A Whole Other Animal

“How do we describe Global Rally at it’s simplest form? Crazy cars that drive over jumps, handle gravel, dirt and pavement sections. A lot of action.”
Oliver Eriksson driving the RedBull sponsored Honda Civic.

Those words rang in my ears as I looked around the Lucas Oil Speedway- Red Bull Global Rally cross hybrid track. What exactly was I looking at? The guest sanctioning body took the basic .686 mile pavement oval and made some additions. Instead of turn two, the Rally cars would cut through a dirt chicane out in the infield and over a large gravel jump laid adjacent to start/finish, and loop around in a mud puddle before rejoining the pavement course between turns three and four. Sitting on a grassy knoll, surveying the scene in front of me I realized that this adaptation of auto racing was both vaguely similar and completely different.

In this version of racing, a fast start is key. Each race lasts roughly 10 minutes depending on the course. The race weekend schedule is littered with a bunch of these short sprints, each finish designating points to set up the main event. That being said, the race weekend is extremely laid back. Two days of racing equates to maybe six or eight shorts bursts of competition by the title series, called ‘Super Cars’ followed by a development group referred to as the ‘Lights.’ In all, there is a lot of flexibility in the schedules, fostering a laid back and casual atmosphere around the track.

The only the pit crews seem to be flung into a frenzy. This style of racing is so rough on the cars that a lot needs to be cleaned, replaced and monitored between each bout. Once the car comes zipping in off of the track, it is immediately propped up on jacks, the hood is flown open, and a little army of technicians descend on the race-fresh vehicle. Quick engine changes are common and each crewman has to have hustle in their job description.

The Red Bull Global Rallycross series has twelve races, most of them in the United States. Each course is made- to order for race weekend, each having a completely different layout and challenges. A few elements are consistent. The track must have pavement and dirt, all must have a jump of some kind and all must involve what the series refers to as a ‘Joker.’

A Joker is an addition on the racecourse that every driver must take once in each race. They are not allowed to take this route on the first lap, but they can take it only once per round. Sometimes the course is designed so that the Joker is a short cut, and sometimes the Joker is the long way around. The key is taking the Joker lap to strategy.

In the main event that I attended, the Supercar winner, Scott Speed driving the Olberto sponsored Volkswagen Bug for Andretti Autosport took the Joker when he was comfortably out front so that the long lag time did not affect his position. His teammate, Tanner Foust in the Rockstar Energy Drink Volkswagen Bug finished second and Steve Arpin in the Lorenbro motorsports Derive Efficiency Ford Fiesta rounded out the podium.

Upon celebrating in Winner’s Circle, it was clear that the series focused on the younger fans. After the traditional podium pictures and champagne fight, the drivers invited all of the kids to come up on stage and have their photo taken. Shortly thereafter, each of the podium winners spent as long as needed in order to sign every autograph and take every picture requested. This time is not a luxury in other styles of racing and I personally think that this attention to the younger demographic is what is fueling the sport’s popularity. Admission cheap, the racing is fast and the pits are open to anyone that bought a ticket to the show. The drivers are diverse, young and often very accessible.

“Global Rallycross is so different to what usually comes around here.” Commented Sebastian Eriksson (no relation to Oliver Eriksson) driving the other Team Red Bull sponsored Honda Civic. “I think it is fun for the fans to see something different. They seem to enjoy it very much.”

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