Charlotte Motor Speedway
Saturday, May 26, 2012
Gronholm Wins Season Opening Global Rallycross Debut at Charlotte Motor Speedway
by Adrian Parker
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Marcus Gronholm bested a world-class field of Global Rallycross drivers, including Travis Pastrana, Tanner Foust and Ken Block, to win the 2012 GRC season opener at Charlotte Motor Speedway Saturday.
Gronholm took the lead on the first turn of the first lap and won handily in the 10-lap feature.
Gronholm used his race strategy and took the joker lap on the start to open a lead that he would never relinquish. Tanner Foust came home second with Stephan Verdier taking third. Rounding out the top five were Andy Scott and Samuel Hubinette.
On the second lap, two of the race favorites, Foust and Travis Pastrana took the short cut and it wasn’t a lap before Pastrana found himself in the wall and done for the night, finishing ninth.
Competition was tight on the narrow course as there were several spins and shoving incidents. On lap four Foust and Toomas Heikkinen tangled with Foust coming out with the position. Hubinette spun on the last lap while runnig third and ended up in fifth. Several cars lit up the brakes as the competition was as hot as the evening.
The win was the first for Gronholm and his new Ford Fiesta team as he has not run during the past four seasons.
Here’s a recap of the rest of the night’s Global Rallycross racing action:
Round 1 – In the 1A heat, both the top qualifier, Marcus Gronholm, and the second-seeded Ken Block both took the joker shortcut on the first lap, taking control of the race. On the second lap, Richard Burton stopped mid-track and did not complete another lap.
Another lap into the six-lap event, Block went through the water feature and hydroplaned, sending him straight into the barrier and crumpling the front end of his car. As he returned to the pits, he was confident his team could fix his car for the remainder of the evening.
“Basically they’re putting water down on the track to make it difficult on us, and I’d gone through for three or four laps and it was consistent,” Block said. “Then all of a sudden that time it seemed like there was more water on there, and the car just hydroplaned right into the wall.”
With only two cars remaining on track, officials called the heat race: Grunholm won, Dave Mirra was second, Block was third and Burton fourth.
In heat 1B, Patrick Moro never fired and slowly worked his way off course. Meanwhile, Tanner Foust and Stephan Verdier also took the first-lap joker. But Sverre Isachsen takes his joker on the second lap and shoots out in front of Verdier, to the delight of the crowd. After six laps, that is how they finish: Foust, Isachsen, Verdier, Moro.
The 1C heat featured the same joker strategy, with first- and second-seeded Brian Deegan and Travis Pastrana taking the shortcut on the first lap. The two cars were locked in a dogfight until they passed under the water feature on pit road, when Pastrana though Deegan had made a mistake he could take advantage of.
“I thought he overshot the corner and then he came straight back across,” Pastrana said. “We didn’t hit him too hard, but we sheared a bolt off.”
Pastrana couldn’t restart, much to the disappointment of the NASCAR fans he had already won over with his Nationwide appearance earlier in the day. He finished in fourth for his heat, which was won by Deegan. David Binks and Tim Rooney finished second and third.
Five cars started heat 1D, with the top-seeded Toomas Heikkinen and second-seeded Samuel Hubinette again taking the joker on the first circuit to lead the lap. Rhys Millen took the joker on the second lap to pull into third. Bucky Lasey spun alone coming out of the hairpin turn, then took the joker to make up time. Finally the fifth competitor, Andy Scott, took the cheater lap on the fourth trip around, passing 81 for fourth. And that is how they finished: Heikkinen, Hubinette, Millen, Lasek and Scott.
The second round of heats featured the same groupings of drivers, and the only thing that changed was that the drivers picked their lanes based on finishing order in the first round of heats.
Round 2 – In heat 2A, Block’s car was not fixed in time to compete, so only three cars took to the track. Burton stalled at the start and never got going, leaving Gronholm and Mirra to battle it out again. By virtue of being the last two standing, both automatically transferred to the main event.
