Speed’s Red Bull GRC title ticks several boxes for him, VW, Andretti

Photo: Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross

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. Part one is linked here, and part two is below. 

The odyssey that has been the last decade of Scott Speed’s career has finally carried him to his first championship in 11 years, not just his first in Red Bull Global Rallycross.

Speed, now 32, was Red Bull’s top American Formula 1 prospect those 11 years ago, having won both the Formula Renault 2000 Eurocup and Formula Renault 2000 Germany titles in 2004.

A third place in the inaugural GP2 Series season, plus a couple Friday practice appearances in a Red Bull F1 chassis at the two North American rounds in 2005, fast-tracked Speed into F1. When he debuted with Scuderia Toro Rosso in 2006, he broke a 13-year drought dating back to 1993 as the first American on a grid, in the form of one Michael Andretti.

But a season and a half of frustration, unfulfilled promise and no points scores later, Red Bull replaced Speed with a then-unheralded 20-year-old rookie named Sebastian Vettel. You know the rest of the story from there.

Speed shifted back Stateside to stock cars and despite some initial success in ARCA, struggled for parts of six seasons in NASCAR Sprint Cup. In 118 starts, he had four top-10 finishes, three of them on restrictor plate tracks, and a best finish of fifth at Talladega in 2009. He won once in the Camping World Truck Series as well.

Coincidentally, it’s been Andretti who’s provided Speed his newest home – and one where the environment is fully there for the driver to flourish.

After a year with Olsbergs MSE in 2013, Speed shifted to Andretti Autosport in 2014. The team had used Volkswagen Polos as a placeholder car until their new Volkswagen Beetles came online.

Speed nearly won the title in his first season with the team, but a 35-point penalty assessed at New York more or less took him out of contention.

Speed made sure to acknowledge how thankful he is to Andretti for the welcome home he has now.

“I can’t tell you how fortunate I am to be in the position I’m in,” Speed told MotorSportsTalk. “Motor racing is very much a team sport.

“You have to have the right people around you. It’s the best position I’ve ever been in before, here with Volkswagen and Andretti. I feel super, super fortunate.”

The good news for the Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross team, heading into the season finale at Las Vegas, was that they had the championship clinched regardless. Speed and teammate Tanner Foust were the only two mathematically eligible for the title.

Even though they’re teammates, Speed says they mesh entirely well.

“We just fit together really well. With our experiences, personalities, we just complement each other,” he said. “I’ve learned so much from him and we’ve been really good friends, which is hard when you’re teammates.

“It radiates through the team and helps the situation. That’s just lucky. You’re not gonna know until you start working with someone. So it’s a really good fit.”

Speed said he was surprisingly calm on race day, which was interesting given the rainy conditions seemed to throw a monkey wrench in what would be normal plans.

“Surprisingly calm, actually,” he said. “I’m always pretty calm, but I was ultra calm (Wednesday). “After the second heat, when we got wrecked by (Sverre) Isachsen, right after the Joker/jump, it would have been easy to get mad, but it was a case of, whatever, next race. We were focused what on we had to get done.”

Speed described the visibility, or lack thereof, of the Village Lot at the Strip course once the rain hit.

“Visibility was a big issue. It wasn’t the rain so much, but all the gravel came up. Like it was almost cement with water, so it stuck with the windows.

“One thing that was interesting… no one has run in the wet yet. So it was very good to note in the semifinals, that our Beetles are fast in the wet. In the final, Joni (Wiman) was the car to beat. But for everyone to be running in the wet for the first time, it was good to know we were there.”

He finished third behind the two OMSE drivers, Wiman and Sebastian Eriksson, in the final. But with Foust in ninth, Speed easily had enough to secure the title.

He reflected on what it all meant the next morning.

“It means a ton. It’s really our first year at it,” he said. “We went kind of 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. It’s a bit of a contact sport. The car’s gotta be really tough. We accomplished that very quickly in a matter of races. Then we got to work on the performance of the car.

“For a company and team to come to the sport, and against other cars running rallycross for so long, it’s such a huge accomplishment. I have the best car, best engine, best team and best teammate. I think we have a bit of a dream team. Looking forward to next year and continuing our presence in this series.”

Indeed earlier this year, Speed re-signed with Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross, in a move that made sense for all parties.

“It became obvious halfway through the year we had the right people in place,” Speed said. “Myself and Tanner are the right guys for the job. The team felt that way as well.

