2017 Red Bull Global Rallycross Championship: Battle of the Beetles

Throughout 2017 there’s been an epic fight waging. This was a war between two men. Their battlefield consisted of dirt, asphalt, jumps, and a not-at-all-secret weapon: a shortcut called “the joker.” This was a battle of good and…also good. Unlike all great stories of conflict, this one lacks a real villain because both Volkswagen drivers, Scott Speed and Tanner Foust, are just genuinely nice guys and both drive for Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross. Throughout the weekend you would see them chatting openly with fans, eating lunch with family members, and signing anything put in front of them. To be honest, seeing how down to earth they both are, how warm and genuine in their personalities, and well, you might want both of them to win.

And in a way, they both did win. Kind of.

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Now, If you’ve never been to a Global Rallycross event, the overall vibe is very different from other race series. The action is fast; not only are the cars blistering quick, the races are short, loud, and exciting. It’s racing for the Twitter generation: boiled down to the most exciting and important elements. Six laps (regular season) or 10 laps (Championship). It’s racing in 140 characters (or 280 during the Championship). You’re close to the action. Almost all areas of the track can be seen from the stands. The track itself is compact with tight turns that generate gasp-inducing drifts from the drivers. The cars are loud in both sound and sight. You can feel the CRACK in your gut from the exhaust pops. It feels like you’re in the race.

And this championship was in the perfect location; the Port of Los Angeles. The track was surrounded on three sides by water. Boats and wave runners zipped by. The hills of L.A. were off in the distance. The weather was perfect. And the palm trees soared over the whole thing. It was quintessentially Southern California.

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Back to the race itself: If you haven’t been paying attention, this battle boiled down to a generous early lead in the GRC Championship for Scott Speed, and late-in-the-season successes by Tanner Foust. Throughout 2017, Speed was the consistent performer racking up wins and points. Foust had a more difficult time, so Speed entered the weekend with a 30 point lead. But an interesting thing happened; throughout the heats on Saturday, Foust annihilated the competition, and Speed, while steady through all races, could not catch Foust. In fact, Foust narrowed the points gap in the semifinals to 14. Tension was rising. Could Foust unseat Speed to win the championship?

It all came down to the final race. For this championship battle, drivers circle the track 10 times (versus six times in normal races). This gives the drivers a few more chances to overtake their competitors on the tight curves, the loose dirt, and the few short straightaways. Foust came out swinging at the very beginning, and Speed was forced into the fourth place spot. Throughout the ten laps, Foust’s black Rockstar Beetle not only held the lead spot, but built space between him and his next closest rival, Steve Arpin in a Subaru WRX. Arpin was mathematically eliminated from being a contender for the championship earlier in the day, so he wasn’t much of a threat. But he never let up. Meanwhile, Speed held his fourth place spot for all nine laps. Unless something tragic happened like a wreck or mechanical failure, he had the title clinched. Did Scott rest knowing this? HECK NO! In the last lap, he strategically took the Joker shortcut which landed him squarely in second place.

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It was an incredibly exciting race and day. Arpin and Foust gave the crowd a spectacular show by doing donuts in front of the stands. Arpin actually climbed up on the roof his Subaru and Foust drifted circles around him and the car. The guys were clearly having fun. Meanwhile, Scott simply circled the track once more, then pulled the red Oberto Beetle up to the wall facing the crowd, climbed up on the hood, raised his hands high up over his head, then he crumpled up into a ball on the hood, clearly overtaken by emotions.

When the smoke from the burnt rubber cleared, there were three clear winners. Scott Speed took home his third Red Bull Global Rallycross Championship trophy. Tanner Foust took home a trophy for his final-round win. And Volkswagen took home a trophy as the championship manufacturer. Hinrich Woebcken, VW North American Region CEO, was on hand to accept the trophy and spray his two exceptional drivers with champagne during the awards. He was clearly ecstatic over the win. If you thought all Germans were stoic, you should have seen him celebrating with the drivers. Also milling about the crowd was Michael Andretti; the GRC Beetles are part of the Andretti Racing family.

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All in all, this was a phenomenal win for Volkswagen. Even before the race was won, there was talk about the 2018 season. Could VW win a fourth championship? Time will tell.

Two things to add: if you ever have the chance to attend a GRC event, do it. The access to the cars and drivers and the race itself is incredible. And if you do, plant yourself near some Subaru fans. They clearly hated being beaten by Beetles.

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