In the third part of our look at the Global Rallycross Championship, RACER editor David Malsher gets the lowdown from GRC president Brian Gale on plans to improve the quality of the tracks, the depth of the grid and the appeal of the series.
RACER: When do you plan to announce the 2013 schedule?
Brian Gale: We're taking a look at the schedule and trying to mix things up with regard to how the Global Rallycross calendar looks and feels, because we're trying to produce something really unique. Last year was about improved exposure to the sport of rallycross, getting cars and stars involved and playing to IndyCar and NASCAR crowds. Next year will be a little different, more about trying to build really cool tracks and getting the fans really close to the action. What you saw in the final round at the SEMA Show was a kind of template for that – an opportunity to design our own track and not be so restricted by preset dimensions.
We'll again be performing at Global X Games events in 2013 – Foz do Iguaçu [Brazil], Barcelona [Spain], and Munich [Germany]. Then we head back to the U.S. in mid July and start running there. We'll run at L.A.'s X Games in August and the SEMA Show for the Finals, and there'll be four GRC rounds between those two events. We have some interesting stuff lined up including, we hope, running a race on a beach. We like the old NASCAR heritage of beach racing – it's a great setting – and we looked at some beaches in Mexico a couple years ago. But now we're looking at Florida. Then we want to hit a couple of metropolitan areas and one IndyCar race too.
R: Would the event with IndyCar be using an oval like at Texas last year, or would you tie it in with one of their street races?
BG: Well, what we like about the IndyCar street races is that they're more about what we stand for and we like being in the city centers. One of our advantages is that we have a smaller footprint than many other forms of racing: we don't take up much space at all. Every big series has tried to figure out how to do a street race in Las Vegas and we succeeded because of our compact layout. So we like the IndyCar street races, we think they're cool and we could fit into some of those. There's a race we're looking at carefully for next year that fits in well with the rest of our calendar.
It's worth bearing in mind that the dirt area wouldn't have to be on the track surface used by IndyCar and its support series. We could set up the dirt ramp in a back alley, off the racing line, away from the IndyCar track itself. That would be ideal because then we wouldn't have to worry about setting up the ramp at the last minute after a track sessions or clearing it up rapidly for the next track action.
R: Have you done any research into the demographics you're pulling in? There's a general assumption that GRC attracts the same crowd as Formula D – in other words, a lower age group than IndyCar and NASCAR…
BG: We do have some data we've collected and our research shows us that the average age of our fans is 34 – much younger than any other formula of racing. We have unique and exciting racing and some crazy stuff going on, and we have stars from all types of action sports. We're trying to put all that together so that we stand for youth motorsports and we think there's a space for that globally. Something that isn't “your father's form of motorsports.”
R: Do you see manufacturer support increasing in 2013?
BG: We do. We're in discussions with a couple of manufacturers and to be honest, every car company that sells compact cars in America – and some that don't – is interested in Global Rallycross. They want to make sure they can be competitive and that the rules are fair and that they will get the exposure they want and they'll get their return on investment. It's fairly obvious that our events are great venues for manufacturer battles. When we started, we saw that manufacturers of small cars in America needed a place to market them, because small cars weren't necessarily perceived in this country as high quality or durable, yet here we were showing 600hp small cars jumping through the air! There was no really relevant small-car racing in America, whereas in Europe it was all over the place. So we filled a major gap in the U.S. motorsports market which was perfect for the manufacturers, and we should see the result of that.
R: Do you think how good a job OMSE is doing with Ford might put off other manufacturers from entering, because the team Andreas Eriksson has put together has a head start and has been able to use drivers of the quality of Marcus Gronholm?
