A victory for Scott Speed, another podium for Ken Block, and a major setback for Nelson Piquet Jr. has tightened up the Red Bull Global Rallycross championship after the first of two races this weekend at the Port of Los Angeles.
Speed grabbed the holeshot in today’s final and went on to lead Joni Wiman and Block across the stripe, earning his third win of the season and his first since the X Games in Austin.
But Piquet did not make the final after being knocked out of his semifinal heat early with wall contact and then failing to make it out of the Last Chance Qualifier.
As a result, Block has pulled into a tie with Piquet for the championship lead at 248 points and Speed is just two points behind them. Wiman is also in the hunt at just 10 points back.
Put it all together, and tomorrow’s event in L.A. – which you can watch at 5 p.m. ET on NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra – is shaping up to be the most dramatic of the 2014 GRC season so far.
“We’re back to our ways,” Speed told NBCSN after his win. “We’ve had a great weekend with no problems so far, and that’s the result. We’ve still got the speed. These guys are getting closer though, it wasn’t easy. But I couldn’t be happier with our team.”
Block was hoping for more today, but was thrilled to have erased his points deficit to Piquet.
“It’s all about consistency and points at this [juncture], so I’m happy to come away with the podium…My car is nice and clean, I still have some great tires on it, and Nelson had some really bad luck,” Block said.
“That was the really big fear this weekend. If you were to blow a complete race and have damage from the first day that could hinder you on the second day – I mean, your championship’s over. So to come away with a podium and good championship points, I am stoked.”
Semifinal One went as badly as you could imagine for Piquet, who entered this weekend with a 40-point lead in the standings over Block.
Apparent contact with Steve Arpin sent Piquet into the wall just seconds after the start, and the damage to the latter’s Ford Fiesta ST was enough to end his race early.
Up front, Sverre Isachsen took the holeshot and held the lead for the first half of the semi. But around the midway point, Speed took the joker off of Turn 6 and was just able to squeeze past Isachsen when he returned to the main course.
Speed would then hold off Isachsen for the win, while Travis Pastrana captured third to move into the final with them.
Wiman and Block quickly locked horns for the lead in Semifinal Two, with the pair making flush contact with each other on Lap 2. But Block ultimately won the battle for P1 and left Wiman to deal with Daytona winner Rhys Millen for second.
On Lap 4, the New Zealand native managed to dust Wiman with an inside pass for the runner-up spot. In the end, Block, Millen, and Wiman crossed the line in first, second and third respectively to go to the final.
Piquet and his SH Racing Rallycross team were able to make repairs in time to have him compete in the Last Chance Qualifier, but he had to start on the last row. And just like in his semifinal, Piquet was involved in a quick incident; this time, getting into the back of Bucky Lasek and turning him around.
Lasek couldn’t get re-fired and a red flag was thrown. The seven cars were lined up again for a restart, but Emma Gilmour went around in the opening corner and found herself disabled on the curbing.
A local yellow at that part of the track flew, but the race stayed green. Piquet rose as high as fifth, but was passed by Lasek for sixth on the final lap and could not advance to the final. Tanner Foust, Patrik Sandell, Arpin, and Austin Dyne earned the four transfer positions.
The 10-car main event had Isachsen and Sandell fall to the back early, while Dyne suffered an early end to his race with a reported right front assembly problem. Foust was running in the Top 5, but with two to go, he came to a stop as well with smoke billowing from his VW.
However, it was smooth sailing for his Andretti Autosport teammate Speed, who led from start to finish.