Heat 2B got off to a slow start for Isachsen, who seemed to have trouble slipping into gear. Foust and Verdier both took the joker, as did a still-slow Isachsen, to set the pace. Isachsen slipped off course after never getting up to speed, while Moro took the joker on the second lap. It wasn’t enough to put him in front of the leaders, and Foust and Verdier easily transferred.
Crowd favorite Pastrana brought the crowd to its feet in Heat 2C by making the most competitive on-track pass of the evening, slipping underneath Binks in the same place he’d spun in the previous heat. Deegan was in front, having taken the joker on his first lap, but something broke on the frontstretch, and he drove slowly off the track. Binks took the lead, but Pastrana took the joker on the next lap and slid out of the turn just in front of Binks for the lead. While the crowd cheered wildly, Pastrana continued to lead the final laps, as he and Binks transferred to the main.
Reversing their roles during the 1D heat, Hubinette and Heikkinen finished one-two in the 2D heat to advance directly to the finals. Hubinette advanced with a comfortable nearly two-second lead over the second place Heikkinen, who battled closely with Scott for the final automatic bid to the championship round. Scott and Millen headed to the Last Chance Qualifier round, while Lasek became the first casualty of the even. By virture of finishing fifth, he was eliminated from competition for the evening.
Last Chance qualifier – Andy Scott and Rhys Millen took the top two transfer positions in to the A-main feature after seven cars started the six-lap race. Millen and Tim Rooney took the top two spots on the opening lap as they elected to take the joker lap on the opening pass. On lap two, the car of Sverre Isachsen took over the lead by taking the short cut, but it was short lived as Andy Scott soon took over and Millen followed to the checked flag.
Marcus Gronholm (Winner, No. 3Best Buy Mobile/ OMSE Ford): “I took the first corner from somebody and after that I could drive my own race. But there was a little bit more here and there on the track, funny. Not bad at all to win here at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Let me tell you, I’m happy -- happy for my team, sponsors and everybody. I’m really happy and pleased after these two days here. I thought I could win here in the final without any problems at all. We did a little bit of things to the car, like with the brakes. The track was hard for the tires and brakes. Everything went well. I mean, the organization was running OK and the track was not easy, but not so difficult. The water on the track made it a little bit difficult and that was good for me. (Strategy) I was always planning from the start to take the shortest way first. Then, I’m out of traffic, I can do my own lines. So that worked very well. So I‘m happy with the strategy and what we did. And then we have to race and there was somebody trying to push me in that first corner. (To win here at Charlotte motor Speedway) It ranks right up there. Now it’s a new start again for me. I had stopped running since four years, and now with a completely new team and here in the states. It’s a new challenge for me as well. So to win here in the first race is right high for me with the NASCAR together.”
Tanner Foust (Second place, No. 34 Rockstar Energy Etnies Ford) – “I have to be honest, I was pretty nervous tonight, because yesterday I hit a barrier and did some damage to the car during qualifying. I knew the Fiestas have the speed. Marcus was the guy to beat in qualifying, you know. He qualified first by a tenth of a second, and that gave him track position in the final, which may have been the difference really. So sometimes it all comes down to a tenth of a second. I started catching him towards the end; I could tell his brakes were going away, but I just couldn’t reel him in. But I’m absolutely ecstatic, and the event was an amazing success. A lot of people stuck around after the HISTORY 300, which was great to see, and they were really into it. You know these are fans who maybe have never seen anything like this before, even on television, and they stuck around because they are car freaks and wanted to see what it was about, and they loved it. So I’m real happy. The closer I get to NASCAR, the more intrigued I am by the sport. And then seeing a track like this, and seeing how sketchy it looks going into Turn 1 at over 180 mph, it’s really a brave man’s sport. I like brave man things, so it would be cool to give it a shot. I’m really hopeful that right now Rallycross will take off in the States, and I think exposing it to the NASCAR fans and showing them how fast these little cars can go was a good step.
