The Red Bull Global Rallycross season opener unleashed big time drama in a small, concentrated area. At less than a half mile, the course was among the shortest the series has seen. The track, a converted street course in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, was narrow and featured a number of tight, high-rotation e-brake turns but the key to victory was being quick off the line and first to the Turn 1 entry point. From there drivers needed to gather themselves and be smooth over the table top jump and into the sand pit, the circuit’s most drastic surface change. The jump was a set of steel ramps and the landing zone angle seemed to be harsh as the suspensions cringed mightily as they compressed on the downside. At the end of the ramp awaited the sand pit. This is where a lot of loose body panels met their demise during the May 31st event.
The importance of a holeshot start was quite evident as Scott Speed seemed to have matters in hand only to get nudged by Sebastian Eriksson maneuvering into the critical first turn, a tight left-hander that included the Joker, a shorter corner that racers are allowed to take once per heat. Steve Arpin was also part of the excitement but he benefited from the contact as it served to auto-rotate his Chip Ganassi Racing Fiesta ST into the Joker. Speed and his Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross Beetle were forced to take the longer, non-Joker turn but came out in third place behind Eriksson and his Olsbergs MSE Ford Fiesta ST. Arpin checked out in his Ford and Speed and Eriksson dueled for a lap before Eriksson prevailed but his success was short lived as the officials moved Speed to second and dropped Eriksson to the third and final transfer spot available in this semifinal heat for his bully antics at the start.
Starting from pole Ken Block swept into the first turn with Nelson Piquet Jr. The Hoonigan got clear and his Hoonigan Racing Division Ford Fiesta ST motored away with the heat. Behind this duo Tanner Foust and newcomer Austin Dyne battled for the final transfer spot. Dyne’s Bryan Herta Rallysport Ford Fiesta ST seemed to have more thrust coming out of the corners than Foust’s V-Dub. In one of the tighter turns Dyne took a bit of a wide apex and over-rotated a bit, Foust jumped at the chance but mistimed his dive, T-boning Dyne. It was tooth and nail but Dyne was able to recover before Foust could squeeze past to retain the coveted transfer position.
Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ)
The LCQ was anti-climactic as it lined up as a four cars for four spots scenario as last year’s champion Joni Wiman was at the local hospital getting an MRI for back injury earlier in the day and Patrik Sandell’s car was too damaged to make the show. Foust started on pole and made a clean, quick charge through the Joker and pulled away from the field. Most of the drivers used the LCQ has a chance to refine their set-ups for the final.
The final consisted of a 10-lap battle around the short course that produced average lap times in the 30.5-second range. Block started on point and came off the line with the best start of the day. His car seemed to be set-up freer, more tail happy than the competition, which played well into Block’s e-brake shenanigans. Speed made one of the more savvy decisions of the day as the grid for the final took shape. Instead of starting on the outside of the first row where he qualified, Speed elected to move to the second row and gain the more important inside line. Since Block owned the start Speed was able to tuck behind him through the Joker and grab second place outright. Piquet was the first car around the outer turn and settled into third place. His strategy was to get close to the leader and use the Joker late in the race to pass for the win, but Piquet and his Ford never got close enough to pull it off. In the end it was Block by 3.2 seconds over Speed with Piquet completing the podium. Eriksson and Foust rounded out the Top 5, finishing fourth and fifth respectively.
“Racing these two really talented tarmac drivers was really tough!” Block said after the race. “They really pushed me and our team all weekend, and it was a lot of fun. It came down to starts, and I got lucky—I got quick on the starts, was able to put some good times in, and came out with the win. It’s a great way to start the year!” This was Block’s 12th Global Rallycross podium and the victory served as a great way to start off the 2015 campaign after losing last year’s series championship by a scant five points.
In GRC Lites, Austin Cindric took a commanding victory in his first race for Olsbergs MSE, winning every on-track session he competed in. The American driver defeated Colombian Alejandro Fernandez and Swede Oliver Eriksson for the crown, heading home with the maximum 56 possible points.
Red Bull Global Rallycross heads to the Circuit of the Americas next for X Games Austin, a non-points, invitational round on the 2015 schedule. The next points-paying event for Red Bull GRC is a doubleheader at Daytona International Speedway on June 19-21.
Results from Red Bull Global Rallycross, Fort Lauderdale:
Ken Block, #43 Hoonigan Racing Division Ford Fiesta ST
Scott Speed, #41 Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross Beetle
Nelson Piquet Jr., #07 SH Racing Rallycross Ford Fiesta ST
Sebastian Eriksson, #93 Olsbergs MSE Ford Fiesta ST