X Games Brazil didn't do Global RallyCross many favors
Anyone who tuned in to this past weekend’s X Games Brazil Global RallyCross coverage were privy to segmented action, broken up by things like skateboarding over the course of almost three hours. When the broadcast was showing Global RallyCross, race fans were exposed to one of the less exciting track designs that we have seen in the past couple seasons with awkwardly banked turns preventing from great racing action while also contributing to the crash fast that was the GRC race at X Games Brazil. Also, the track was comprised of 90% dirt surfaces and the dirt local to Brazil was unbeneficial to both the racers and the viewers due to the loose footing and incredible amounts of dust.
I should emphasize how much I love the Global RallyCross association and I truly believe that this could be the next big thing for younger race fans but having heard complaints from quite a few fair-weather fans of the sport – I thought that it would be appropriate to look at why the X Games Brazil proved to be a less than ideal start to the 2012 GRC season.
Global RallyCross falls into the world of “action sports” and there is no bigger stage for the world of action sports than the X Games but in the long run, the GRC needs to attract more 21+ year old race fans than they do 13 year old skateboarders. For many X Games fans, Global RallyCross will be the only race that they watch this year as they arent into racing – they were either watching in person or on television as they were waiting to see some long haired kid wearing a flat brimmed baseball hat and saggy jeans skate around the inside of an empty swimming pool. On the other hand, holding a Global RallyCross race in front of a huge crowd of race fans like a NASCAR car is presenting the sport to a great many people who are already passionate about motorsports…or at least the majority of NASCAR fans are old enough to drive. I totally understand that GRC wants to be connected to a popular event series like the X Games but it was an unfortunate move to start the 2013 season with an event that clearly didn’t set much priority to the Global RallyCross in either fan base or coverage.
Global RallyCross had a great season in 2012 with the majority of their events taking place shortly before or after NASCAR events around the country and the finals taking place in front of the SEMA Show with so many of the industry’s heavy hitters in Vegas for SEMA. The result of the clever event planning alongside NASCAR races allow the GRC management to introduce their sport in person to the massive NASCAR crowds while a great many members of the media and aftermarket world in attendance in Vegas to watch Tanner Foust win the 2012 GRC championship literally across the street from the SEMA Show.
Sketchy Television Coverage
One of the reasons that Global RallyCross is more appealing to some younger fans is that there is less time commitment for fans to enjoy a full event. Compared to a NASCAR race that could drag on for 4 or 5 hours, an entire Global RallyCross event can take around an hour from the drop of the green flag to start the first heat race to the drop of the checkered flag at the end of the finale. However, the Global RallyCross coverage from the X Games Brazil was broken up into segments with long periods of totally unrelated events like skateboarding. Television coverage was scheduled to begin around 12:30 but after showing the first two, fairly unexciting heat races of the day – the coverage bounced to skateboarding. The result of the coverage jumping around was me setting the DVR to record the entire 6 hour block of X Games coverage so that I could watch the races without sitting through a bunch of little kids skateboarding. In speaking with other budding GRC fans, some of them didn’t bother to record the program when they turned it off after trying to sit through a half hour or more of skateboarding. Worst of all, there was no clear indication as to when the racing would resume so viewers had no choice but to either sit through everything or record the whole program to watch later. In the end, watching the first GRC event of 2013 required as much time as would watching a NASCAR race. Making matters worse, the incredible amount of dust from the poor track surface made it almost impossible to identify the cars in the race – forcing the broadcast crews to rely on high overhead shots because the cameras closer to the track were cloaked in a cloud of dust.
In addition to a great many people being able to witness Global RallyCross in person around the country, 2012 brought about a great chance for many current and prospective GRC fans (like myself) to watch the events in their entirety live on Xbox Live rather than watching the abridged telecast on ESPN. Race fans who wanted to follow the GRC could tune in and watching racing in 2012 but that wasn’t the case for the first event of 2013. Between the segmented coverage and the horrible dust making the races hard to watch – X Games Brazil was a huge step backwards for those watching at home.
