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.