With GRC title in hand, what does the future hold for Joni Wiman?

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Joni Wiman celebrates in the wake of winning the 2014 GRC title in Las Vegas. Credit: Olsbergs MSE.

The following is the second of a two-part series involving new Red Bull Global Rallycross champion Joni Wiman. You can check out Part 1 here.

Two years ago, Joni Wiman could have taken a different path.

The young Finn had started out in go-karts at the age of 7, and at 14, he won the European Karting Championship. From there, he continued on into open-wheel competition with runs in the UK and Northern European Cup off-shoots of Formula Renault 2.0.

But in 2012, Wiman found himself on the verge of giving up on the sport – until his mentor, two-time World Rally Champion Marcus Gronholm, stepped in.

“Marcus has been helping me for many years in my career…I was about ready to quit racing and he said to me: ‘Let’s just try one more year and if it’s not working, then we’ll stop,’” the new Red Bull Global Rallycross champion said recently from his home in Finland.

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.

Wiman decided to stick it out. And sure enough, he did take a different path after all.

That year, Wiman made his rallycross debut in the FIA European Rallycross Championship round at Belgium, running a two-wheel-drive car in the Super 1600 category.

He finished on the podium with a second-place result. Additional glimpses of Wiman’s potential followed with a pair of pole positions across three more ERC rounds that season.

With Gronholm teaching him a precise and calculated driving technique, Wiman’s rallycross education soon shifted from the Continent to America, where he would compete in Global Rallycross’ newest class for up-and-comers like himself – GRC Lites.

Unlike their Supercar brethren, Lites cars are strictly spec. Able to produce about half the power of the Supercars, the all-wheel drive machines are designed to be more manageable for developing racers.

And even better for Wiman, he would be racing for Olsbergs MSE, the team that was behind the development of the Lites car itself. It was a perfect scenario. So, naturally, Wiman turned in a perfect season – sweeping all six Lites races in 2013 and clinching the Lites title with one race to go.

A promotion to Olsbergs’ Supercar team for this season soon followed, and you know what happened next: A Red Bull GRC crown and history as the first Supercar driver to earn both the series title and rookie of the year honors in the same season.

Wiman owes it all to his initial year in the U.S. with the Lites class.

“Racing in Lites helped to build a foundation for everything I did this year,” he said. “It was invaluable experience for me in getting used to the American style of racing and the tracks that they use in the U.S. In Europe, the tracks are mostly permanent. In the GRC, almost all of them are built into a parking lot and that’s quite a big thing to adjust to.

“It also helped that we had almost the same people on the Olsbergs MSE team as I worked with last year in Lites. It’s always easier to begin a season when you know almost everybody from before, than it is to start with a completely new team.

“Finally, the cars are quite similar. Lites cars have less power, but they give you the basic idea of how to drive a Supercar. And with the tires they’re using this season in Supercars, they’re even more similar. Whether you’re in Lites or Supercars, it’s about driving really smooth and always finding the right line.”

So what’s next for Wiman now? Naturally, he says that he’s fine with winning the Supercar championship without having claimed a single race victory, and indeed, consistency like his remains the essential element in any run to a title. But getting that first Supercar victory is surely on his ‘to-do’ list for 2015.

And as champion, he’ll be called upon to be a good ambassador for a sport that’s still finding its way here in the States. Wiman feels that the current GRC format is essentially a good one that helps keep fans interested. Still, he says he “might like it” if there were more points at stake in the preliminary heats “so we can fight harder from the beginning”; as of now, points are awarded in second and third round heats – three for a win, two for a runner-up, one for the rest.

But after four years, it’s clear that GRC is progressing nicely. This year’s direction toward more urban settings and away from massive NASCAR speedways is one that suits the series better. Multiple manufacturers are all in on full-time programs. Races get regular weekend showings on NBC. And at the center of it all: The almost-but-not-quite forbidden thrill of seeing otherwise humble hatchbacks transformed into 600-horsepower monsters.

Wiman can be the face of all of that. Time will tell if that’s what he becomes. But no matter what, he’s ready to enjoy the ride.

“Red Bull Global Rallycross is the series that really started rallycross for the first time a few years ago, and it’s grown so much since then,” he said. “Even from last year to this year, I feel like rallycross has moved quite a bit forward in the U.S. with Red Bull Global Rallycross and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next.”

