Sebastian Loeb is one of the greatest rally drivers of all-time with 72 World Rally wins and eight consecutive World Rally Championships. On Sunday, he took his 73rd win in a completely foreign discipline – RallyCross.
The Global RallyCross Championship (GRC), in its first full season of competition, has drivers from all over the world competing on tracks with a mixture of dirt, pavement and jumps while battling each other for victories. Loeb was challenged by fellow Red Bull team member and Nitro Circus leader Travis Pastrana to come and race on American soil.
Pastrana, one of the great X Games competitors with gold medals in Motocross and Rally, has focused on four-wheel competition this year: NASCAR K&N Pro East and Nationwide Series with Pastrana/Waltrip Racing and the GRC with the new Dodge Dart program.
Fellow Americans Tanner Foust and defending X Games RallyCross gold medalist Brian Deegan stood in the way of Loeb and Pastrana with their Ford Fiesta’s from the leading OMSE team. However, practice crashes involving two of their teammates would affect the entire weekend for the duo.
GRC points leader and two-time World Rally Champion Marcus Gronholm was knocked unconscious in a practice crash Saturday, after hitting a light post, attempting to cut a corner for faster time.
Teammate Toomas Heikkinen came up short during practice on the jump, hitting the front of the landing and flipping the car on the roof, eventually catching fire. Heikkinen sustained a broken ankle and abdominal injuries in the wreck. Deegan came in to pull his teammate out of the wreckage when nobody else would.
The racing would be determined on the start, with all of the heat, last chance and finals winners determined by the first corner. The course, reversed from 2011, did not include a joker lap, where the drivers must take an alternate route for one lap of a race, due to the wrecks earlier in the weekend.
Former Drift champion Samuel Hubinette won the first heat in his Saab 9-3, ahead of number one qualifier and Gymkhana king/DC Shoes co-founder Ken Block in his Monster Energy Ford Fiesta.
Heat two saw Loeb and his Red Bull Citroen CS3 get the win ahead of Foust’s Rockstar Energy Ford Fiesta, who stood as his main competition for gold with more experience in the discipline and the loss of Gronholm.
Heat three had Deegan and his Rockstar Energy/Metal Mulisha Ford Fiesta finish second to Subaru Puma’s Sverre Isachsen, leaving the defending gold medalist on the second row for the final.
Heat four saw the major drama. Pastrana, who had struggled for reliability and handling with his Dodge during the GRC events so far, qualified third fastest and had a chance for gold. However, after getting the hole shot, Andy Scott in a Saab, missed his braking and ran directly into Pastrana, wrecking the Discount Tire/Red Bull Dodge Dart, leaving Pastrana visibly angry and with no chance to race.
The two beneficiaries of the Pastrana/Scott incident were rally veterans David Binks and David Higgins, driving for Ford and Subaru respectively. Both drivers drove cleanly into the final with no competition. Higgins, a former Rally America champion, got a late entry in the field with the Subaru Puma team while Binks took a front row position.
With teammates Foust and Deegan in title contention, the team strategy was set for Binks to try to hold Loeb back to give the two leading drivers in GRC a chance at gold. In the last chance qualifiers, Rhys Millen in his Hyundai Veloster and 2011 X Games Rally Racing champion Liam Doran in his Monster Energy Citroen advanced to the final.
Pastrana attempted to get into teammate Bryce Menzies car for the LCQ, but was disallowed by the TV people due to the original rules of the GRC, stating that the driver stays with the car they originally entered the event with.
In the final, Loeb took off and had smooth sailing, winning by 12 seconds, as the drivers battled behind for a podium place and a medal. Block, who has had brutal luck in his World Rally events along with X Games, got a good start and took second behind Loeb on the start.
A punctured right rear tire almost derailed Block’s chances at a medal, but he would hold on for the final three laps on the rim to take silver. Deegan would benefit from carnage ahead after jumping a start and being moved to the last row. While Deegan was not able to retain gold, he was able to get on the podium and give his GRC title hopes a boost.
Millen, Doran, Foust and Higgins would all finish the event, while Binks, Hubinette and Isachsen were unable to finish. While Loeb will continue on his quest for a ninth-consecutive World Rally title, the drivers of the GRC will reconvene at New Hampshire Motor Speedway for the fourth event of the series starting July 12.