Longtime privateer Pat Moro returns to rallycross this weekend for the first time this season behind the wheel of a brand-new Chevrolet Sonic – the much-anticipated series debut for the marque, and for a car that Moro has quietly been working to build since his last championship appearance in 2012.
It's a delayed unveiling for the Sonic, which was originally slated to debut last month at X Games in Los Angeles. But driver Moro, who runs his own PMR Motorsports team out of a shop in Dublin, Ohio, says he and Chevrolet wanted to be confident in the package before introducing it to the series.
His first appearance as a factory supported driver is a dream come true for the driver. “It's the one manufacturer I want to be with the most,” says Moro, who works by day in construction and says Chevy trucks are a mainstay of the business. “I've always been a Chevrolet guy.”
It's an exciting turn in the series, especially as the championship is expected to be decided early this weekend when Toomas “Topi” Heikkinen crosses the start line in his Ford Feista ST. The young driver has stood on the podium at every round so far this season and comes into the Charlotte race on a five-round winning streak. He needs just one point to pull away from his closest challenger – two-time defending champion Tanner Foust – and he'll achieve that just by starting. Even so, he says he's gunning to make it six wins in a row.
It's been a turnaround season for the young driver, whose 2012 efforts were defined by black flags for aggressive driving and a big crash at X Games in Los Angeles that sent him to hospital with a shattered ankle.
“I think last year I was quite young,” he says. “I'm a little older now, I have a little more experience; this season I want to be on the podium at every race.”
Meanwhile, the long-awaited Chevrolet debut brings the last of America's Big Three auto manufacturers into the Global Rallycross Championship. For the first time, Ford, Dodge and now Chevrolet are all campaigning cars in the sport. They join Subaru, Hyundai, Mini and Mitsubishi – making for a record seven different manufacturers at the Charlotte race.
Racing is Chevrolet driver Moro's passion but, unlike many of his rivals in the series, it is not yet his career. The 2010 Rally America Production champion, Moro previously campaigned the series in a 2007 Subaru originally designed for rally and adapted for rallycross. Not surprisingly for a privateer on a budget who has always wrenched on his own cars, reliability has been an issue for Moro and his rally championship-winning Subaru never had the juice to get him to victory in the power-hungry sport of rallycross. He finished the 2012 season 16th in the standings and never broke the top-10. The previous year, he contested one rallycross competition and finished ninth.
By day, the driver is a structural engineer who owns a construction company and while Chevrolet has committed to some program support, Moro's effort isn't yet on the level of some of the other teams.
“This is a three-step process with Chevrolet,” says Moro. “They want to crawl, walk, then run – and right now we're in the crawling stage.”
By comparison, Heikkinen's Ford team has had many years to develop their platform and the scale of their operation makes them a certain Goliath to Moro's David. Olsbergs MSE runs six Ford Supercars, all 10 of the Lites cars, brings dozens of mechanics to every race and has headquarters on two continents – in Sweden and Huntington Beach, Calif. Meanwhile, PMR employs two fabricators, one machinist, and one mechanic – plus Moro – in the shop back in Ohio. “They're all full-time right now, unfortunately. It's expensive.”