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.”

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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