“We all were pushing in the same directions. We all wanted it to happen. Honestly, it was just a bit of dumb luck that all the people fell in place.”

It was a needed boost for all parties in a still-challenging 2015. The boost for Speed occurred given his career travails; for Volkswagen, the title provided a small bit of good press to offset the emissions scandal that has rocked the company, and for Andretti himself, it was a title in a year where his IndyCar team struggled and when the race team as a whole was sued by his own additional company (Andretti Sports Marketing, now LST Marketing).

And Speed can say the meshing was dumb luck all he wants, but the fact was he excelled in arguably the deepest Red Bull GRC field yet en route to winning the title.

Indy 500 red flag calls still raising many questions and criticism from IndyCar drivers


DETROIT – When the yellow flag flew with three laps remaining in the 107th Indy 500, Marcus Ericsson thought his moment had arrived just after he had seized it.

After two red flags to help ensure a green-flag finish to the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, Ericsson had jumped up on the wheel of the No. 8 Dallara-Honda to take the lead from Josef Newgarden on a restart just seconds before a multicar crash triggered the caution.

“I knew that I better get to the lead as soon as possible because another yellow, that’s going to be it,” Ericsson said  Friday before the first practice for the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix. “This is the one. Better get to the lead and keep that lead, because this is going to be it.

“When I got that lead, and it went yellow, I was screaming in my helmet for a lap and a half, ‘Call it! Call it! Call it! Call it!’ They have to call it.”

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The call that the IndyCar scoring tower made was not the one that the Chip Ganassi Racing driver wanted.

Rather than let the laps run out under yellow with Ericsson as the first repeat Indy 500 winner in two decades, IndyCar stopped the race and restarted in a virtually unprecedented situation: Throwing the green and white flag for a one-lap shootout shortly after cars exited the pits.

“As soon as they pressed that red flag button, I was done,” Ericsson said, knowing that the leader had been passed by the second-place car on virtually every restart – just as Newgarden did to win his first Indy 500. “I knew that was it.”

The decision by IndyCar to throw an unprecedented three red flags at the Brickyard – and what it means for the future – remained a hot-button topic as the action shifted to an entirely different locale.

During a lengthy meeting Friday morning, the main topic of discussion between IndyCar drivers and officials was the nine-turn, 1.7-mile downtown layout that is the new site for the Detroit GP after a 30-year run on the Belle Isle course.

The track is an extremely bumpy ride (with manhole covers aplenty) through the Motor City with a hairpin turn, a 0.9-mile straightaway and a pit lane that will split the 27-car field into stopping on opposite sites before blending into a tight exit and into traffic just before a hard left-hand turn into a 90-degree first corner.

So, there was much to hash out before even broaching the NTT IndyCar Series’ seemingly fluid protocols for using a red flag to avoid a yellow-flag ending.

But Ericsson and others believe that discussion needed to happen yesterday. On separate podcasts this week, Alexander Rossi and Conor Daly both questioned the wisdom of throwing a red flag with only enough time to allow a single lap of green to end the race.

“It’s just not safe,” Rossi said on the “Off Track” podcast. “Sometimes, you just can’t get it done.”

On the “Speed Street” podcast, Daly took issue with IndyCar’s first red flag with 16 to go, noting the cleanup probably could have been completed with at least six laps left.

“We understand the race needs to be finished under green,” Daly said. “It brought on a first-time situation of literally leaving the pits when we went green. Like I’ve never done that in my entire career, and I found that astounding. If I was (Ericsson), and I hadn’t won the Indy 500, I’d be furious. If that’s what stopped me from winning the Indy 500, I’d go to war.”

In an Indy Star story, Graham Rahal and Ed Carpenter also felt as if the red flags were bungled.

While the moral support might be reassuring, it still is of little solace to Ericsson. Friday, he was in a much more measured and typically upbeat mood (after gritting his teeth through postrace interviews Sunday), but the fire still burned that he felt wronged.

“I don’t want to sound like a sore loser, and I try and not be that guy,” Ericsson said. “I don’t want to take anything away from Josef. He did a tremendous job, a fantastic race. I just think that us as a series should discuss this and have something in place where if there’s a yellow with this many laps to go, we do that. It can be simple. If there’s less than three laps to go, it’s yellow. (The race is) done.

“I don’t want to sound like a bad loser or anything. But from a sporting perspective, we should have something in place that we know what happens in a situation like this. What is tough is three years ago, a very similar thing happened, and race control made a completely different decision that decides the winner of the race.”

