The crowd roared its approval as Patrik Sandell tore past the finish line, followed in rapid succession by Nelson Piquet, Jr. and Joni “The Rookie” Wiman. After taking his first ever GRC first place, the Swedish driver broke into celebratory doughnuts, spiraling his Ford Fiesta ST past packed bleachers of cheering fans. Though the sun beat down, baking humidity and track dust onto the crowd’s skin, there was a real sense of celebration in the air. It was an incredibly intense and entertaining finish to a great weekend of racing, but how the drivers reached the podium is another story… with a few plot twists.
The third installment of the Red Bull Global Rallycross (GRC) season took place in the grounds of RFK stadium in Washington, D.C. Political races are the name of the game in D.C., but car races hadn’t graced the nation's capital in over 10 years, and the city clearly welcomed Red Bull GRC with open arms. Promotion for the race started with an epic ride by Rhys Millen, who drifted his Hyundai Veloster around D.C. monuments in a stylish Red Bull teaser. Bus stops and radio ads around the city announced that Red Bull GRC was in town, so excitement was mounting by the time race weekend approached.
Saturday started off with grey skies and just enough rain to make the 75/25 tarmac/dirt track conditions uncertain. After a long day of racing, Wiman, Sandell, and Piquet Jr. all placed top in both rounds of their heats, foreshadowing Sunday’s podium standings.
Sunday brought in blue skies, heat, and much bigger crowds than day one. In semi-final A, Wiman jumped the start and was given a stop-start penalty. Wiman fought back and put in the fastest lap time of the round, helping him finish third overall to qualify for the final along with Piquet Jr. and Scott Speed. In semi-final B, Sandell came in second behind Steve Arpin, followed by Sverre Isachsen. The last chance qualifier was a fight to the finish, with Tanner Foust, Rhys Millen, Austin Dyne, and Bucky Lasek making it through.
So the 10 cars of the final grid were set…or so everyone thought. The ruling on Wiman’s stop-start was contested on the grounds that the penalty stop did not offset the time gained by his jump-start. This resulted in power-player Ken Block getting added to the main in the 11th hour, making for an 11 car grid instead of the standard 10. Tensions ran high in the paddock as teams became visibly upset by what could be viewed as a political decision. The ruling was unprecedented, as there has never been a race in GRC history with more than 10 drivers.
Nevertheless, the show would go on— and what a show it was, as 11 cars took to the starting grid. Sandell captured the lead and kept it as Piquet Jr. followed hot on his trail. Wiman, The Rookie, made some spectacular passes in order to overcome his second-row start, and advanced to third place. In the end, it was a three-Ford podium, breaking Scott Speed’s winning streak and taking some international drivers to the forefront.
So it seems that D.C., a city defined by politics and power, was a fitting stage for the third Red Bull GRC race of the season. Though the 11 car ruling raised some eyebrows (and even tempers), the end result was still an adrenaline rush of racing that can’t be beat. It’s easy to forget that rallycross is still a young sport in the US, so it’s a bit like the Wild West. Rules aren’t always well-defined and things can get messy, but drivers are still biting at the chance to be in the saddle, pioneering the series. We’re stoked to be along for the ride.