MotorSportsTalk caught up with Scott Speed, the newly crowned Red Bull Global Rallycross champion for Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross, for his thoughts on the season that was.
In a two-part interview, we look back at where his 2015 season changed, and how important this title was for him, his career, and the team and manufacturer.
At the fourth of July weekend, at the MCAS New River military base in Charlotte, the hopes and dreams of Scott Speed and the Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross team claiming a Red Bull Global Rallycross title were slim.
Speed ended the fourth of 12 rounds this season exactly 100 points in arrears of then-championship leader Ken Block, in ninth place out of 14 drivers who had competed in a GRC Supercar event.
“It seems that a dark cloud is surrounding our team right now, and it just can’t seem to go away,” Speed said then, via the team’s post-race release, after a mechanical failure forced an early race retirement.
Slightly more than four months later, Speed emerged from his No. 41 Orafol/Merchant First/Shark Week VW Beetle on the Village Lot at the Strip in Las Vegas as season champion, following a torrid second half comeback that was nothing short of incredible.
The first four races saw Speed finish second once, then ninth and fail to qualify for two final rounds.
In the last eight races, Speed finished first or second in six of them, with third in Las Vegas serving as his second worst result in that stretch.
“The first four, it felt we were where didn’t even start the final,” Speed told MotorSportsTalk in a post-Las Vegas interview.
“We had some reliability issues. My engineer and I were talking about things… do we start talking about next year? The points we were out were so much, so we had to come back.
“To develop these cars into what they were, and became the car to beat every weekend, it means more. It was such a team effort between Tanner (Foust), myself, the engineers, VW and Andretti.”
It was easy to forget the Beetle, as a new car that had upgraded to a 2.0L engine over the winter, was still in the midst of its first full race season this year. It spent the majority of 2014 testing before a debut at Las Vegas; the team had campaigned the VW Polo previously.
“It’s really our first year at it,” Speed said. “We went kind of with rental cars as a learning experience, until our Beetles were ready.
“We knew right away they’d be fast. We knew we could work on them. As you know, GRC’s a bit of a contact sport. So the car’s gotta be really tough. We accomplished that very quickly in a matter of races. We had to work on the performance of the car.”
The weekend at Detroit, a doubleheader round after MCAS New River, proved a pivotal one for both Speed and the team.
With the championships on the brink – Speed was ninth and Foust, in the No. 34 Rockstar Energy Beetle sixth in points, 59 back of Block – Detroit served as the midway point of the year and a chance to re-enter the fray.
Block and Patrik Sandell split the race wins but Block’s penalty assessed for avoidable contact in the second race, and a subsequent seventh place finish in the final, marked the beginning of an eventual second-half tailspin from there.
Speed banked a pair of runner-up finishes in the finals, and it was important to have ironed out the reliability issues. Foust’s nightmare weekend was not due to reliability, but contact in both races.
“I think (the turning point) probably was having a clean weekend in Detroit,” Speed said. “There were no mechanicals.
“From that point, we kind of figured out what was going to break on the car. We’d address all these issues. First full year of the car, and that weekend really showed we had the reliability, then we could work on making the car faster.”
The VWs were finally able to run at competition weight from Los Angeles, thanks to a new throttle system installed on the cars.
With Speed’s weekend sweep there of that doubleheader round, he had suddenly moved into second in points – just 13 back of Block with three races remaining.
The table was set for Speed and Foust to snatch the title from Block’s grasp, heading to the final two months of the season with rounds at Barbados and Las Vegas.
In part two, we’ll look at those final rounds, plus the magnitude of what the title means for all parties (Speed, VW, Andretti).