Big names like Block and Pastrana out after one heat race.
AUSTIN, Texas – Yes, of course, the X Games are a made-for-TV event, and the people who actually show up are, like Bernie Ecclestone calls the Formula One fans who come to the races, “the studio audience.”
And by extension, the Red Bull Global Rallycross series is essentially made for TV as well: Every race is shown on network television, except perhaps the Las Vegas finale – no other series gets that much network TV time – and the packaging is, like Formula One, very much TV friendly.
The races are short, even the main feature (six minutes, 34 seconds); the cars are bright and noisy and, thanks to the small, slick Yokohama tires, slide around a lot – not a criticism of the brand, but slick tires transitioning from tarmac to dirt is bound to cause some moments.
And there were plenty of those moments at the X Games GRC race, which was not officially billed as a GRC race, and unlike last year, didn’t pay points. After all, the race was televised on ABC, since that company and its cable partner, ESPN, pretty much own the X Games. You can’t blame ABC for not saying, “And tune in two weeks from now for the GRC doubleheader at Daytona – which will air on NBC!”
Dust, and more dust
And except for the unforgivably dusty portion of the track at Circuit of the Americas – a little over a half-mile, 70 percent paved, 30 percent dirt, with one right turn and the rest lefties – the series delivered on its promise. This year, the Andretti Volkswagen Beetles of Scott Speed and Tanner Foust are the class of the field, understandable since they are new cars, as opposed to the leased, already-worn-out Polos from last year.
And Speed, once again, would not be denied his third gold medal, and both his and Foust’s car – Foust was penalized, dropping him to fifth in the six-car field – were junk after the race.
Fewer cars, less excitement
It was unfortunate, though, that the series had to deviate from its usual format. There were 14 cars, meaning there were three heats of five, five and four cars. The winner transferred to the main event; second and third would run a last-chance qualifier, and everyone else goes home. Really? Ken Block, maybe the series’ biggest name, has a bad heat and no chance to go any further? Travis Pastrana, making what may be his only start this year in his Subaru, goes home after a bad heat race?
Said Block in a post-race tweet: 'Bad luck for me the second year in a row here at X Games rallycross. I was in second place in my heat on the last lap, checkered flag in sight, when my front driveshaft failed. That meant 600hp immediately hitting the rear wheels in the middle of the final corner, which = BIG spin. And because of the quick elimination format at X Games, that was it for me. Lame!'
And instead of the usual 10 cars for the final 10-lap race, there were only six. Which made the race, for a lot of us, about 40 percent less interesting. Still, Steve Arpin's run from the rear to second was impressive, as was Sebastian Eriksson's third-place finish on three tires.
Scott Speed drove a solid race and deserved to win. But not having guys like Pastrana and Block and Bucky Lasek out there seemed like a NASCAR race without fan favorites Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and even Danica Patrick.
And next time, guys, bring in somebody who knows how to pick the right dirt and prepare it for racing. And let everybody into the last-chance qualifier to at least give them a shot at making the main event. You’ve got a year to figure it out.