BG: Well, I think manufacturers would analyze that before entering, yes, but I think they'd also see that Dodge came in and won in only its fourth race, which is great. What other form of racing can you come in and win so quickly? It was an exceptional drive by Travis Pastrana, but even so…
I think this is a race series where if you do it right, put together the right people and do a quality technical job, you do have a chance of victory. It's just that OMSE has a head start; no Americans in other teams have the European Rallycross experience that Tanner Foust has, and Marcus is just a world-class driver, period. So it's tough to beat the OMSE cars, but it can be done and it has been done. Ken Block's Monster World Rally Team Fiesta has been quite competitive compared with the OMSE Fiestas, and I think next year you'll see a lot of OMSE's competitors develop further and gain some ground. And with Ford doing so well, you can be sure that if, for instance, Chevrolet join GRC, they will not be here just to circulate: they are going to be in it to win it. And the manufacturers who want to win, not just appear, are the kinds of manufacturers we want here.
R: What's it going to take to extend GRC's reach? Will it be more star names from other branches of motorsport, will it be established rally names, or will it take homegrown American stars?
BG: Well, I think you've hit on one of the cool things about GRC. We'll probably always want to have a mixture of open-wheel, stock car, rally and action sport drivers. We think they'll all recognize that just getting behind the wheel of one these beasts is great fun. That's why, when we've performed in front of the IndyCar or NASCAR guys, they're hanging on the rails, checking out the action. They kind of think our guys are nuts for what they do – but then, some would argue traveling 200mph around an oval or down a straight is kind of nuts too! So I think it will be a combination of names that get attracted to GRC, but there need to be more top cars – top drivers won't want to do it just for the sake of doing it. They want a chance to win. With those top names involved, then the audience grows, and the new guys who come in and compete with them become known, too.
R: So with Petter Solberg now available and Sebastien Loeb (LEFT) more available – in semi retirement from the World Rally Championship – any chance of enticing them?
BG: Well, again, as we get more manufacturers involved – and we anticipate at least two new ones coming in next year – I think that's when we will get those kind of guys. Simon Pagenaud is clearly interested and Alexander Wurz is another driver who just the other day expressed an interest in rallycross and the X Games. Like I say, the stronger cars and stronger teams attract the stronger drivers. Remember, Loeb didn't just come in and grab a car for the X Games this year. He had a car run by Kenneth Hansen that was winning the European Rallycross championship. It's those kind of programs that attract those kind of drivers. And with Global X Games showing up in Germany, Spain and Brazil, you'll get more of those programs, I'm sure.
R: Super Car Lites – is it definitely happening, and if not, what will it take to get it off the ground?
BG: I think there's a lot to be said for having a feeder class with well-built cars that handle like the GRC cars. For us to introduce it, we'd have to make sure there was a real field that we could promote, and how would we do that? Well, obviously, we'd have to have a sponsor who could help promote it and to cover the costs that come along with it. To get a sponsor, we'd have to make sure there's entertainment value and a strong field. So everything has to happen together, so it's undecided whether it can happen for next year but certainly we're very interested in it and we're taking to Andreas [Eriksson] about how it might work.
R: Why has GRC been such a hit? And, for example, why have you been able to nail down an ESPN contract, something that makes you the envy of many racing series in this country?
BG: The ESPN deal was a relationship that was developed through the X Games coverage: They want a good competitive field in X Games, so when I began talking to them about the GRC concept, they were interested. It was obvious that X Games Rally was popular, but there was still the question of introducing rallycross as opposed to the special stage format. But compared with special stages, rallycross – cars actually in side-by-side competition – doubled the ratings and so instantly we knew we had a winner. So it was natural to spin off a series from that: GRC promoting the X Games, and X Games promoting GRC. I think it's safe to say that ESPN thinks it's a cool deal, the X Games background gives it extra appeal and the way it's portrayed is like a street fight. We are to rallying what UFC is to traditional boxing or snowboarding is to skiing. It's appealing to a different personality and the way we present ourselves isn't just to the traditional motorsports crowd.
But don't get me wrong, we still have a lot to do to make it an even more entertaining show and at the center of it there always needs to be a good race. It's got to be a true competition, a fair competition, an entertaining competition…and one where the best driver/car/team combination on the day is the one that wins. We can build the entertainment parts, but they always have to be structured around a great core product.