Red Bull GRC: Ken Block, Joni Wiman now the ones to beat in title race

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Ken Block started his 2014 Red Bull Global Rallycross season with a dramatic crash at Barbados that left his No. 43 Hoonigan Racing Division Ford wrong-side up.

Seven races later, the Gymkhana star is on top of the championship.

Last weekend’s doubleheader at the Port of Los Angeles had the potential to wreak havoc on the title race, and it did. The biggest beneficiary was Block, who collected a pair of podium finishes and now holds an 18-point lead over Joni Wiman with two races to go.

“The season did start off a bit rough, and it took a bit to recover from that,” Block said on Sunday after finishing second in the Race 2 final behind winner Rhys Millen. “From there, we just kind of put our head down and put as much work in as we could.

“It’s been a bit of luck, and coming from behind with hard work, that has gotten me five podiums in a row. I just wanted consistency, I wanted some good finishes, and it’s just kind of steamrolled into this lead.”

Block entered L.A. second in the championship, down 40 points to Nelson Piquet Jr. But the Brazilian failed to make Saturday’s Race 1 final and only finished ninth on Sunday.

Piquet’s nightmarish weekend in the City of Angels has knocked him down to fourth in the standings at 34 points behind Block – 10 points behind third-place man and Saturday winner Scott Speed.

Speed has won three races this season and Piquet had a streak of four straight podiums (Austin-Washington, DC-New York-Daytona), but both have also had stumbles that have knocked them out of the championship lead.

Block must try to avoid the same fate, with 2013 GRC Lites champion Wiman now serving as his closest pursuer.

“We’ve got two events left and really just have to focus on [Wiman], who’s being really consistent, and watching what he’s doing,” he said of the Finnish pilot.

“We’re trying to be near him or ahead of him, especially for the next event [at Seattle], to hopefully set up a bigger points lead going into the final event [at Las Vegas].”

Meanwhile, Wiman, the driver of the No. 31 Olsbergs MSE Ford, heads to Seattle on the heels of his own double-podium weekend in L.A.

He’s now ranked as high as he’s ever been in the top-tier Supercar class, and after what’s been a solid 2014 for him, he’s probably feeling like he’s playing with house money at this point.

“It’s so great to be here,” Wiman said this weekend. “To be honest, I didn’t expect to do this well my first year, but of course I’m happy.

“It’s everything for me to get a good start on the weekend, feel it out fast, and get happy with the car, and then it’s just rolling on.”

Throw in Speed and Piquet, who will be very desperate to make one last push for the title, and next weekend’s Round 9 is setting up to be quite a show.

Catch Red Bull Global Rallycross: Seattle this Sunday at 4:30 p.m. ET on your local NBC station and NBC Sports Live Extra.