Pastrana and Menzies dice with off-road ace Brian Deegan.
Two hours before the start of Sunday's season-opening rallycross race at X Games Foz do Iguaçu Brazil, a 10-deep throng restlessly waited outside the entrance to the grandstands. When attendants at the venue pulled open the gate, there was a mighty sprint to the best seats in the house. Within half an hour, it was standing room only.
“The Brazilian fans were crazy – in a positive way,” said Travis Pastrana, the motocross-superstar-turned-rallycross driver and pilot of the Red Bull Discount Tire Dodge Dart. “To be a quarter of the way around the world and see people excited about what we were doing – that was cool.”
It won't be the last time this season that far-flung fans will get the chance to experience rallycross competition first-hand. The U.S.-based Global Rallycross Championship joins four stops of ESPN's Global X Games tour this year, the only four-wheel motorsport in a traveling action sport festival that also features the world's top competitions in BMX, skateboarding and motocross. An anticipated five additional races will take place to round out the championship in the United States.
Rallycross features high-horsepower cars racing door-to-door on mixed dirt and pavement courses. In the United States, it is a made-for-TV version of the notoriously tough to watch sport of rally competition, which has long struggled to catch on in North America. The format combines rally-style action and excitement of four-wheel drifts and big air with the comfort of trackside seating and concession stands. Although it has long established roots in Europe, it's new in the United States, having debuted at X Games in 2010.
For this first foray into international territory, the Global Rallycross Championship carved a devilishly tricky dirt course into a farmer's field as part of the massive X Games venue not far from the Iguaçu Falls (one of the Seven Wonders of the World). The compact, six-turn layout measured half a mile in length, give or take the 127-foot shorter “Joker” lap element that drivers are required to take once per race. In an effort to equalize traction on the start line, cars gridded up on a 270-foot, poured concrete pad and at the drop of the green flag, dove toward the all-important first corner – a sweeping, off-camber left-hander.
After a track walk on Thursday, the mood in the paddock was buoyant. The 2012 courses devised to fit into conventional racetrack environments featured long straights linked by tight corners and favored high horsepower so much that it sometimes seemed the competition was more of a drag race than anything else. Drivers initially said the technical course layout and dirt in Foz do Iguaçu would be a welcome change. The first practice sessions, however, revealed the farmer's red clay soil was tough to tame. Reluctant to pick up rubber, the course instead produced plumes of fine, silty dust that no amount of water could stifle. An overnight surface treatment improved conditions for qualifying and race day, but visibility was at times very limited and traction remained a challenge throughout the event. Rallycross courses in Europe are typically 60 percent asphalt and 40 percent dirt and cars in the U.S. series are required to use a spec rallycross tire designed to hook up and start on pavement, but which has little tread and slides on dirt. “The course design was awesome, but I would have loved to have had gravel tires,” said Pastrana.
More traction would certainly have give the Red Bull Discount Tire Dodge Dart a better chance to shine at the opening round of its second season. In a field long dominated by Ford, the upstart Dodge Dart squad is an able rival. Derived from production vehicles, rallycross racecars are highly modified, all-wheel drive, and produce some 600 horsepower. But while the Swedish outfit that runs six Fords in the 2013 field has had many years to refine the Fiesta competition package, the U.S.-based Pastrana Racing has had barely one. Each race presents new learning opportunities. “I never thought I'd be saying this, but the dirt was tough for us,” said Pastrana. “We learned a lot and when we get back, with our new aero package and some other things we're working on, we'll be very competitive.”
Heading into the second round of the series next month, in Barcelona, Spain, the team is focused on continuing vehicle development. In the off-season, It experimented with a new suspension setup to make the car more manageable over the sport's unique 70-foot jump feature while still managing to be nimble in the corners. A new aerodynamic package is promised in the coming months, and the team continues to battle weight. The Dart has a slightly longer wheelbase and wider track than most other cars in the series, and the team is working its weight down to the 2,900-lbs minimum allowed by the rules. That's a tall order, when maintaining reliability and robustness are also critical in this full-contact motorsport.
Pastrana, along with teammate, sport newcomer Bryce Menzies, said they arrived in Brazil feeling enthusiastic about the dirt. Pastrana's background in motocross and rally, as well as Menzies' in short-course truck racing, made them popular contenders for an underdog win. The 15-car field was stacked with talent and there were drivers from every motorsport discipline from Formula 1 to desert racing. The 15 cars in the X Games progressed through an elimination format that began with a series of four car heats, a last-chance-qualifier and a winner-take-all final.
With qualifying set the day before based on a fastest lap time, Menzies and Pastrana were unlucky enough to qualify into the same opening heat. Pastrana finished in second to move directly to the Final, while Menzies found himself facing an uphill battle in the Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ) round.
In the Final, 10 cars drove into the first corner and only six emerged from the ensuing dust cloud. Pastrana had pushed deep on the outside of the off-camber left-hander and was caught in the chaos. A red flag stopped the race and medal favorites Pastrana, Ken Block, and Tanner Foust, along with IndyCar veteran Buddy Rice, were unable to take the restart due to damage.
“I did a ‘Hail Mary' into the first corner and overshot my mark by a long shot,” admitted Pastrana.
Even though it was a risky move, it was the kind of aggressive strategy that saw the team achieve its first win in only its fourth-ever race last season at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway. “I'm a more aggressive driver, not a finesse driver,” said Pastrana. “We decided to go for it and see if we could get lucky.”
Menzies also faced bad luck and an early end to his final race of the day on Sunday, when the car that was gridded in front of him for the LCQ stalled just a few feet from the starting line and Menzies had nowhere to go but into its bumper.
The next round for the team is in Barcelona, Spain, also with X Games. Pastrana and Menzies will return to competition in their Red Bull Discount Tire Dodge Darts on May 19 at X Games. Coverage will be shown live on ESPN.
You can follow on Twitter… Travis Pastrana at @TravisPastrana, Bryce Menzies at
@BryceMenzies7, and the SRT Viper GTS-R team at @teamSRT. And check out all SRT street and race news at @teamSRT.
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