mirra – 2010 Subaru WRX STi
4) Ramana Lagemann – 2008 Ford Focus
5) Andrew Comrie-Picard – 2007 Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9
2WD A Main Final
1) Josh Wimpey – 1987 Volkswagen Golf GTI
2) Wyatt Knox – 2008 Mazdaspeed 3
3) Randy Zimmer – 2000 Subaru Impreza RS
4) John Tancredi – 2006 Mazda MX-5
5) Brian Johnston – 2006 Honda Civic Si