Left to right: Tanner Foust, Brian Deegan, Marcus Gronholm (photo courtesy Ford Motor Company)
THE PRINCIPAL PLAYERS…SO FAR
Gronholm is a modest man who doesn't feel the need to whip the crowd into a frenzy. He's not a Ken Block-type showman, not a smoothly eloquent Tanner Foust-like character who likes needling his opponents in his annoyingly charming fashion, nor does he have the aggressive “what are you looking at?” persona of Brian Deegan. Even after he's won, Marcus frequently looks bewildered by the hoopla – I'm just doing what I'm paid to do.
Gronholm won the first two rounds of the 2012 season but an accident and injury in the third round, at the X Games in LA, took the Finn out of the series for the remainder of the season. And, without wishing to sound cruel, that may have actually benefited the series: Foust taking his second GRC crown attracted more attention since the 39-year-old Denver, Colo. native who looks barely more than half his age has a strong following. The fact that Foust has also competed in European Rallycross – and finished second in the 2011 ERC championship – shows that the guy once worshipped for his skills in Drift competitions and his movie stunt driving is actually a very serious competitor with a great talent.
Deegan, too. His easy transition from freestyle motocross to Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series trucks to rallycross suggests a major and very versatile talent, and if all the GRC events were held on loose surfaces, his flamboyant driving style would likely see him at the top of the points table. Block, meanwhile, just needs to add consistency to his game; anyone who's seen his famous Gymkhana videos knows the depth of his talent and car control. He also has a great deal of charisma and probably has more fans among GRC spectators than most of the other drivers combined.
If he has a rival in this department, though, it's Travis Pastrana, whose X Games performances and amazing stunts have made him a household name. Dalliances with NASCAR haven't yet diluted that, either; GRC is far closer to his daredevil métier, and he and the sport can help each other's reputations grow.
Samuel Hubinette, a successful Formula D driver, Rhys Millen – rally driver and drifter – and a trio of Brits (Liam Doran, Andy Scott and David Binks) are other drivers with top-five finishes to their name in the past year.
My criticisms are few and it should be borne in mind that this modern version of a sport that started in 1967 is only in its fledgling form right now.
• The man-made jumps should be made less of a punishment to the car and more demanding for the driver. Jumps that send a car rocketing but give ample run-off area on the other side aren't really going to separate the field's class end from its tail. Have the cars flying lower and faster and follow the jump with a rapid change of direction. The greatest rally drivers of all time have an ability to make a car land in such a way that it's set up for the next turn.
• More teams/manufacturers, please! There are a few strong teams in there, and there is variety of machinery – Ford Fiesta, Subaru Impreza, Dodge Dart, Hyundai Veloster, Saab 9-3, but there should be more. Chevrolet, Toyota, Honda and Kia should dive in ASAP. Each has compact cars it should be promoting.
• More famous drivers. If GRC is on the bill at IndyCar races, I want to see Will Power, Simon Pagenaud and Scott Dixon in there. At NASCAR races, I want to see Brad Keselowski, Kyle Larson and Tony Stewart making guest appearances. And how about Petter Solberg (currently rideless in WRC) and the semi-retired Sebastien Loeb, who won the X Games round so convincingly this year? There needs to be a strong core of drivers, and then cool guest aces.
• There needs to be fewer single-file areas – some areas of some courses are a little too reminiscent of auto-testing, so they need to be eliminated.
• More fast corners. Even I can handbrake a car around a hairpin. I want to see Gronholm or Foust in a 90mph four-wheel drift, because I can't do that and they can.
• Improved camera angles. TV coverage has been a bit hit-or-miss – the X Games round looked great, the round supporting the Texas IndyCar race didn't. GoPros mounted every which way on every car, and lower trackside cameras would capture the amazing acceleration of these beasts. If you need an example of how to do it, just watch the car chases in Ronin, directed by the late, great John Frankenheimer.
The basic product of Global Rallycross is a true thrill to watch. Let's convey that.
In part 2, we'll talk to Andreas Eriksson, the man whose Olsbergs MSE company builds the 600hp Ford Fiestas which have so far crushed the GRC field.