Ericsson is referring to the 2020 Indy 500, which became the 19th to end under yellow because of a heavy impact by Spencer Pigot with the pit lane attenuator. With four laps remaining, IndyCar declined to throw the red flag and released a statement that “there were too few laps remaining to gather the field behind the pace car for a green-flag finish,” indicating there needed to be at least a full pace lap before two laps of green.

“That makes it hard to accept what happened Sunday,” Ericsson said. “I don’t struggle with finishing second. Someone has to, and it’s going to be small margins. On that last restart before the red, if I’d been hundredths of a second slower on that restart, I’d be second behind Josef on the last restart, and I would have been winning the race (on the final restart). It’s all small margins. I’m fine with that.

“What I don’t think was fair was the way race control made a decision. It’s up to them to decide and feel the situation. They don’t have a certain rule or anything. That’s where the sporting integrity, it’s a thin line when it ends like that. When they did that call, it was too late in my book. There weren’t enough laps left to do. If they did, it had to be straightaway. They (held the last red) for a lap and a half and missed that window in my world.”

Scott Dixon was the runner-up to Takuma Sato in the 2020 race, and he said Sunday’s finish raises questions about the consistency of IndyCar officiating.

“The problem I’ve got is you’ve got someone who is determining the race and how it finishes,” Dixon said. “Even though they don’t think they are as a group, it does. It’s the same thing they’re doing on road and street courses. They’re leaving a car stranded, and the driver isn’t not able to get out until everybody pits but then they’re waiting until the last guy pits so he has a massive advantage. They’re still altering the outcome of a race.”

The six-time IndyCar champion said IndyCar also erred by waiting a lap and a half before throwing the third red flag.

“We used to do it, if there’s a crash, you go yellow and it equals itself out over the season whether you’re on the right side or wrong side of it,” he said. “I don’t know what the fix is. Red has become the trend.”

Alex Palou is among those lobbying for IndyCar to choose a cutoff lap for using the red (and allowing the race to end under caution otherwise).

“I would like something that at least when we go next year, they have to follow the rule,” Palou said. “That would be the best-case scenario. Like, if we don’t have more than 2 laps under green we cannot throw a red.”

Palou also openly wondered if intentionally botching a restart might become fair game, noting that IndyCar waved off a restart after the first red flag but kept Pato O’Ward as the leader.

“I don’t know what they’d do if you purposefully do a bad start,” Palou said. “I think I would’ve tried it. Why not? They are throwing you a (bad) rule, you can play it wrong as well.”

If IndyCar had waved off the final restart, Ericsson plausibly could have been declared the winner by forcing the hand of race control.

Ericsson conceded he did consider intentionally slowing down to scatter the field for the final green flag.

“Some people said I should have done that,” he said. “I was thinking about it, and that thought was in my head, but I don’t think that would have been the way to do it, and I think IndyCar would have shown the green either way. I spoke to (race director) Kyle Novak, and he said whatever you’d done, we would have shown the green.”

Ericsson chose the opposite option, going as early as possible in the restart zone at the start of Turn 3 (and catching Newgarden off guard)

“I knew my only chance to win this thing was to get the jump, be in the lead in Turn 1 and 2, and hope someone wrecks in Turn 1 to go yellow again,” Ericsson said.

It didn’t happen, which left the Swede wrestling with many questions and thoughts since painfully revisiting a race replay Wednesday (normally he watches Mondays but “I couldn’t do it the day after; I needed a few days.”).

Ericsson said he actually would have felt better about losing on the final restart if IndyCar had thrown the final red a lap earlier and allowed for a two-lap shootout “because then I would have had a chance to win the race. But it would have felt better for me to lose it. At least then, we’re doing our normal procedure. Now it feels like we went away from the procedure we’ve always done forever for the sake of entertainment instead of the sporting side of it.”

He likes the concept of announcing a cutoff lap at which the red flag no longer can be used (“then it’s super clear, and we would not have this discussion at all because we all know this is what’s going to happen.”), but his primary ask is that the issue gets addressed at least before the 108th Indy 500.

Even without an announced policy, he expects that IndyCar will throw a red flag if there’s a yellow with three laps to go for every race over the rest of the 2023 season.

“Because that’s what we did in Indy, and I hope we’re not going to change that in Detroit, Iowa or something else, because then I’d question are we doing the red flag for the show or for the sport,” he said. “What are we doing it for really? Now we’ve set a standard that this is the way we do things, then I expect it for every race from now on.”