Previous F1 competition doesn’t guarantee IndyCar success at COTA

Manor F1 Photo
Manor F1 Photo
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AUSTIN, Texas – Familiarity does not breed success, according to three NTT IndyCar Series drivers who have previous experience at Circuit of the Americas in the Formula One United States Grand Prix. Several other drivers, including IndyCar Series rookie Patricio O’Ward, competed in the LMPC IMSA race in 2017.

Although the course is the same – 20-turns and 3.41-miles – the cars are completely different. The highly-advanced, technologically-driven Formula One cars are advanced beyond the realm of anything allowed in the NTT IndyCar Series. It’s more about the driver in IndyCar, which uses an impressive, but simpler formula to help showcase driver skill more than technology in its races.

Money buys speed in Formula One, but an IndyCar team doesn’t need a $400 million budget to go racing. It can get by on $5 millions to $10 million a year and contend for plenty of race victories and championships.

Andretti Autosport star Alexander Rossi drove in five Formula One races with Manor in 2015. The above photo is from his only F1 contest at COTA that season. He was the first driver ever to turn laps at COTA shortly after it was constructed in 2012.

Rossi had his best F1 finish in the 2015 United States Grand Prix when he started 17thand finished 12th.

“When I’ve come here in the past, I came into the weekend fully knowing that there was no chance to ever really do anything from a results perspective,” Rossi said. “To could come here to a track that I’ve spent a lot of time at, not necessarily driven a whole lot, but spent a huge amount of time at. To come into this weekend’s race, competing on a level where we have as good a shot as any, to win the race would be pretty cool.

“There’s kind of an almost unfinished business box that we’d like to tick here in some way. I’m very excited to get the weekend started.”

Chilton raced the entire F1 season in 2013 and 2014 with Marussia. He started 21stand finished 21stin 2013. He started in the first 16 races during the 2014 F1 season but was out of a ride by the time F1 arrived at COTA that season.

Me and Alex probably had pretty similar experiences,” Chilton told NBC Sports.com “Obviously the more laps are better — but the car we were in, we weren’t doing much racing, so the sort of racing experience part isn’t going to help.

“It’s good to be back. I first came here in 2013 for the (United States) Grand Prix. I loved the track. I love the city. I really enjoyed the whole facility, the race track. It’s a pretty long track in an Indy car but it’s got lots of overtaking potential for us and hopefully we’ll put on a great show.

“It’s great to have an English band like Muse on Saturday night, as well.”

Marcus Ericsson of Sweden has the most experience at COTA of any driver in the field for Sunday’s INDYCAR Classic. He competed in 97 F1 contests from 2014-2018 before becoming an IndyCar rookie with Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports this season.

Ericsson was 15thin 2015, 14thin 2016, 15thin 2017 and 10thin last year’s USGP.

“I’ve been here quite a few times,” Ericsson said. “It’s one of the best tracks on F1 and I think it’s great we are going here with INDYCAR. It’s going to be a great weekend.

“The racing should be very good. It’s already good on F1 on this track and from what I’ve done in INDYCAR, it’s going to be a really good show from everyone and I’m really looking forward to it.”

Ericsson emphasized that the his F1 experience does not necessarily give him any type of advantage in an IndyCar.

“I think for me I was here a couple months ago in F1 doing the race in ’18. I had all my reference points and then I did the first run and realized that didn’t really work,” Ericsson explained to NBC Sports.com “So I don’t know that the experience — it’s good to know the track, but then the Indy cars are very different cars to the F1 (car) so you have to sort of drive it quite differently and in the end, I think it didn’t really help the maximum amount in my opinion.

“The problem is we had two days of testing already in IndyCar. If we had come here straightaway without any testing it would be an advantage of one hundredth approximate. But now, if you don’t get the track in two days, I don’t think you would be in IndyCar.

“I don’t think it’s a big advantage now going into the weekend.”

But every little bit helps and if all of those little “bits” of information are added up, previous experience can provide a benefit in the race.

“For sure there’s things I can bring from my experience there that helps in INDYCAR, but the Indy car to drive today is different than the Formula One cars with the power steering and everything,” Ericsson continued. “I think it’s two different cars and what I found here on the test; things that worked in the F1 car didn’t really work in the Indy car. I think both cars of very difficult to be fast in but in different ways.

“For sure my experience in F1, it’s helped me to get into INDYCAR.”

James Hinchcliffe, who has never driven in Formula One, or at COTA, believes he has the best experience of any driver in Austin this weekend.

“I know where the restaurants are, so that’s cool,” Hinchcliffe said.