Barbados, an island best known for relaxing beaches and swaying palm trees, received a jolt of adrenaline on May 18 when the Red Bull Global Rallycross Championship came roaring into town. Hosted by Top Gear Festival Barbados, this first round of the 2014 season was also the first GRC Supercar race for Bluebeam-sponsored driver Joni Wiman. After winning every race in the GRC Lites division in 2013, Joni was entering this season as the rookie to beat.
“There is no doubt Joni is a future GRC champion, the only question is how soon is it going to happen?” pondered Jim Beaver of Redbullglobalrallycross.com before the start of the season. After winning his heats and securing a front row position in the final between heavy favorites Ken Block and Scott Speed, it looked like success would be coming sooner rather than later for the young rising star.
Strong off the line, Joni immediately jockeyed for the holeshot at the front of the pack. Near the end of the action-packed first lap, his talent was apparent when he completed an incredible passing maneuver by going wide on Block to reach the turn quicker and take the inside line. In an attempt to regain the lead, Block hit the lip of the curb at speed, taking him airborne before landing upside down and hitting the wall in a cloud of dust and debris. Block’s crash put a stop to the race, though the fan favorite was fortunately able to walk away without major injuries.
Once Block’s car was cleared from the track, the race restarted. Joni immediately took the lead, calling to mind the dominant style that earned last year's Bluebeam driver, Topi Heikkinen, a GRC championship. But then the 20-year-old committed the mental error of taking the Joker Lap twice, the same mistake made by two-time GRC champion Tanner Foust during the Qualifying heats, which caused Tanner to miss the final.
After being slowed by the resultant 10-second penalty, Joni fought back fiercely, overtaking Sverre Isachsen and Nelsen Piquet Jr. to make his way back to the top half of the field, showing the skill and cunning that foreshadows a year of podium finishes. Fight as he may, it wasn’t enough to regain the lead from Scott Speed, who benefited from Joni's mistake by taking the leading and keeping it to win.
Joni pushed the limits to cross the finish line in third, although a post-race penalty for aggressive driving would give him a fifth place result and Brian Deegan the final podium spot. “We accomplished a lot and proved how fast we can be,” said Wiman after the race. “We came so close — I just wish there could have been a podium. It will come next time.”
With X Games Austin on June 7, the next chance for a win is just around the corner. Joni’s skill and determination show the makings of a champion, and we can’t wait to see what he does next.
For highlights from Barbados, check out this video from Red Bull.
Current Season Points:
- Scott Speed, 54
- Steve Arpin, 47
- Brian Deegan, 43
- Nelson Piquet Jr., 40
- Joni Wiman, 36
- Sverre Isachsen, 28
- Rhys Millen, 21
- Patrik Sandell, 18
- Austin Dyne, 13
- Ken Block, 10
- Tanner Foust, 4
- Emma Gilmour, 3
- Bucky Lasek, 2