Two-time World Rally Champion Marcus Gronholm took the first-day win at the Global RallyCross Championship
at Irwindale Speedway.
"I used to ride motocross, so I know a little bit how to fight – elbows out," Gronholm said. "Tomorrow is going to be interesting when we get more cars on the track."
The first-ever Global RallyCross Championship event saw a field of top drivers in two-wheel and all-wheel drive competing head to head on a mixed dirt and pavement course featuring a massive, 70-foot gap jump never seen before outside of X Games competition.
Gronholm put on an impressive performance in Friday's racing, piloting his 550hp Best Buy Ford Fiesta to the all-wheel-drive win after a tight final round where he bumped doors with Swedish rallycross pro Michael Jernberg's Skoda Fabia. Jernberg finished in second place, while third place went to three-time X Games Rally gold medalist Tanner Foust in his Rockstar Energy Drink Ford Fiesta.
"Today's head-to-head bracket racing was amazing and it had people holding their breaths until the final corner," said Foust. "Tomorrow is going to be even better."
These competitors will have a new driver to contend with on Saturday. BMX pro Dave Mirra will line up to compete in his new Subaru WRX STI rallycross car. The Subaru Rally Team USA driver sat out the first day of competition, with the team opting to perfect their vehicle for Day 2.
Saturday will see as many as five vehicles racing together on the tight course. Drivers will be looking to start strong and stay out front as they navigate multiple hairpins and the gap jump, while battling race traffic. It will be aggressive, non-stop racing all day long.
Among the notable guests expected to be on-hand to watch Saturday's contest are Monster World Rally Team driver Ken Block, motocross pro Kyle Loza and NASCAR driver AJ Allmendinger. Although they won't be competing, these stars will be cheering on the action trackside and Allmendinger, who tried out the Best Buy Ford Fiesta in a practice session earlier this week, will assist in introducing the final race Saturday afternoon.
Top drivers including Travis Pastrana and Brian Deegan have described rally car competition as "action sport, with a roll cage," and Friday's competition lived up to that reputation. In a spectacular crash, Colorado driver Jimmy Keeney flipped his Subaru WRX STi while attempting to claw back lost time over Hyundai driver Marcus Dodd in his rallycross Veloster. Keeney emerged unharmed and said he hoped his privateer team would be able to find the budget to rebuild and return to the series later in the year.
Gronholm said he was enjoying this new racing experience. In addition to two World Rally Championship titles (2000, 2002), the legendary Finnish driver also won the 2002 Race of Champions and earned the Nations' Cup at the contest in 2006. He also took on the 2009 Pike's Peak International Hill Climb in a similarly prepared Ford Fiesta.
Drivers in the Global RallyCross Championship are vying for a chance to win the first series title and a chance to earn an invitation to X Games 17 Rally competitions held in downtown Los Angeles this July. Two-wheel-drive entries also have a shot at a prize purse to benefit grass-roots competitors.
The two-wheel-drive category saw young driver Dillon Van Way take victory in his Ford Focus over former all-wheel-drive X Games driver Matthew Johnson, who debuted a Mazda RX8 at this contest. Third place in the two-wheel-drive category went to veteran competitor Randy Zimmer in his Mazda Miata.
ESPN3 streamed coverage all day long. Full race coverage will air April 17 on ESPN2 The series has a multi-year programming relationship with ESPN, with Global RallyCross Championship broadcasts slated to follow NASCAR Nationwide and NHRA shows on ESPN and ESPN2.