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Event Report: Red Bull Rallycross DC

“You’re Will from VWvortex. Nice to meet you. I know Rutledge is a big fan of your site,” says Tanner Foust. It’s hard not to be a bit taken aback when the pro racer who also moonlights as a host on Top Gear USA. Less surprising to be sure is why Tanner’s in D.C. and I’m here to meet up with him.

Now in it’s third year of existence, the Red Bull Rallycross series is quickly gaining steam.  Featuring some of the biggest names of the action sports industry and no less that two ex-F1 drivers competing in cars that can reach 60mph from a standstill in less than two seconds, it certainly offers a lot of excitement.  Given all of this, and now Volkswagen of America’s official involvement with the Beetle, we decided to head down to Washington DC for the Volkswagen Rallycross DC stop of the season to check it out for ourselves.

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As the action sports saying goes, “When you age, get a cage” so if you’ve tuned in to the X Games within the last 5 or so years, you’ll likely recognize a few of the names competing. Action sports staples like Bucky Lasek, Travis Pastrana, Brian Deegan and others have made appearances in the series, although Lasek was the only competing at this stop.  Other notable competitors include YouTube legend and former WRC pilot Ken Block, Pikes Peak Rear Wheel Drive Record Holder and former Formula D champion Rhys Millen, and former F1 driver and Indy 500 champ Nelson Piquet Jr among others.  While they are all extremely impressive in their own right, let’s focus in on the Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross drivers specifically.

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Tanner Foust really needs no introduction, as a former competitor in Formula D, Hollywood stunt driver, and current host of Top Gear USA, all on top of his Red Bull Global Rallycross efforts.  Tanner formerly competed for OlsbergsMSE in Red Bull Global Rallycross where he earned two Drivers Championship crowns in three season before to Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross this season.

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Scott Speed has raced just about everything with wheels from NASCAR to F1, and is a race car driver to the core.  As he mentioned to me over the weekend, he spends a lot of his free time trying to think of ways go faster.  Clearly this line of thinking is paying off as he currently sits atop the Drivers Championship standings, and he claims when the Beetle GRC begins its campaign, he and Tanner will be even quicker. 

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Speed and Foust have the benefit of having an extremely talented and experienced team behind them.  The effort is led by a Michael Andretti, who needs little introduction as he’s a known quantity from one of America’s most storied racing dynasties. Having an ex-F1 driver as a boss is something that both drivers expressed was a tremendous benefit, as well as having Volkswagen Motorsport bringing their expertise to the table.

As this weekend marked the unveiling of the Beetle GRC, many from Volkswagen Motorsport including Jost Capito were also on hand.  Capito’s name may be less known, but his weight on the Volkswagen team is no less massive. He’s one of those guys with a resumé longer than a brutal rally stage. He was the main player behind Ford’s most recent rise in WRC and with its performance product spawned from that. Now, he’s joined Volkswagen and is a major engineer behind the modern rally dominance. In WRC this has paid off with an early championship for the Polo program. What that means for the Beetle GRC remains to be seen as the car has yet to turn a wheel in competition.

On this subject, Jost offers up some insight. He told us that he sees a very bright future Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross, especially considering what they have been able to do with the Polos.  Unlike the WRC cars, these GRC Polos are privateer developed and a quick fix for Andretti until the Beetle is ready to go. Fortunately, the moment for that upgrade is quite near and he is very excited with the possibilities that the purpose-built Beetle GRC brings to both the team and the series.

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When the flag in DC drops and these 500+ hp cars take to the extremely tight circuit, it doesn’t take long to see just how quick they are.  Speeds of nearly 100 mph are achieved in no time at all, with the drifting and sliding many fans of Ken Block’s Gymkhana YouTube videos are already quite familiar.  Racing is also extremely close and the Fords swept this particular race weekend.  When you couple that with a small track layout, Red Bull Global Rallycross could just be one of the best spectator sports going.

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At times when the cars aren’t on track, the cars, teams and drivers are all extremely accessible.  Nearly all of the drivers are constantly talking with fans and posing for pictures. As a local driver, Bucky Lasek even had friends like Nitro Circus member Jim DeChamp hanging out in his pit.  Perhaps this accessibility is one of the series’ best assets, because this simply does not happen at larger venues.

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What we feel is the single best asset of Red Bull Global Rallycross is their ability to create their own venue.  Rather than be restricted to a traditional circuit in a fixed location often quite far from population centers like Washington DC, Red Bull Global Rallycross can race wherever they want. Back in 2005, the American Le Mans Series tried to hold a race here at this same location and met many more challenges. Noise restrictions and infrastructure improvements proved too much for that series, though RFK will likely see repeat performances over the next few seasons if DC-headquartered Volkswagen of America has anything to say about it.

Red Bull has already started to exercise this flexibility with their Los Angeles race, planned to take place at the Port of Los Angeles.  We think that, if played correctly, the series could not just use this to grow their fan base, but also come up with really cool venues that utilize existing landmarks. Perhaps Block’s romp through downtown San Francisco wasn’t that much of a film-making fantasy after all.

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With all of that said, the series is not perfect and there are a few things we’d change.  For starters, the event might be compressed into a shorter timespan.  The issue with this type of racing is that the surface requires maintenance after almost every race, which stretches things out a bit.  If they can figure out a feasible way to quickly maintain the circuit, it would work wonders and perhaps even allow for an additional series to run in conjunction with the Supercars and GRC Lites.  Our suggestion would be Supermoto, as they race on an extremely similar circuit, and won’t tear up the track too much.

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So should you go to a Red Bull Global Rallycross race?  In short, yes.  It’s worth it for the accessibility to drivers alone.  We’re quite confident that once the series gets up to speed, (remember, it’s only their third year) teething pains will vanish and only the sheer spectacle of it all will remain.  Plus, its always nice to say that you were there before it got big.

Our full gallery from Red Bull Global Rallycross: Volkswagen Rallycross DC can be found right here, and be sure to let us know what you think of the series in the comments below.

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