It may seem like a no-brainer for a series such as Red Bull Global Rallycross to bring their bombastic brand of motorsport to the traditional center of the American automobile, Detroit – but after a few failed attempts, they finally made it happen. What’s more, the .757 mile course – one of GRC’s longer, faster courses – was set up on Belle Isle, incorporating part of the Grand Prix track which IndyCars more commonly zoom around. The counterclockwise course wrapped around the fountain in four turns, with the Joker Lap a quick turn around the fountain’s north side on the inside of the course loop. After traversing the jump, drivers headed into the dirt hazard at turn 8 – then a fast straightaway to gradual turns 9 and 10 to finish. Across the Detroit River loomed the Ford-funded, General Motors-owned Renaissance Center.
This season, instead of using truck loads of packed dirt, the trademark jump was constructed with scaffolding and wooden planks. Arriving for practice on Friday, things were a bit tense as workers rushed to complete the already behind schedule jump. Things got a bit more worrisome when practice began and whole planks had to be replaced after being torn up and broken by the cars on each run. Dirt was packed onto the jump entrance and exit for smoother, more solid transitions, but GRC Lites qualifying was eventually cancelled to get the jump truly race-ready.
The jump was in much better shape for the first of two days of finals on Saturday. A muggy day threatened rain, but thunderstorms were thankfully avoided. 18-year-old Alex Keyes was a favorite in GRC Lites, and Brian Wong was stepping in to represent Rhys Millen Racing in Detroit. 16-year old Austin Cindric – slated to race a Lamborghini Gallardo R-EX in the upcoming Pirelli World Challenge in Mid-Ohio – held on in the final to place third, while Californian Miles Maroney came in second. GRC Lites rookie Tanner Whitten, supported by DirtFish rally, took first place.
Fresh off a second-place overall finish the previous weekend at the New England Forest Rally in Newry, Maine, Ken Block maintained his momentum to win his first round heat. Patrik Sandell, racing in a Ford Fiesta, led the final until he ran into some mechanical issues. Block took over the lead for the top spot on the podium in his sixth career win, and Scott Speed prevented a Ford trifecta with his Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross Beetle wedged firmly in second between Block and Sebastian Eriksson (driving a Red Bull Olsbergs MSE Ford Fiesta) in third.
Sunday was hot, hot, hot, and primed for some shaking up. The Lites heats saw some carnage, ultimately knocking four cars out of competition. There was some tight competition between Miles Maroney and Alejandro Fernandez, with Maroney besting his previous days podium to come in first. Fernandez placed second, and Austin Cindric once again took third.
Sandell was back with a vengeance, winning the Supercar semi-final. The entire field, in fact was even more competitive than on Saturday, and a first-round pile-up in the final rendered Tanner Foust’s Beetle too damaged to continue. The final was started over with Sandell shooting to the front, as points leader Block incurred a controversial (to him) penalty for rough driving. Sandell jubilantly won the race, with the rest of the podium not changing at all from Saturday; scrappy Scott Speed with his Beetle still sandwiched in second between the Ford Fiestas of Sandell and Sebastian Eriksson.
Detroit marked Red Bull Global Rallycross’s mid-season, and heads next to Washington, DC August 15, 2015. Patrik Sandell won in DC last year – so it will be interesting to see if he can do it again this year. Or, will the dominant Ken Block come back to win his seventh GRC victory? Will the VARX Beetles edge the Fords off the top of the podium? Can the scrappy Subaru Rally Team, well, rally and regain the competitive edge they honed last year, and we saw glimpses of in MCAS New River? The competition is itchy – tune in this August.