For all the hype surrounding rally racing and RallyCross competitors such as Tanner Foust, Travis Pastrana and two-time World Rally Champion Marcus Gronholm at the 17th ESPN X Games in downtown Los Angeles this past weekend, it was a virtually unknown-in-the-U.S. RallyCrosser and a freestyle motocrosser/off road truck racer who took home the X Games gold medals.
Gronholm took a couple of medals home with him back to Finland, but it was England's Liam Doran (LEFT) that beat him in the final of the "Rally Car Racing" event on Saturday. Rallying at the X Games involves two cars racing head to head for three laps around a three-quarter-mile course that includes city streets, sections of gravel and a “joker” section that features a gap jump over the other part of the course. Competitors must take at least one joker lap per race.
Doran steadily advanced into the final against Gronholm, beating Robbie Madison, Joseph Burke and Tanner Foust to earn his shot at gold. In the final, Doran had to win two out of three in his Citroen C4, but there was no need for a third race. Despite beating the rally champ, Doran says it was beating Foust in the semifinal that gave him the most satisfaction and set up his gold medal run.
“I was the happiest man at this event when I beat Tanner,” said Doran (leading, RIGHT). “All credit to him – he's the fastest man here. Beating him gave me the confidence to come all the way through, because once you've beaten the best, you can beat everyone else. Marcus was right there all the time. But he's a rally man, I'm a RallyCross man. But the man can drive!”
Gronholm, teamed with Foust and Brian Deegan for Ford, had to settle for Silver in his first X Games, but thought he could have done better.
“The whole day I have not been happy with my driving and the car,” he said. “It's understeering, understeering. I can't get rid of it. It's not so enjoyable when you know you could go faster.”
The two losers from the semifinal matches went against each other to determine who took home the bronze. Subaru driver David Higgins beat Ford driver Foust in the consolation round.
On Sunday, the RallyCross event pitted the 16 drivers against each other in four heats, with the winner of each heat advancing to the final. The remaining drivers duked it out in four last chance qualifiers to make up the rest of the eight-car final field.
At the start, Doran moved ahead, then scooted across Foust's nose as the field headed toward Turn 1 on Figueroa Street in front of Los Angeles's Staples Center. Doran moved a bit soon, though, and Foust's front bumper and Doran's rear met, sending Doran spinning and Foust well off line. That let Brian Deegan, who had scored a bronze medal in the Moto-X Step Up on Thursday by launching his bike 35.5 feet in the air, through for the lead in his Ford Fiesta.
Gronholm, Foust – who recovered from the Turn 1 incident quickly – and David Higgins took their joker lap, which adds several seconds to the lap time, early. Meanwhile, Deegan (LEFT) continued to pull away. He was aided by a fierce battle behind him between Foust, Gronholm and Pastrana.
Pastrana was racing with a broken foot and ankle thanks to an accident during the Moto X Best Trick competition. He was trying to complete the “720” – a backflip followed b a 360-degree spin – that he'd been trying to land at the X Games for a couple of years. On his second attempt, his didn't complete the rotation and came down sideways, his bike landing on his leg. The injury scuttled his Nationwide Series debut at Lucas Oil Raceway Park in Indianapolis on Saturday night, but he fitted his rally car with a hand throttle control to race at the X Games.
The battle behind him allowed Deegan, with clear track ahead and no pressure from the rear, to continue pulling away. By the time he took his joker run on the eighth and final lap, he had enough of a lead that he couldn't be caught.
"That was the highlight of my life. I've done a lot of things on a dirt bike, and I've done a lot of things in a car, but nothing tops that moment, winning X Games in RallyCross," said Deegan, who made his name as a freestyle motocross star and founder of the Metal Mulisha. In recent years he's turned to racing cars on dirt, having won the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series Pro Lite championship in 2009. He currently sits second in both the Pro 2 and Pro Lite points for 2011. "I've wanted to beat Tanner Foust all year. Luckily I got lucky off the start, but that's what it takes."
Foust bested Gronholm to finish second in a Ford sweep of the medals. Gronholm was the only driver to win two medals in rally competition in X Games 17. Deegan won double silver medals in 2010.