Joni Wiman talks about his run to Red Bull Global Rallycross title

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Joni Wiman, 2014 Red Bull Global Rallycross champion. Credit: Olsbergs MSE.

New Red Bull Global Rallycross champion Joni Wiman is back home in Finland, but recently took the time to do an e-mail interview with MotorSportsTalk. You’ll hear more from the 21-year-old dynamo on Thursday, but this post focuses on how Wiman managed to emerge with the title following a fierce finale in Las Vegas earlier this month.

“Is this really happening?”

You figure that was what was going through the mind of Joni Wiman as he stood on top of his No. 31 Red Bull/Bluebeam Ford Fiesta ST while Ken Block – the man he just beat for the 2014 Red Bull Global Rallycross championship – saluted him by doing donuts around his fellow Blue Oval driver.

Such was the conclusion of last week’s GRC season finale in Las Vegas. Block did what he had to do by winning the race, but Wiman’s second-place finish was enough to give him the title by five points.

“I can’t feel my legs right now,” a happily awestruck Wiman said once he climbed down from his Ford.

The 2014 Red Bull Global Rallycross season finale from Las Vegas will be broadcast this Sunday, Nov. 16, at 1:30 p.m. ET on your local NBC station. It will also be streamed online and on your mobile device through NBC Sports Live Extra.

That happy daze must have continued until Wiman returned home to Finland. There, he says, was where his accomplishment set in.

“Everyone was jumping and cheering and it was exciting,” he said. “But it’s only been now that I’ve had a chance to relax and do nothing here at home that I have slowly started to think about it and I’m starting to realize what just happened.

“Winning the championship was quite a lot over my expectations and it feels unreal to be able to do it in my first year.”

Wiman did not take a single race win and did not seize the points lead until the next-to-last race. But a season-ending stretch of four consecutive podium finishes was enough to make him the victor of a championship battle that went to the final race in Vegas between himself, Block, and a pair of former F1 and NASCAR racers in Scott Speed and Nelson Piquet Jr.

Block, Speed, and Piquet all had the GRC points lead at some point this year, but were unable to keep it. Coming out of the Los Angeles doubleheader, Block had jumped to the top over Piquet but in that aforementioned next-to-last race in Seattle, a mistake in the final caused him to finish ninth.

Wiman, on the other hand, finished second to take the lead from Block going into Vegas. There, a pair of heat race wins allowed Block to get within 10 points of Wiman before Piquet suffered a gearbox problem in his semifinal that kept him out of the Last Chance Qualifier.

With Piquet’s season over, it was down to Wiman, Block, and Speed in the final. And out of all three of them, only Wiman could control his destiny: A second-place finish would lock up the title.

The race began with a crash involving Speed and Bucky Lasek in Turn 1. But both men were able to get back to the line for the restart, and while Block quickly blasted off to the lead, both Speed and Lasek were able to get past Wiman and knock him to fourth.

The championship was slipping away. So, on the fourth lap of the 10-lap final, Wiman took matters into his own hands.

Instead of waiting for a call from his Olsbergs MSE spotter/manager, Jussi Pinomaki, to take the joker lap – an on-course shortcut that drivers can only use once per race and can thus serve as a major strategy device – Wiman went for it himself after noticing jostling between Speed and Lasek ahead of him.

“I was expecting to wait for the call from Jussi, but Bucky and Scott were fighting a bit and Bucky made a mistake in Turn 3 that allowed Scott to get really close to him – and I got really close to Scott,” Wiman recalls. “That’s when I thought: ‘Maybe now is my chance.’ I was in a good position to take the Joker already. The line was open. Jussi didn’t have time to say it but I went for it anyway.

“I actually made a mistake on the loose gravel going into the joker that cost me half a second or so, and then I was pretty scared because I saw Bucky on the main lap and he was already making the left-hand turn after the jump before I’d even turned in for the hairpin. I thought for a split-second that he might come out in front of me, but it was enough and I made it. That was a relief.”

Wiman had gone from fourth to second, the position he needed to win the title. Eventually, he pulled away from Speed and Lasek but after initially trying to reel in Block – and only gaining a tenth or two per lap for his trouble – he realized that it was best not to push his luck.

“When Jussi said it was clear behind me, I started to think about the championship and I pulled it back a little to bring the car home,” he said.

Block took the checkered flag to cap off a strong weekend for him. But the night belonged to Wiman, who became the fourth consecutive GRC champion for the Olsbergs team.

Leading up to the weekend, Wiman had wryly noted in pre-race interviews that he had just turned 21 and that there were many ways of celebrating such an occasion in the city they were in. But after taking the title, he reports that nothing occurred in the post-race party that had to “stay in Vegas.”

