Thursday, 16 April 2015

2015 Red Bull Global Rallycross Season Preview

After a thrilling 2014 season which saw Joni Wiman prevail in a four way title fight in last November's Las Vegas finale, Red Bull Global Rallycross is back.

Last season saw no less than six winners in 10 events with 11 different drivers on the podium over the course of the season. This year the calendar has been expanded to 12 events, including three double-headers.

2015 Red Bull GRC Calendar

Round 1 -   May 30-31              Fort Lauderdale, FL
Round 2 -   June 5-6                 Daytona Beach, FL
Round 3 -   July 3-5                  MCAS New River
Round 4 -   July 24-25              Detroit, MI (I)
Round 5 -   July 25-26              Detroit, MI (II)
Round 6 -   August 14-15         Washington, DC
Round 7 -   August 29-30         Seattle, WA
Round 8 -   September 11-12  Los Angeles, CA (I)
Round 9 -   September 12-13  Los Angeles, CA (II)
Round 10 - October 2-3           Barbados (I)
Round 11 - October 3-4           Barbados (I)
Round 12 - November 3-4       Las Vegas, NV

The expanded schedule sees three new venues in Fort Lauderdale, US Military Base and Detroit.

Fort Lauderdale opens up the championship at the end of May while the US Military base will play host to a fantastic Fourth of July weekend celebration. The first double-header of the season takes place in Detroit, America's spiritual home of the motor car.

Red Bull GRC will also return to X Games Austin this year for an invitational event at the world's premier action sports competition. The non points-paying event will take place on June 5-6, inbetween the championship's two Florida rounds.

The Teams

This year seven teams, represented by 12 drivers running a mix of four of the world's best rallycross cars will be taking to the track over the course of the season. This year's field contains two new teams, and four returning race winning teams, as well as two series champion drivers and five race winners - two of which tie for the all-time wins record.

Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross - Volkswagen Beetle

#34 Tanner Foust and #77 Scott Speed

Following their début season which saw them campaign WRC-based Polos as their purpose-built Beetles were being developed, Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross are back.

The Indy 500 winning squad took four wins last year with Scott Speed triumphing three times en-route to third in the championship standings. Tanner Foust added a victory in New York after what was a difficult start to the season for the two-time champion.

Now with a year's experience under their belts and arguably the strongest driver pairing in the field, Michael Andretti's squad will be expected to be right at the sharp end from the off.

Subaru Rally Team USA - Subaru WRX STI

#11 Sverre Isachsen and #81 Bucky Lasek

A Red Bull Global Rallycross stalwart, the Vermont Sportscar-run Subaru Rally Team USA finally took their first main event win last season when Sverre Isachsen triumphed at Dirtfish, in the heart of Subaru country. Skateboarding superstar Bucky Lasek added three more podiums for the team in what really was a breakout year for the the Maryland native.

However, after campaigning the hatchback Impreza since the series' inception, 2015 will see Subaru run the new sedan WRX STI, a car that's already proved a success in North American motorsport by winning two events out of two in the Rally America competition.

Red Bull GRC is a whole different ball game however, so this will be a team to keep an eye on throughout the course of the year.

Olsbergs MSE - Ford Fiesta ST (Olsbergs)

#31 Joni Wiman and #93 Sebastian Eriksson

As Red Bull Global Rallycross champions of 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014, Olsbergs go into 2015 as the team to beat. With the 2013 GRC Lites champion and runner up behind the wheel in Joni Wiman and Sebastian Eriksson, they're in the perfect position the challenge for silverware once more.

In addition to his 2013 Lites triumph, Wiman of course took the Red Bull GRC crown last year - his debut season in the Supercars category. Eriksson meanwhile returns to GRC competetion after spending a year racing in his native Sweden.

SH Racing Rallycross - Ford Fiesta ST (Olsbergs)

#07 Nelson Piquet Jr.

After coming ever so close to taking the title last year, former Formula One, NASCAR racer and Formula E race winner Nelson Piquet Jr. is back for another tilt at the championship with SH Racing.

Despite not winning a race, the versatile Brazilian took four consecutive podiums and led the points standings for much of last season.

Along with new sponsor Hydroxycut, the son of three-time F1 champion Nelson Piquet will be hoping for better luck this year as he sets his sights on wins and the championship.

Hoonigan Racing - Ford Fiesta ST (M-Sport)

#43 Ken Block

Ken Block came close to finally taking the Red Bull Global Rallycross title last year. Often the fastest car on track, Block took his Fiesta ST to victory lane twice - It could have easily been three if it wasn't for a spectacular roll in the final of the opening round in Barbados, an event he had dominated until that point.

As in 2014, Block has chosen Red Bull GRC as his sole full-time focus. Last season that choice paid off as the Californian enjoyed his best ever season in Red Bull GRC.

