Young Finnish driver Toomas “Topi” Heikkinen won his first Global Rallycross title on Sunday, sealing the deal with his eighth-consecutive podium finish after a wild weekend of racing, while Scott Speed put in a strong drive to take his second race victory of the season.
“It was so chaotic out there but the championship now is done and done,” said Heikkinen after the race. “It's good to be on the podium eight times in a row and I'll start a new winning streak in Las Vegas.”
It was no easy race for Heikkinen, who entered this second-last championship stop with a commanding lead in the points standings and riding high on a five-race winning streak. He was uncharacteristically sloppy in his opening heat, overdriving the car onto two wheels and seesawing wildly down a piece of straight dirt track. It was a Heikkinen that fans haven't seen this season – the young and unpredictable competitor who last year earned a reputation for recklessness, but who opened 2013 a cool-headed pro.
He admitted mid-day Sunday that he races better under pressure and thoughts of his early championship victory were not helping his performance. Simply by starting the contest on Sunday, he had mathematically locked up the title.
In second-round heats, Heikkinen suffered a flat tire and had to make his first trip of 2013 to the Last Chance Qualifier. Chaos in that race saw Tanner Foust tangle with four of the nine cars on the track as he fought to bring the 600 horsepower car under control when his throttle stuck. Global Rallycross officials called the race and promoted the top-three drivers – Heikkinen among them – into the last positions of the three-row final.
Speed's return to the top of the podium came in front of a hometown crowd. The Formula 1-turned NASCAR driver calls Charlotte home. His performance on the 70 percent dirt track was reminiscent of his collected drive at the 2013 season opener in Brazil. As the course developed a blue groove, he set consistently fast times by sticking to the line. He said after the race that his Ford Fiesta, developed by the leading Olsbergs MSE team, was in its element.
“Those cars run well on tarmac and on the dirt, but they're atrocious on gravel,” he said. “Here, and in Brazil, there was a lot of dirt; the car won't accelerate on the gravel and I don't know why.”
Brian Deegan, who traveled to the race on Sunday after competing in the Lucas Oil Off Road Series a day earlier, showed his own prowess on dirt and finished second. Incredibly, Heikkinen battled back from the last position on the starting grid to finish in third place for an all-Ford podium.