Stephen Verdier (Third Place, No. 12 Motorcity Disney XD/RMR Hyundai Veloster): “We are way ahead of what we were thinking. It was our first event with that car, first event in Charlotte. What a place! I can’t wait to come back next year, hopefully we will, an awesome place. The fans were great to see after the Nationwide race to bake in the sun. I hope you had a good show. It was a blast. The track was great, just awesome. It was fantastic. The team did a really good job of putting the car together because it was really hot today. Everything overall was great. (Strategy) We had a predetermined strategy. If you see you are getting blocked by the car in front of you, then you want to take it (the joker lap) so you can get out front and make up the time. So, if you see the guy behind you is faster, you make sure you block so he doesn’t pass you. Our spotter tells us where everybody is, so you can figure out where to make your move. So it’s a lot of strategy with our spotters so we can figure out where top do our turn.”
Travis Pastrana (Ninth place, No. 199 Dodge Red Bull Rallycross)– “Everyone was squaring up for the water. First heat, I learned my lesson with Deegan. I thought he overshot the corner and then he came straight back across. We didn’t hit him too hard, but we sheared a bolt off so second heat was pretty good. Definitely had a great car. I feel like we’re fast. So I let Tanner set up for the corner and I was just going to kind of follow him and I got a little taste of my medicine because I got bumped into. No big deal, and then when he hit the water, he came straight into the wall. So he used my car as a buffer and a berm; unfortunately our car didn’t make it through the wall. Devastated with the day, but I’m real excited; we’ve got a great car and we’re gonna be winning some races soon. (Did I hear you say this was the worst racing day of your life?) It was. Other than I’m not physically broken, like on the worst motorcycle days of my life, today was absolutely horrible. But the positives are: I got a little bit of experience on the mile-and-a-half, and the Dodge Dart is awesome, so I’m pretty excited.”
Ken Block (Fifteenth place, No. 43 Monster World Rally Team) – “We weren’t able to fix the car from the little incident I had with the wall earlier. I came in because I couldn’t put in a good effort. It’s really a bummer for me. I qualified fifth and felt OK with that, but we had some simple changes we made with the car that made a big improvement. And you know, the first heat race, I was gaining on the guy that qualified first, and then the water feature continued to get worse and worse throughout my heat and eventually put me in the wall because it just changed. So I’m really bummed that we were the guinea pigs for the first run through and I made a slight miscalculation about how deep the water was and that put us into the wall. That water feature basically ruined my night. This was basically the first time they’re trying this out in Global Rallycross, and I knew it was going to affect someone, and I put that in my mind that I needed to be cautious with it. But all it takes is a slight mistake. I mean really, I did the exact same line, the exact same turn-in, the exact same throttle pressures I did before and just because it had gotten deeper all of a sudden I was hydroplaning. We put a lot of work in to come here and do well, and unfortunately we haven’t. I could have backed off and just made it through that heat, but I wanted to put pressure on Marcus because he was the fastest qualifier and he hasn’t had much pressure in a while. I knew I could put some pressure on him, because we have a great package.”
Brian Deegan (Sixteenth place, No. 38 Rockstar Energy Metal Mulisha Ford) – “It’s kind of like a bad nightmare, you know? I swear I’ve had dreams like that before. It’s just a broken input shaft. These guys try as hard as they can; it’s not a lot of time to do stuff here. It’s really just a battle of attrition, like who can make their parts last in this sport, and unfortunately it just didn’t work. It just started snowballing, you know? I had a clutch issue at the end of my last qualifier that the clutch went out, so they switched the clutch. I went out there first lap, break an input shaft. I don’t know. Just have to go back and think of what I did wrong or what happened to go out like this, because I know I could win this event. I always hate that when it gets out of my control. (First event overall at Charlotte) I think it was good. We had all the right people here in the industry to showcase our skills in front of, so I think it’s really gonna help the sport.”