“Of course, it would have been inconvenient to be in Las Vegas with a championship win if I hadn’t turned 21 so I’m definitely glad my birthday happened before this race,” Wiman concedes. “But it was really a normal celebration for our team, and with the family and friends who were there to support me. Even if I wasn’t 21 yet, we would have found a way to celebrate together.”

Nasser Al-Attiyah, Toby Price win Dakar Rally

Dakar.com, Frederic le Floc'h / DPPI
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Driving a safe final stage that placed him 12th across the line, Nasser Al-Attiyah claimed his third Dakar Rally victory on Thursday. Toby Price claimed his second Dakar win in motorcycles after winning the final stage.

Al-Attiyah could afford to play it safe since he entered the stage with a 51-minute advantage over the field. Price barely had a minute to spare and was forced to push hard through the short 112-kilometer course.

Price’s victory was all the more dramatic in light of his riding the entire rally with a pin in his wrist from a broken scaphoid bone.

In the Quads class, Nicolas Cavigliasso showed his dominance by winning nine of the 10 stages.

Here are some of the other highlights:

In the cars class, Last year’s overall class winner, Carlos Sainz finally earned a stage win, but it was too little, too late. … Sebastien Loeb challenged for the class win throughout the stage and finished less than one minute back. … Cyril Despres rounded out the top three. … Nani Roma finished sixth, four minutes behind the leader, but less than five minutes ahead of Nasser Al-Attiyah.

Class Leaders: Al-Attiyah won his third Dakar by a margin of 46:42 over Roma and one hour, 54:18 over Loeb.

In motorcycles, Toby Price saved the best for last. He won his first stage of the rally and secured the class win. … His victory came with a margin of 2:21 over Jose Florima. … Matthias Walkner enter entered the stage with an opportunity to take the overall lead. His third-place finish was not bad, but it came with his principal rival finishing first. … Pablo Quintanilla took a fall early in the stage and injured his foot. Riding hurt, he finished the stage 22nd – nearly 20 minutes off the pace. … American Andrew Short finished seventh for his eighth top 10 of the rally.

Class Leaders: Price ended the rally with the biggest advantage of the year. He beat Walkner by 9:13. Sam Sunderland finished third, 13:34 behind the leader.

In side by sides, Reinaldo Varela won his second consecutive stage and third overall. … He had a comfortable margin of 3:39 over Cristian Baumgart and 6:10 over Francisco Lopez Contardo.

Class Leaders: Contardo’s third-place finish in the stage was more than enough to secure the class victory over Gerard Farres Guell, who finished one hour, 2:35. Varela finished one hour, 5:19 behind in third.

In quads, In a show of utter dominance, Nicolas Cavigliasso won his ninth stage of the year. … Alexandre Giroud stood on the podium for the fourth time this year. While he didn’t win a stage, he never finished worse than sixth. … Jeremias Gonzalez Ferioli rounded out the top three.

Class Leaders: Cavigliasso won by an advantage of one hour, 55:37 over Ferioli and two hours, 11:38 over Gustavo Gallego

In trucks, Ton Van Genugton rebounded from a poor Stage 9 in which he finished 12th to win his second stage of the rally. … Ales Loprais scored his first podium of the rally; his previous best finish was fourth in Stage 9. … Dmitry Sotnikov stood on the final rung of the podium.

Class Leaders: Eduard Nikolaev finished sixth in the stage, but won with an advantage of 25:36 over Sotnikov and one hour, 34:44 over Gerard de Rooy

Stage Wins

Motorcycles
Sam Sunderland [2] (Stage 5 and 7), Matthias Walkner [2] (Stage 2 and 8), Joan Barreda [1] (Stage 1), Xavier de Soultrait [1] (Stage 3), Ricky Brabec [1] (Stage 4), Pablo Quintanilla [1] (Stage 6), Michael Metge [1] (Stage 9) and Toby Price [1] (Stage 10)

Quads
Nicolas Cavigliasso [9] (Stage 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10) and Jeremias Gonzalez Ferioli [1] (Stage 3)

Cars
Sebastien Loeb [4] (Stage 2, 5, 6 and 8), Nasser Al-Attiyah [3] (Stage 1, 4 and 9), Stephane Peterhansel [2] (Stage 3 and 7) and [1] Carlos Sainz

Side-by-sides
Francisco Lopez Contardo [4] (Stage 2, 6, 7 and 8), Reinaldo Varela [3] (Stage 1, 9 and 10), Gerard Farres Guell [1] (Stage 3), Sergei Kariakin [1] (Stage 4) and Rodrigo Piazzoli [1] (Stage 5)

Trucks
Eduard Nikolaev [3] (Stage 1, 2, and 9), Andrey Karginov [2] (Stage 3 and 4), Ton Van Genugton [2] (Stage 5 and 10), Dmitry Sotnikov [2] (Stage 6 and 8), and Gerard de Rooy [1] (Stage 7)

For more watch the daily highlight show on NBCSN. Click here for the complete schedule.

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