A Red Bull GRC ride-along is as gnarly, surreal, awesome as you’d expect

Photo: Tony DiZinno

LAS VEGAS – Violent. Visceral. Bonkers. Mental. Surreal. Gnarly.

And that was just the first 100 yards out of the starting gate.

When you’re blessed with the opportunity for media ride-alongs – this year for me has included laps in a two-seater Honda IndyCar, a 1930s open-wheeler on the historic Milwaukee Mile, a Mazda 6 at the Lime Rock Park bullring, a McLaren MP4-12C with Kevin Estre, and an Audi S3 street car with Allan McNish – not much really surprises you as you grow more accustomed to having them.

That’s not to say they’re dull – they’re all mega in their own way – it’s just that you know what to expect.

However… upon entering the passenger’s seat of Sebastian Eriksson’s No. 93 Red Bull Ford Fiesta ST for Olsbergs MSE at this week’s Red Bull Global Rallycross season finale in Las Vegas, I expected it would be different, yet I had no idea of just how different.

The preparation for it came from, of all people, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports IndyCar ace James Hinchcliffe, who along with close friends and former roommates Stefan Wilson and NBCSN GRC/Indy Lights analyst Anders Krohn had just completed their own ride-alongs. So too did fellow IndyCar star, Josef Newgarden.

“It’s so violent,” Hinchcliffe told me after his own laps. “It’s unlike anything I’ve ever been in in a race car.”

“There is just so much going on in the driver’s seat in such a condensed timeframe that you have no idea how they do it.”

This, coming from a 28-year-old Canadian who more or less drives a rocket ship on wheels, who’s won four IndyCar races, and was begging his own crew not to force him to pit upon his glorious return to the No. 5 Arrow/Lucas Oil Schmidt Peterson Honda at Road America in September. Even he’d never been “Wow’d!” like this.

The beauty of Red Bull GRC’s ride-alongs, compared to other series, is that most if not all drivers participate. There were at least 12 different cars, split between Supercars and GRC Lites, all taking part in the sequence. Usually other series only have from one to three cars available; the beauty of rallycross is all cars are fitted with passenger seats.

Having Eriksson as my driver was the first sign that this would be a proper rally experience. With no offense to American drivers, having a Scandinavian as your tour guide is damn near the most authentic rally experience you can get. And in Eriksson, the 22-year-old Swede who’s been a revelation in his Supercars rookie season, it was one of the best options.

Eriksson didn’t speak a word to me going into the ride. I couldn’t have asked for anything more.

Swedes don’t talk. They drive.

A track walk earlier in the morning gave an idea of what to expect. I’d figured the guys would try to e-brake around the double apex Turns 1 and 2, after launching from the front straight.

The tricky section comes next, with a right-hand kink on pavement, then an immediate snap left to the gravel section, with a slow corner ahead before launching for the jump – or bearing off left and going for the Kobalt Tools Joker Lap.

Turn 4, gravel section before jump. Photo: Tony DiZinno
Turn 4, gravel section before jump. Photo: Tony DiZinno

So, enough prep work done, I got suited and booted in my Jacques Villeneuve-esque baggy Ford firesuit, which was enough to get Krohn and Wilson laughing. Even sitting higher up, several inches off the ground in the staging area, I couldn’t match Wilson’s iconic towering frame.

You not only have a helmet, but a HANS device, to protect you on the ride. Drivers can obviously speak to how important that is and from a ride-along standpoint, this was the indication it would be bumpy and extra protection as a precautionary safety measure was needed.

Eriksson rolls out of the staging area onto the front straight, turning around before launching out of the gate.

View from the passenger's seat. Photo: Tony DiZinno
View from the passenger’s seat. Photo: Tony DiZinno

Three. Two. One. BOOM.

And you are thrown back in the seat like you wouldn’t believe.

The acceleration is simply ridiculous on these estimated 600-horsepower beasts, and while the 0-60 mph time is listed as 1.9 seconds, that seems an eternity to how fast it actually felt.

Meanwhile, as I’m thinking “OHMYGODTHISISAWESOME,” I snuck a glance over to Eriksson in the driver’s seat. As “Hinch” outlined, the magic taking place behind the wheel almost defies description.

The laser focus is on the next turn, pulling the gears while turning, debating whether to use the e-brake after using the regular brakes as late as possible.

To give you an idea of the speed, we were in sixth gear not long after the gate on the front straight, and this is only a 0.8-mile course, so do the math on the velocity on that one.

As I figured from the track walk, the transition to gravel would be nuts. It is.

The car snaps sideways, half pointing at the wall, half the apex, with Eriksson steering back to the right as it veers left. It’s simply surreal to watch. Throw down from fourth down to first gear for the next right-hander, which was the slowest corner on the track.