This year the superstar Gymkhana sensation will be hoping to avoid bad luck and iron out any mistakes and fight at the front once more.

Chip Ganassi Racing - Ford Fiesta ST (M-Sport)

#00 Steve Arpin, #38 Brian Deegan and TBC

Following the lead of Andretti Autosport last year, IndyCar giants Chip Ganassi Racing have expanded into Red Bull Global Rallycross for 2015.

Fielding a pair of Fiesta STs built by the legendary M-Sport squad in Cumbria, England, Ganassi will be looking to be competitive right from the off. The car is a proven race winner and both of their drivers, Steve Arpin and Brian Deegan, have been on the podium before now.

Steve Arpin is in for the full season but Deegan is only running a part-time schedule so look out for other drivers being announced in the future.

Bryan Herta Rally Sport - Ford Fiesta ST (M-Sport)

#14 Austin Dyne and #18 Patrik Sandell

Another new team and another team running M-Sport's strong Fiesta package, Bryan Herta has increased his involvement in Red Bull GRC for 2015, running this two-car team alongside his existing IndyCar operation.

After a strong début season, Austin Dyne, son of series boss Colin, returns with DC race winner Patrik Sandell moving over from Olsbergs to drive the sister car.

Rhys Millen Racing - Hyundai Veloster

#99 Victor Gonzalez Jr.

After Hyundai withdrew their funding at the end of 2014, there were fears that Rhys Millen Racing might not return for 2015. Luckily that's not the case for the race winning outfit who return with Puerto Rican Victor Gonzalez Jr. behind the wheel.

Gonzalez comes to Red Bull GRC with an impressive racing resume. From touring cars to open wheel, NASCAR to Lamborghini Super Trofeo, the 39 year-old comes into his first year of off-road racing with a wealth of experience at his disposal.

Three to watch

Although likely to be the closest, most competitive series on the planet, with any one of the 12 confirmed drivers capable of winning a main event, here are just three drivers you should keep an eye on this season:

Steve Arpin

2015 could well be the making of Steve Arpin. The likeable Canadian has been racing in Red Bull GRC since 2013, securing his first podium finish in Barbados last year.

This season the former NASCAR driver has one of the best cars underneath him and one of the best racing organisations in the world behind him, putting him in a prime position to challenge for wins week in, week out.

Tanner Foust

By his own standards 2014 wasn't great for Tanner Foust. One win and ninth in the final points standings is not what we've come to expect of Red Bull GRC's most successful driver.

But with the Beetle now ready for a full season and already showing flashes of pace, could 2015 be the year that the Top Gear host returns to the fore? Perhaps, but with a field of this calibre he certainly has his work cut out.

Sebastian Eriksson

After 2013 GRC Lites champion Joni Wiman impressed many last year by taking five podiums on his way to the Red Bull Global Rallycross title, many will be expecting the driver he beat to the 2013 Lites crown, Sebastian Eriksson, to be just as competitive.

The youngster showed superb pace during his previous GRC Lites campaign, and after spending a year fine tuning his skills in his homeland, he'll be looking to get one over Wiman.


Three big questions

It not just drivers you need to keep an eye out for, with many themes developing and questions to be answered over the course of the year:

Will we have another winless champion?

Last year's four-way Vegas title showdown featured two drivers who didn't manage to win a race over the course of the season (or indeed their Red Bull GRC careers up to that point). Ultimately, it was one of those drivers, Joni Wiman, who prevailed.

A winless champion is by no means a bad thing. In fact if anything it highlights the competitive nature of the championship. Could it happen again? Well anything is possible but with the mix of cars and drivers competing this year, it has to be said that it's unlikely.

How will the new teams fare?

Two new teams have joined the fray this year with Chip Ganassi Racing and Bryan Herta Rally Sport.

Andretti Autosport proved last year that it was possible to come into the championship with the right resources and win races and challenge for championships. Many will judge the new teams against the Volkswagen outfit's 2014 success but with proven cars and drivers at both teams' disposal, it will certainly be intriguing to see how they mix with the more experienced campaigners.

Will each car win a race this year?

Last year all five cars that entered full time won a race. This year that number is four with two of them entering a full season for the first time.

The Fiestas from M-Sport and Olsbergs are proven main event winners while Andretti's Beetle has already shown strong speed, taking a heat win on it's début in LA last year.

But like Subaru's new WRX STI, it has yet to run a full season or take a main event win in it's short career. Can that change this year? Probably. Can Subaru add to their sole win of 2014? That's perhaps too early to tell. But it will certainly be interesting to see if all four cars can work their way into the winner's circle over the course of the year.

Images: Alison Padron, Garth Milan, Larry Chen, Matt Kalish, Olsbergs MSE, SH Racin, Victor Gonzalez Jr.

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