Red Bull GRC: Rhys Millen talks about his Washington joyride (VIDEO)

Leave a comment

Rhys Millen and Red Bull Global Rallycross sure know how to make an entrance.

To promote this weekend’s Volkswagen Rallycross DC event at RFK Stadium in Washington D.C., Millen got a police escort around the city in his No. 67 Hyundai Veloster.

But the New Zealand racer was not content to cruise, and instead showcased some of the driving skills that has made him a top-tier competitor in both rally racing and drifting.

In addition to racing, Millen works as a stunt driver in motion pictures, with films such as The Dukes of Hazzard and multiple editions of the “The Fast and the Furious” franchise on his resume.

But this week has marked his first time visiting Washington in all of his travels, and he wanted to make sure it didn’t begin with any issues during the stunt.

“The pressure was definitely on not to make a mistake with all the Secret Service people and the police that were right there ready to pounce if we did make a mistake or break any laws,” Millen told MotorSportsTalk this afternoon.

“We had tight restrictions, but we had great people that worked with us inside and outside of production there in the city. We paid them respect, they gave us respect, and we got the job done.”

Millen reports that the locals in the region are getting fired up about Red Bull GRC’s event this weekend, which marks the first time in over a decade that D.C. has played host to professional motorsports.

He expects that they’ll be treated to a great show on Saturday and Sunday at a course that, from his perspective, has been well-put together by promoters Andretti Sports Marketing.

Additionally, he thinks the course will suit his and teammate Emma Gilmour’s Hyundais well.

“The course is designed in a way that I would consider it a low to medium speed course, although there are a couple of straightaways where you can open the car up,” Millen said.

“It’s really about placing your vehicle in the right position and having the chance to be very dynamic. Our car has been working really well. We’re probably down on power over some of the cars with more development, but that probably shouldn’t be a factor on a course like this.”

However, Millen knows he needs to get a proper result after good runs in the season’s first two races were derailed.

He made it to the final round at the Barbados opener only to be knocked out with a fuel pick-up issue. Then at X Games Austin, contact with another driver in his quarterfinal heat led to him being penalized and unable to advance.

Still, Millen is pleased with the Hyundai’s overall performance and believes that if he can run clean, a good day can be had in the Capitol.

“If there’s no mistakes and a little bit of luck, I think we’ll be in a great position for this weekend,” he said.

You can catch Millen and the rest of the Red Bull Global Rallycross drivers in action Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. ET on NBC.

Volkswagen Rallycross DC will also be streamed online and on your mobile device through NBC Sports Live Extra.

Schmidt Peterson aiming high with Hinchcliffe, Wickens

Photo: IndyCar
Leave a comment

The new Schmidt Peterson Motorsports duo of James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens expressed a high amount of confidence during Wednesday’s confirmation of Hinchcliffe’s return and Wickens’ signing, as the pair looks to return the Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson co-owned team to prominent status within the Verizon IndyCar Series.

“We’re hoping to give Toronto and Ontario and Canadian sports fans in general something to cheer about over the next season,” Hinchcliffe quipped during a teleconference on Wednesday.

Granted, there are likely to be several challenges to overcome, notably for Wickens, who returns to single-seater competition for the first time since 2011, when he was a champion of the Formula Renault 3.5 series and served as test driver for the now defunct Manor Racing (then known as Marussia Virgin Racing).

Having spent every year since then in DTM, where he won a total of six races and finished as high as fourth in the championship (2016), Wickens knows returning to open wheel competition will be an adjustment. However, he explained that the history of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, specifically its Indy Lights history, speaks to their ability to help a driver adapt, and he rates the program they’re putting together very highly.

“I think Schmidt Peterson Motorsports have a fantastic driver development program. They showed that in their multiple Indy Lights championships along the way. I think we will have a strong program in place. I have a feeling that the simulator will be my new best friend,” Wickens said when asked about getting reacquainted with an open-wheel car.

Of course, having an experienced teammate like Hinchcliffe to lean on will undoubtedly help the transition, something Wickens readily admitted.

“I’m very fortunate that I have James as my teammate because he’s so experienced, I can learn off him. Because we already have such a good off-track relationship, I feel like you can just take his word, trust him, kind of move forward with it,” he revealed.

They’ve been teammates before, both in karting where they first met in 2001, and then in the now-defunct A1 Grand Prix series in 2007-2008, a series that pitted nations against each other in spec open-wheel cars. Funnily, that A1GP type of vibe returns as Schmidt Peterson Motorsports now has that with its “Team Canada” mantra while all four of Andretti Autosport’s full-season drivers are American.

For Hinchcliffe, Wickens’ background, even if it hasn’t been in the single-seater realm since 2011, was a big selling point in adding him to the team.

“In Robby, we have a proven winner at a very high level. The level of technical expertise that he comes with from his time in DTM is very impressive,” he said of Wickens’ technical background.

Hinchcliffe added that Wickens’ ability to analyze the car and its setup was evidenced in two outings: one at Sebing International Raceway in March, in part of a “ride swap” between the two longtime friends, and a second at Road America, when he subbed on Friday practice for Mikhail Aleshin.

Wickens sampled Hinchcliffe’s No. 5 Arrow Electronics Honda earlier this year. Photo: IndyCar

Hinchcliffe revealed that Wickens’ feedback to the team and his ability to quickly adapt to the chassis took everyone somewhat by surprise.

“We did our ride swap. He had two hours in the car, hardly anything even resembling a test day, and his performance was pretty impressive. No doubt the time in Road America helped because that really gave us a better sense of his technical feedback, integrated with the team a little bit more. Everybody was happy to work with him on that day,” said Hinchcliffe.

Further still, Hinchcliffe is firm in his belief that the 2018 aero kit and its reduction in aerodynamic downforce will fall right into Wickens’ wheelhouse, based on Hinchcliffe’s own take after sampling Wickens’ DTM Mercedes earlier this year.

“In all honesty, I was saying earlier today, the 2018 car is probably better suited for him than the 2017 car because of the experience he’s had the last handful of series,” Hinchcliffe asserted.

“The (aero kit) was such high downforce, it would be a big change coming out of DTM. But with the loss of downforce that we’ve seen, the car is moving around a little bit more, brake zones, things like that, it won’t be as big a transition I think. Just based on the experience that I got in our ride swap, I think he’s going to adapt very quickly, be comfortable very quickly, and as a result be competitive very quickly. So it’s going to be exciting.”

As for expectations heading into next year, team co-owner Schmidt did not mince words and expects the team’s performance to resemble what they did in 2012, 2013, and 2014, when they won a total of four races (with driver Simon Pagenaud) and finished in the top five in the championship each year.

“We had a stint in ’12, ’13, ’14 where we finished fifth in the points (or better. I think we want to get back to that level of competition,” Schmidt added. “We felt like we were missing things in having two cars with equal funding and equal drivers and equal capabilities. We think this gets back there.”

Follow @KyleMLavigne