Following the recent announcement that he had joined the fabled Chip Ganassi Racing squad to drive for their new rally cross programme, I caught up with Red Bull Global Rallycross fan favourite Steve Arpin to get the lowdown on his big move and the season ahead.
Dominik Wilde: First of all, now that the announcement has been made, what does it mean to you to drive for an organisation like Chip Ganassi Racing?
Steve Arpin: To have the opportunity to drive for a man like Chip Ganassi is honestly, saying it's a dream come true, to me, is an understatement. It's truly an accomplishment that I'll never forget for the rest of my life, it's something I'll be able to tell my grandkids about someday, just the fact that it happened. We'll hopefully accomplish a lot together that we have a lot more to tell my grandkids about. But it's one of those deals that everything just came together so perfectly over the last six to eight months and the equipment that we have, the partners that we have with Eneos on board, Loenbro on board and everyone here at Chip Ganassi and the resources, the crew that we've already assembled with Carl Goodman leading the way, he worked for 10 years at M-Sport as a chief engineer there so to have someone like that with that kind of experience leading our way over here is - It's one of those things where, you know how most times in life something that's too good to be true typically is too good to be true? Well this is one of those things that actually seemed too good to be true but it's actually happening! It's pretty cool!
Dominik Wilde: So how did the arrangement start because in sport, when something big like this happens we kind of know about it before it's happening, things creep out and stuff like that but there's been no word for month on this so how did it all start?
Steve Arpin: (Laughs) to be honest with you it's something I've kinda been working on since X Games of last year. I was looking for something different to do with my partners and Loenbro and I happened to, see I have a relationship with some of the main guys over here at Ganassi from my NASCAR days and I saw them poking their heads around X Games last year, just checking out the sport, seeing what it was all about and that opened up a lot of opportunities for other areas for discussion and we spent the rest of the year talking about different possibilities, getting different ideas together, just lots of brainstorming about what would be the best way to do it and here we are today.
When we all sat down and talked about it with everyone at Loenbro and Ganassi getting together one of the common denominators was we want to come out of the box strong. We want to have top-notch equipment. We want to do this thing right and with that being said M-Sport was by far the only choice to go on on Ford Fiestas.
Dominik Wilde: Obviously Ganassi has got huge experience in other motorsport; it's kind of like Andretti Autosport last year. So looking at the success they had, that's kind of spurred you on to do just as well if not better?
Steve Arpin: Absolutely! Absolutely, they set a bar last year. They improved the level of competition of the entire sport. Scott Speed came out of the box on all cylinders for sure! It was really impressive and that's definitely motivation for us to come out and do the same thing again. We've got all the resources at our fingertips, we've got the right people on board, we've got the right cars coming, we've got all the right ingredients to raise that bar another level yet and that's definitely what we expect to do.
Dominik Wilde: So Global Rallycross, it's still growing, it's still young, what do you think, as someone who's part of the story, it means for the series to have a big organisation a big sporting organisation like Ganassi as part of the series?
Steve Arpin: I don't think there's anything possibly bad that it can do to the sport. Mr. Ganassi, he's a racer. He is a true pure blooded racer and for him to take a risk and jump into the GRC, I think that just really establishes where the sport is and the potential the sport has. So with his involvement and, I'm not speaking for him by any means, but from my point of view his involvement in NASCAR, IndyCar and IMSA, that actually gives me a lot of confidence in my future place in the sport as well because, sitting here thinking about it if Mr. Ganassi is willing to jump into this sport, we obviously have a future here. He sees this sport for what it is and I think lots of the other owners to be honest with you since this has happened there's already lots of talk about other teams within the US that are just kind of poking their head around and watching what's going on so I think it's really sparked a lot of interesting conversation already.
Dominik Wilde: You mentioned Ganassi's NASCAR and IndyCar involvement, and Scott Speed as well. Since he's got with Andretti to do rallycross he's gone on to do Formula E, IndyCar testing and sports car racing. Has there been any talk of you possibly branching out and doing other things? Maybe going back to NASCAR and doing the odd thing there now that you're part of the Ganassi stable?
Steve Arpin: (Laughs) that's one of those things where I'm just kind of waiting for the right time to take him out for a beer or something and say like 'Hey you've got an empty race in the Nationwide car, I think I might fit in that car pretty good!'. So it's definitely not the main talk so far, we've obviously really, really been focusing all hours of the day on this rallycross programme since back in November to be perfectly honest with you and it's been purely this is the only focus right now. So we definitely want to come out of the box strong with this. I don't want to defer any of my concentration until we accomplish what we're beginning to accomplish and then if the opportunity comes in the future, absolutely. It's something that I would definitely, definitely welcome the opportunity to and it's something that I might definitely poke and prod a little bit and try and get the conversation going if I have to (laughs.
Dominik Wilde: But it's all about taking one step at a time now really?
Steve Arpin: Absolutely. I don't want to, I want to walk before I can crawl maybe but I don't want to run before we start to walk.
Dominik Wilde: Now looking ahead to this season, 12 rounds this year, it's an extended calendar. You started off last year with a podium so going into the first round at Ft. Lauderdale what are your expectations going into this year with a new team, a new car and a new start really?
