That Daytona Heat

By Michelle Wright | 2014-08-27

That Daytona Heat

The three winning cars soared over the finish line in rapid succession: Rhys Millen, Ken Block, Bucky Lasek—one, two, three. It was a press perfect podium—the car that had yet to win a race, the Gymkhana king of social media, and the fan favorite X-Games champion. As the winners came to a halt, the tension broke and the skies opened up. It was a scene of near-Biblical symbolism—after a weekend of high temperatures and flaring tempers, the race ended with rain.

Last weekend marked the sixth round of the 2014 Red Bull Global Rallycross Championship (GRC), and the first time GRC graced the hallowed grounds of the Daytona International Speedway. It was a dangerously hot weekend, with track temperatures in the triple digits and extreme humidity. And even with all the high tech under the hood, air conditioning does not come standard in Rallycross cars—nor is it an option. Teams had to get creative to keep their drivers cool: Helmets were stored in ice chests, and cooling towels were kept at the ready. Hydration supplements became critical, and inflatable kiddie pools became driver hang-out zones.

As the mercury rose, so did the competition. Friday’s heats saw aggressive contact between rivals Scott Speed and Ken Block, as well as Sverre Isachsen and Olsbergs MSE driver Joni Wiman. Wiman prevailed and pushed his turbocharged Red Bull/Bluebeam Ford Fiesta ST to take both of his heats on Friday, guaranteeing a pole position in Saturday’s semifinal.

If anyone worried that the heat would affect turn out, they underestimated the intense affection Daytona fans hold for motorsports. Friday saw a smattering of race fans, but come Saturday, the bleachers were packed to the brim.

In the first semifinal, Wiman’s car stalled into a hairpin turn, leaving him to fight for a final event spot in the last chance qualifier (LCQ). The LCQ was a brawl that knocked Steve Arpin and Emma Gilmour out of the running, as Block won and advanced to the final along with Wiman, Isachsen and Speed.

The final event was a war between titans, with red letter moments coming by the second. There was Millen’s Hyundai Veloster taking the lead from the start and keeping it for his first ever Red Bull GRC win. There was Block’s battle to take second position, jostling with Austin Dyne and Nelson Piquet, Jr., and Lasek’s strategic Joker to swipe third place. There was Patrik Sandell spinning off the track and into the barrier, then recovering and going from the back of the pack to an amazing fourth place finish.

Finally there was Wiman, who had been gaining speed for what was poised to be a podium finish... until his car was hit from behind. His rear left tire flattened and then shredded, but he went on to race with only three tires. The crowd—perfect spectators, who got to their feet when the action got hot, gasped at all the right times, and cheered fervently for their favorite drivers—noticed Wiman’s tire problem and his determination to stay in the race. They started applauding every time he completed another lap on his remaining wheels. And when he finally came through the finish line seventh out of the ten starting cars, he received the loudest applause.

The fan feedback on social media following the Daytona race showed Global Rallycross’ promise in American motorsports:

“The best race I (have) seen at Daytona International Speedway, period.”

“Just watched it live at the track! Most exciting race I have ever seen!”

A few more intense, fan-filled races like Daytona, and the sport will catch on like wildfire. We can’t wait.

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