Then the jump. Oh, the jump.

I figured we’d hit it hard, but it wasn’t nearly as hard as I thought we would. Maybe Eriksson did this politely so I didn’t have a freak-out moment where I thought we’d overshoot the landing (long story short, I did that in college on a jump once, and it’s always been in the back of my head…).

From the jump landing you get into a rhythm section with a quick straight, left, right, and double-apex right to lead you back onto the front straight.

Rinse and repeat for three or four laps. In the final, make it a few more.

In one sentence, it was the most fun I’ve ever had in a race car.

Once out, it was such an adrenaline rush, it made the quick walk and monorail ride back to the SEMA Show for a more standard part of the job – a “state of the series” presentation – all the more tolerable.

And it got the blood flowing to return back to the GRC event site later in the afternoon, ahead of today’s final round action.

Thanks to Red Bull GRC, Ford and Olsbergs MSE for the opportunity. 

Hunter Lawrence defends Haiden Deegan after controversial block pass at Detroit


Media and fan attention focused on a controversial run-in between Haiden Deegan and his Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing teammate Jordon Smith during Round 10 of the Monster Energy Supercross race at Detroit, after which the 250 East points’ Hunter Lawrence defends the young rider in the postrace news conference.

Deegan took the early lead in Heat 1 of the round, but the mood swiftly changed when he became embroiled in a spirited battle with teammate Smith.

On Lap 3, Smith caught Deegan with a fast pass through the whoops. Smith briefly held the lead heading into a bowl turn but Deegan had the inside line and threw a block pass. In the next few turns, the action heated up until Smith eventually ran into the back of Deegan’s Yamaha and crashed.

One of the highlights of the battle seemed to include a moment when Deegan waited on Smith in order to throw a second block pass, adding fuel to the controversy.

After his initial crash, Smith fell to seventh on the next lap. He would crash twice more during the event, ultimately finishing four laps off the pace in 20th.

The topic was inevitably part of the postrace news conference.

“It was good racing; it was fun,” Deegan said at about the 27-minute mark in the video above. “I just had some fun doing it.”

Smith had more trouble in the Last Chance Qualifier. He stalled his bike in heavy traffic, worked his way into a battle for fourth with the checkers in sight, but crashed a few yards shy of the finish line and was credited with seventh. Smith earned zero points and fell to sixth in the standings.

Lawrence defends Deegan
Jordon Smith failed to make the Detroit Supercross Main and fell to sixth in the points. – Feld Motor Sports

“I think he’s like fifth in points,” Deegan said. “He’s a little out of it. Beside that it was good, I don’t know. I wasn’t really paying attention.”

Deegan jokingly deflected an earlier question with the response that he wasn’t paying attention during the incident.

“He’s my teammate, but he’s a veteran, he’s been in this sport for a while,” Deegan said. “I was up there just battling. I want to win as much as everybody else. It doesn’t matter if it’s a heat race or a main; I just want to win. I was just trying to push that.”

As Deegan and Smith battled, Jeremy Martin took the lead. Deegan finished second in the heat and backed up his performance with a solid third-place showing in the main, which was his second podium finish in a short six-race career. Deegan’s first podium was earned at Daytona, just two rounds ago.

But as Deegan struggled to find something meaningful to say, unsurprisingly for a 17-year-old rider who was not scheduled to run the full 250 schedule this year, it was the championship leader Lawrence who came to his defense.

Lawrence defends Deegan
A block pass by Haiden Deegan led to a series of events that eventually led to Jordon Smith failing to make the Main. – Feld Motor Sports

“I just want to point something out, which kind of amazes me,” Lawrence said during the conference. “So many of the people on social media, where everyone puts their expertise in, are saying the racing back in the ’80s, the early 90s, when me were men. They’re always talking about how gnarly it was and then anytime a block pass or something happens now, everyone cries about it.

“That’s just a little bit interesting. Pick one. You want the gnarly block passes from 10 years ago and then you get it, everyone makes a big song and dance about it.”

Pressed further, Lawrence defended not only the pass but the decision-making process that gets employed lap after lap in a Supercross race.

“It’s easy to point the finger,” Lawrence said. “We’re out there making decisions in a split millisecond. People have all month to pay their phone bill and they still can’t do that on time.

“We’re making decisions at such a fast reaction [time with] adrenaline. … I’m not just saying it for me or Haiden. I speak for all the guys. No one is perfect and we’re under a microscope out there. The media is really quick to point a finger when someone makes a mistake.”

The media is required to hold athletes accountable for their actions. They are also required to tell the complete story.