Before Los Angeles, Nelson Piquet Jr. was the target. With a 40 point lead for first, every driver in the series was chasing him down. But one crucial weekend changed all that.
LA marked the seventh and eighth installments in the 10-round Red Bull Global Rallycross (GRC) series. Billed as a double header weekend of racing at the Port of Los Angeles, the running joke in the paddock was that it felt like a triple header. The pressure was high for teams to perform well and keep the cars in top condition over the three-day event, from Friday’s first practice lap to Sunday’s final. With the end of the season in sight, the need for results was palpable.
However, with Red Bull holding the reins, the casual fan could miss the drama in the fanfare. The LA races were a fabulous spectacle: a sunny seaside venue, blaring music, food trucks, stunt flying and motorcycle entertainment all accented the adrenaline thrill ride that is rallycross. But for the die-hards who were keeping score, this weekend was a game-changer.
When Piquet Jr. failed to make the final on Saturday, the race for the championship got a lot tighter. Scott Speed gained the lead from the get-go and kept it for a first-place win. The Rookie, Joni Wiman, started in the second row on the grid. But he expertly maneuvered his way into the inside of the first corner to take second position, which he held for a second place finish. Ken Block had a first row position on the starting grid, but was shunted to the outside on the first corner. Block recovered and took a third place position that he held through the finish line for the final spot on the podium.
By Sunday, the top drivers were within ten points of each other. Engine trouble slowed Wiman down during morning heats, so The Rookie’s car was conspicuously missing during driver introductions as his team raced against the clock to replace the engine on his Ford Fiesta ST. The team triumphed, replacing the entire engine in under 90 minutes. Wiman went on to have a successful semi-final, earning the outside position of the front row for the final, next to Block in the center and Hyundai Veloster driver Rhys Millen in pole position.
The final results mirrored the front row—Millen went on to take the top place on the podium, followed by Block and Wiman. After nearly three years of hardship in the GRC circuit, Millen’s performance has turned a 180 as he and his team have figured out what works best for the Veloster.
“To sum it up, it’s testing—going to the events a week early to actually develop the car,” said Millen of finally finding success. “The car is essentially the same, outside of taking things off and putting them back on in the right combination. We found the right combination in Charlotte, got it right in Daytona and followed it up here this weekend. So really, it’s just hard work and sweat that’s got the car running fast.”
After this weekend’s points shakeup, Block now finds himself in the crosshairs as the lead. Only 18 points ahead of Wiman, he’s keeping an eye out for The Rookie.
“Now it’s really a numbers game,” said Block. “We’ve got two events left, and I’ve really got to just focus on this kid over here that’s being really consistent too, watching what he’s doing and trying to be ahead of him, especially in the next event to hopefully set up a bigger points lead going into the final event.”
After the events of this weekend, the top contenders are running a tight points race, and the championship title is still a very real possibility for many of the drivers. Will The Rookie overtake Block in Seattle to take the top position going into the season finale? Find out this Sunday, September 28th at 4:30pm EDT on NBC.