No one expected rain in the desert, but rain on the Red Bull Global Rallycross Championship in Las Vegas, Nevada it did. Running concurrent with SEMA, the huge automotive aftermarket convention held the first week of November annually, GRC kicked off with an autograph session Monday night at the SLS Casino. Tuesday’s energetic practice on the 1.31 kilometer (.814 mile) track in the bright sun was the opposite of the muddy carnage that would occur the following day. After Steve Arpin and Brian Deegan’s fastest lap times in practice, Steve Arpin won his first GRC pole.
Returning to the site of the 2013 championship with the pyramid and sphinx of the Luxor Casino across Las Vegas Boulevard as a backdrop, the roughly 80% pavement / 20% dirt track circled its way around and in on itself, winding around a decrepit mid-century motel. For the season-ender, the signature dirt jump was bypassed by the Kobalt Tools Joker Lap, shortening the track by 235 feet (71.63 meters.) The Joker Lap can only be taken once by each driver after the first lap is completed.
The usual suspects were competing in the Supercars class, with the 2015 Rally America champion David Higgins joining the Subaru team in a third car. The familiar face of Pat Moro also joined for his 2nd race of the 2015 season with some upgrades to his Chevrolet Sonic. There were a few new names in Lites: Augie Lerch debuted the new Buhl Sport Detroit team, and another woman – Sandra Hultgren – came along to compete with Olsberg MSE. One unexpected entry in GRC Lites was none other than Stephan Verdier. After competing in Supercars in previous years, he took Harry Cheung’s place as a last-minute substitute for Rhys Millen Racing.
On the morning of race day, weather reports said 50% chance of rain. However Las Vegas is a gambling town, and the odds were not in GRC’s favor. A late afternoon thunderstorm that reportedly brought hail to SEMA at the opposite end of the Strip blew in, prompting a temporary evacuation of the track and the stands. Rallycross is rough and tumble as it is, but the unseasonably cold temperatures, slick track and resulting mud rendered the semi-finals and Last Chance Qualifiers absolutely brutal. Cars slid into walls and each other above and beyond the usual door-banging, leaving Sverre Isachsen, Ken Block and David Higgins all with DNF’s in the semi-finals due to crippling damage. Ken Block did make it to the final.
Scott Speed was in front at the beginning of the final as teammate Tanner Foust spun and tangled with several other cars on the first turn. Last year’s season champion Joni Wiman sped past and stayed in front, ultimately winning the race. His Red Bull Olsbergs MSE teammate Sebastian Eriksson placed second, while Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross’s Speed took the third spot on the podium as well as winning the 2015 Driver and Team Championship.
Alex Keyes placed first in GRC Lites, and echoing the Supercar podium, Oliver Eriksson placed third in the race while winning the season championship. Andreas Wernersson, another new face with OMSE, took second.
At the GRC awards ceremony, Patrik Sandell took home the KMC Sportsman Award, and Ford won the Manufacturer award. The Royal Purple Fan Favorites were Tanner Foust (Supercars) and Alejandro Fernandez (Lites), and after his first year of competing in GRC Lites, Miles Maroney was named the Sylvania Rising Star.
And so begins Silly Season. The very next day at SEMA’s Ford Out Front, Brian Deegan’s daughter Hailie – already an experienced Mod Kart competitor – announced that she’d be putting her hat into the GRC Lites ring. If River Racing’s Collete Davis and newbie-to-GRC Sandra Hultgren return next year, that would make an unprecedented three women competing in the series, which is pretty exciting. Outside of that, there are a lot of questions to be answered; with Volkswagen’s emissions scandal, will there still be a budget for the VARX team in 2016? Subaru experienced maybe not the season they had hoped for – will their team stay intact? Will we see more of David Higgins in GRC as Travis Pastrana becomes more involved with his Nitro Circus – or Bucky Lasek debuting in Rally America? Will Rhys Millen return for a full season? After so many rumors swirling around the internet – will other manufacturers join in the GRC fun? Stay tuned in 2016.