Steve Arpin: It's definitely something I've been thinking about a lot. It's one of those things that we put everything in place to give us the opportunity to do very well. Wins cannot be out of the question this year. Wins are definitely a high priority on my list, they are the priority on my list. But with that being said, we have to be realistic too and we are a start-up team, we are a new team. One of the advantages we have to that is having the experience and the resources that we have here at Chip Ganassi Racing to be able to help us kind of avoid a lot of the growing pains but realistically we are going to probably suffer a few growing pains and what my expectations are there is to be strong enough in all other aspects that we can absorb the damage that a couple of those growing pains do along the way.
Dominik Wilde: I suppose it's too early to ask who you'd expect to be competing with, not just because you're a new team but because the season's quite a way away, we haven't really seen everyone, but last year there was one M-Sport Fiesta this year there's three confirmed and there's probably going to be four or five so would you say that those are the guys you'll be looking at from the start?
Steve Arpin: Obviously the M-Sport Fiestas are going to be strong but at the same time the Olsbergs bunch is never someone to count out of the picture. They're going to be strong, they've been working all off-season and really, really been trying to improve their product as well. The Volkswagen guys, we saw the way they came out of the box last year and they've had an off-season to work and really fine tune that VW Bug that they've put out so they're going to come out of the box strong too and Andretti is a big organisation and they know how to go fast. I think one of the things you've got to look at and honestly I've thought about that a lot this year is whose going to be the guys we're going to be racing for a championship. And I think that landscape of the GRC is going to have a big shift this year and instead of having one, two, maybe three guys on a weekend that can win the race going into the final, I think you're honestly going to be looking at seven, eight, nine, maybe ten guys that legitimately has a shot to win. Like you said it's a young sport and as the sport's growing older, the competition level's going to get a lot more balanced and for the past few years some people, like Olsbergs for example, they've really kind of taken a leap ahead of the competition from a technology standpoint and they were the only cars to be in. Well Andretti came in last year and they reset the bar. They raised the bar by a lot. Towards the end of the year the Subaru guys were really stepping up their game and they're coming out with the new car this year so that's going to be really interesting. There's a lot of talk of some other brands coming in, some other manufacturers coming into the sport which, if the rumours are true, they're definitely going to be strong so I guess to make a long story short I honestly think that you're going to see such a wide range of top-level competition like as far as how many people are eligible for the win, more than you've ever seen in the GRC before.
Steve Arpin: Absolutely. Look at this for example: Let's be real; in the car I was in, I was not a threat to win the races. I feel as a driver I'm there, I'm ready but the equipment I was in last year I was not a threat to win races. Austin Dyne, same thing. Patrik Sandell, Scott Speed, Tanner Foust, so right there just with myself, Patrik Sandell, Austin Dyne, Brian Deegan and the car he was in, he was competitive but not a threat to win by any means. There's four extra people who should be a threat each and every week to win the race.
Dominik Wilde: It's quite remarkable when you sit back and think about it really, isn't it?
Steve Arpin: It's awesome! You say that's an extra four guys, but that's almost half the field! In a main, there's only ten cars in a main, that's a row in the third. so that's an extra row of cars lined up for the main, we have an extra row which can win this race.
Dominik Wilde: And if it keeps going as its going, give it five more years and you'll be having 20 cars at an event that can win and the championship's going to be absolutely crazy!
Steve Arpin: And then you'll have guys like Ken Block and myself, and Scott Speed and Brian Deegan that are instead of fighting for a win they're just fighting to show up to make it into the show! And that's honestly the way I see this sport growing. It's going to grow so fast. Looking at the schedule that Colin Dyne and everyone at GRC has put together this year, and they've just announce Ft. Lauderdale as our first race, the location is spectacular. I honestly can't wait to get there and race. I'm bummed out that my wife can't come because that's going to be an exciting one. But just from there going to the X Games and Daytona, we've got a military base blowout for fourth of July weekend, that's going to be awesome. We're back to DC, Detroit, double-header in Los Angeles, Seattle, Vegas, these markets that we're going to are huge and it's just a matter of time as the sport grows, the first couple of steps are going to be small, they're going to be hard to achieve but as soon as we start stepping into that growth spurt, it'll just start growing exponentially fast.
Dominik Wilde: Absolutely! Now, you were going through the schedule there, if you were to pick one you were really looking forward to, I know that's a real mean question, but if you were to pick one that you were really looking forward to this year, what would it be?
Steve Arpin: Whatever's next. I can't wait to go to Ft. Lauderdale because that's the next one, then the moment we take the chequered flag it's like by God let's get to X Games, let's go! Then it's going to be we have two weeks off before Daytona, how are we going to handle this? Then it'll be I can't wait 'til Daytona.
I'm a 30 year-old guy, I come from a very, very small town in Canada, I'm driving cars for a living, I've always driven cars for a living but now I get to jump cars and kind of smash and bang, zero to 60 in one point six seconds, all-wheel-drive, sliding them around, and I get to do this for a living. I get to travel all over The States. I get to race on a Caribbean island in Barbados, and I get to take my wife there because it's on my first wedding anniversary this year so it's even better yet. So as far as what's exciting and what's next it's like this life is just such a privilege to be able to live right now. Like I said, it's whatever's next, I just can't wait to have whatever's next; I'm honestly the luckiest guy in the world; it's a pretty cool experience!
Images - Alison Padron, Lrry Chen, Garth Milan, Matt Kalish