Rallycross combines a little bit of everything: it has high-strung, all-wheel drive, production-based cars racing in aggressive traffic on mixed dirt and paved surfaces that sometimes feature massive jumps as long as 70ft from takeoff to landing. Drivers who've shown aptitude for the new-to-the-USA sport since it debuted here in 2010 at X Games are as varied as they come: World Rally Champions, ex-Formula 1 drivers, IndyCar drivers, Formula Drift champions, motocrossers and off-road racers.
Success requires the strong mindset of a proven competitor unfazed by the pressure to perform, skills in seriously aggressive traffic, a good team and – in a sport that sees courses with a limitless combination of elevation, surface change and configuration – an unusually high comfort level for the unknown.
“A good rallycross driver needs to be able to adapt quickly to all different types of surfaces,” says Samuel Hubinette, a two-time Formula Drift champion who rose to prominence driving a Dodge Viper, a Charger and a Challenger in that series before trying his hand at rallycross in its 2010 North American debut at X Games. “There are very different types of track layouts in the series and, to be able to do asphalt and gravel and also work with the jump, you have to be an overall good driver.”
A varied background doesn't hurt, in that respect. In addition to a solid run in professional drifting, Hubinette won six of six starts in the Viper Racing League back in 2005. He raced for Ram in the TORC short-course off-road series in 2010. And his work as a Hollywood stunt driver has seen him put just about every type of vehicle through its paces on the silver screen.
The mixed-surface challenge of rallycross has a built-in element of uncertainty. Corners change in character on every lap as the dirt is compacted, (or broken up), or gets more wet, (or less). A racing line that worked in practice may be obliterated in the first lap, or it may be inaccessible when as many as nine other cars jam for it at once – with inevitable consequences. Unlike in Europe, where drivers have had decades to get to know circuits dedicated to the sport since the 1960s, there are no permanent rallycross tracks in the U.S.- based Global Rallycross Championship. That makes this uncertainty even more of an issue, since the first time a driver gets to feel out a course is typically in the moments before his first knock-out elimination heat.
That suits Travis Pastrana, one of two drivers on the Red Bull Discount Tire Dodge Team this year. “I do better in a bottom-of-the-ninth situation when everything is on the line and you have to hit this, and this has to be a home run,” says Pastrana. “That's my best chance to hit a home run. I'm not good in practice.”
Like Hubinette, Pastrana's background is diverse. He began his career in motocross and had risen to action sport legend status by his teens. His incredible early success on two wheels in freestyle and racing is surpassed only by his notoriety as a stunt performer – and the many knocks and bone breaks he has taken on the way. He was barely into his 20s when he realized motorsport competition offered the thrills of motocross combined with the safety of a roll cage and he's been racing on four wheels ever since, earning four back-to-back Rally America championships from 2006 to '09 and now competing in rallycross as well as in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.
Part of what he counts on when he gets behind the wheel is his lifelong ability to read and understand grip levels in dirt. And that is something that his teammate Menzies also has going for him. Back-to-back TORC series champion in the Pro-2 category, Menzies is a dominant force in short course off-road racing and also the longer form desert competition – he's a two-time Baja 500 winner. His experience piloting heavily modified off-road trucks has shown him how to manage traction. When he hits the rallycross course, though, he says he it's his experience in managing traffic in the short-course environment that gives him an edge.
“I'm more comfortable in the short-course stuff because that's where I started,” says Menzies. “I'm a lot more comfortable in the aspects of racing close to people at 110 percent.”
Traffic in rallycross is like nothing else. Two-time World Rally Champion Carlos Sainz, after watching a replay of the first corner of the X Games final called it, “all a bit much” – a seen-it-all veteran's gross understatement of what happens in the winner-take-all final race when ten 600hp cars gun for the first corner. The driver that gets through it in the lead has an advantage for the rest of the race because it's hard to pass in rallycross. The first corner is high stakes and inevitably, there is a furious clash.
The races are so short – only four to 10 laps of a half-mile course – that pit stops aren't necessary. So instead, rallycross throws in the added wrinkle of an alternate lap called “the Joker” that's required once per heat – at the driver's option. Depending on the course configuration the Joker can be longer or shorter than the regular lap. But either way, it's often the best place to find clean air and try to make a move around the leader without the risk of contact.
To take advantage of every opportunity, says Hubinette, having the backing of a strong team makes all the difference. “You need to pick the Joker at the right time and it definitely helps to have a good spotter to help you make that call, because he can see the whole track,” says Hubinette. “It's really important to have a good team effort; the spotter has a big role there.”
No doubt, luck plays a part, too. “Bryce still hasn't had a fair shot,” notes Pastrana, who hasn't been able to catch a break since scoring his first win in the Red Bull Discount Tire Dodge Dart mid-season last year. At the team's 2013 debut in Foz do Iguacu, Brazil, in April, Pastrana was one of four drivers to be knocked out of contention on the very first corner of the final in a massive, dusty tangle. Menzies didn't even make it that far, after he slammed into a rival driver who stalled on the start line, leaving him nowhere else to go.
With everything else in place, all the Dodge team needs is a little luck. Their next opportunity is June 30, when Global Rallycross visits Munich with X Games.
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.
• SRT is an entire brand fueled by passion for street and racing technology. Five hallmarks set SRT apart: awe-inspiring powertrain; outstanding ride, handling and capability; benchmark braking; aggressive and functional exteriors; and race-inspired and high-performance interiors.
For the inside line on everything SRT, there's only one place to go: driveSRT.com. It serves up fresh factory insider stories, gets the facts and figures on every SRT product, and goes inside the race team car haulers and talks directly to the drivers. Then it delivers it all to you fast and first.