Poor Track Design and Construction
One of the exciting features of the Global RallyCross world is a nice mix of different racing surfaces including both wet and dry tarmac along with the occasional dirt. This allows for some side by side sliding by the drivers when they hit the dirt along with high speed racing on the paved surfaces. There was also a nice mix of high speed straights and tight, intricate corners. On the other hand, the track in Brazil was almost entirely dirt with only a paved starting grid area with no intricacy to the track layout. The track surface was very loose and very dusty so footing was terrible for traction and the high levels of dust caused visibility problems for the drivers. This caused the race to be slower than most races as the drivers just couldn’t make use available horsepower on the slick track and when the drivers did get to racing hard – wrecks resulted from the poor footing, awkward banking to the few available turns and the fact that the drivers couldn’t see through the dust.
On top of the boring track layout and the ridiculous dust, the fact that the track started on tarmac and quickly transitioned to an awkwardly banked turn comprised of loose dirt made the first corner a day-long wreckfest. If cars didn’t crash in turn one because of an overaggressive driver slamming his car into the first turn, the loose footing and odd banking sent cars out into the even looser dirt which pretty much took them out of commission. It was this nightmarish first corner that caused Foust, Block and Pastrana to leave the final race so early.
Unknown Drivers Leading the Field
While I was excited to see NASCAR and F1 name Scott Speed win the X Games Brazil RallyCross gold in fantastic fashion, many hardcore GRC fans were likely disappointed with the results from the first race of the 2013 GRC season. In the top six, only 2 of the drivers competed in the GRC last year (Toomas Heikkinen, Brian Deegan) while sport superstars like 2012 champ Tanner Foust, Ken Block and Travis Pastrana finished in the bottom half of the results due to wrecks that may not have been caused – but most certainly were not helped by the track design. Really, if it hadn’t been for Scott Speed’s great run, the final race would have been a runaway victory for Toomas Heikkinen after he managed to muscle out all of the top drivers on the first lap of the race.
In 2012, names like Deegan, Foust, Pastrana and Block were front runners all season and those are the guys who are going to draw a big following in GRC as names like Earnhardt, Gordon and Petty have done for NASCAR. Not only did those frontrunners from last year not place well but many of the series regulars from the 2012 GRC didn’t compete at the X Games Brazil. Nowhere to be found were names like Stephan Verdier, Rhys Millen, Samuel Hubinette, Sverre Isachsen, Dave Mirra, Patrick Moro, Bucky Lasek and Andy Scott. It can be assumed that Verdier and Millen are both hunting for a new ride after Hyundai pulled out while Hubinette and Scott are likely looking to replace their Saab race cars after the death of the Swedish automaker. As for the Subaru team cars piloted by Lasek, Moro, Mirra and Isachsen – your guess is as good as ours. Subaru is a heavy hitter in the world of rally racing so having none of them in attendance certainly watered down the field for the X Games in Brazil.
The Penalty Box was a Joke
New to the 2013 Global RallyCross track is the “penalty box”, which the television announcer explained was to be used to punish those drivers who either got too rough or jumped the start. We did get to see the penalty box used once when Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution driver Nelson Piquet Jr jumped the green light in his heat race but after watching Toomas Heikkinen run to the front field by literally ramming all of his competition out of the way – it is clear that the penalty box is really just there to punish those who get a head start rather than starting the race over like they did in 2012.
The good news is that this was only the first stop for the 2013 Global RallyCross Championship and with 8 more events scheduled over the next 7 or so months – the GRC circuit will have plenty of time this year to remind us all why this is one of the (if not the) most exciting form of motorsports in the world today. If you are new to the GRC and you were turned off by the X Games Brazil race – be it for the coverage or the racing itself – don’t turn your attention away just yet as things can only get better for the GRC as they head back into the US later this season for more of the action that we saw in 2012. The RallyCross racing from the Brazilian X Games was not a good representation of the sport in either coverage or the racing itself so once the teams hit the American tracks in New Hampshire, Atlanta and Charlotte – I fully expect to see the same great level of racing that we did last year.