If Ken Block could have his way, every Red Bull Global Rallycross course would look like the Dirt Track in Charlotte, North Carolina. With track conditions perfectly suited to his stage rallycross expertise, Block dominated the fifth race of the 10-stop 2014 Red Bull GRC season, literally leaving everyone else in his dust.
From the moment his wheels touched the ground, Block and his Ford Fiesta ST were on fire. After posting the fastest qualifying run in the afternoon, Block would go on to win his heats convincingly under the Friday night lights. Scoobies (“Subarus,” for the uninitiated) also fared well on the crumbling gravel, as STi drivers Sverre Isachsen and Bucky Lasek took their respective heats. Bluebeam/OMSE driver Joni Wiman started uncharacteristically slow during qualifiers but turned it up to qualify for the main event with a strong showing in the second semifinals. Block took his lead to another level by posting an unofficial 3-second victory over the next closest competitor during his semifinal, ensuring a first row spot on the starting grid.
At the start of the main event, a victory seemed all but assured for Block, who opened up full throttle from the pole position to take the holeshot with little resistance. But of course, nothing is ever that clean and simple in rallycross – especially when it comes to the first turn on the most unsteady surface in the circuit. An early collision with the water barriers left Nelson Piquet Jr. stuck flatfooted in the mud, a near catastrophic setback for the current points leader. That is, until a red flag restart allowed his team to make some quick repairs and get him back into the fray.
The restart changed nothing about Block’s proficiency on the Dirt Track. He immediately reacquired the lead and held it for the remainder of the race for an eye-popping 7-second lead over the finish line, prompting the star of the popular Gymkhanna stunt driving series to joke after the race, "I hope they start dumping more gravel on these tracks, because it favors me and what I do with the car.”
Meanwhile, the real battle was raging for second and third position. Initially, Tanner Foust laid claim to the runner-up spot, but a tire puncture left his Volkswagen hobbled and he began giving up ground. Wiman flew past Foust first, until a tap from Isachsen allowed the Viking Warrior to overtake the Rookie and hold position to finish second. Scott Speed then began challenging Wiman for third before a surprising late Joker by Piquet Jr. allowed the Charlotte-based racer to swing past both drivers and secure third place. Wiman would have to settle for fourth but remains in a dangerous position to challenge for the season championship, later saying, “I got some solid points this weekend and I’m moving in the right direction in the championship.”
Charlotte marks the halfway point of the 2014 season with Piquet Jr. currently leading the rest of the field for the driver championships, but a lot can change with five races left to go. Several drivers stand just one or two victories away from the top of the standings, which should keep the competition fierce.
With a long break before the next race, there will be plenty of time for the teams and drivers to prepare for Florida, where the start of the second half of the season kicks off at the Daytona International Speedway on August 22-23. Stay tuned.