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Red Bull GRC: Arpin, CGR Rallycross have “extra pep in step” for 2016

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I’m not sure whether Steve Arpin is familiar with The Lonely Island’s “I’m on a Boat” song.

But heading into last year’s Red Bull Global Rallycross season opener at Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., his car was.

And it only barely made it to shore mere days before the Chip Ganassi Rallycross team was preparing for its series debut.

A far cry from the usual more well-oiled machine you expect from a Ganassi team going into its first race of the year.

“God last year, this time of year, I was sitting there tracking a boat!” Arpin told NBC Sports going into this weekend’s season opener at Phoenix’s Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park (Sunday, 2 p.m. ET, NBSN).

“The crazy part about it was containers got mixed up – it was a bunch of heads of lettuce arriving in what we thought we were race cars!

“But yes, now, it’s a night and day difference. We were a start-up team last year. It was tough but we entered with a great relationship with M-Sport. I’m glad they took the time for us. They didn’t send us pieces of junk.”

The M-Sport baseline for the team’s two Ford Fiestas, the ENEOS No. 00 car driven by Arpin as well as the then-Rockstar No. 38 car of Brian Deegan (plus No. 360 360fly for Jeff Ward for two weekends), was needed because nearly all the CGR team – based in Charlotte – was new to rallycross racing.

“We had a lot of first-year growing pains,” Arpin explained. “The majority, all but one guy, everyone was from NASCAR… and everyone had zero rallycross experience. So we were learning new cars, and building a notebook from nothing.

“As everyone knows, a lot more things don’t work than do. I thought we came out of the gate strong, but we didn’t progress as fast. We self-criticized and evaluated everything we did right and wrong to make it more efficient.”

Arpin pinpointed the team’s weakest point in 2015 – its launches.

“Our biggest flaw last year was serious launch issues,” he said. “At some point both Deegan and/or my car died, either in the main, a semifinal or heat. The problem with that, from that point of the weekend on, it really hurt us for progression. You have to make it through the first corner strong. When other guys are back on the line, it tends to be an issue!

“I think there’s a couple races we could have been in victory lane last year, or even been on the podium more so than we were. The start issue was the root of evils.”

As it was, Arpin enjoyed a relatively successful first season in the Ganassi No. 00 Ford. He ended sixth in the points standings with one podium (third at Daytona race two) and seven additional top-five finishes, plus a runner-up finish in the non-points X Games at Circuit of The Americas.

Over the offseason, some parts have been sent back to Europe for repairs and freshening but the chassis have remained stateside.

They’ve had good testing this offseason and look for more podiums and a win. Deegan will now be in for the full season, except with a big change in the energy drink department – he’ll now be in the No. 38 NOS Energy Drink entry.

“We’ve had good solid test,” Arpin said. “We worked on a lot of things to be better overall. At the same time, every other team has to improve too.

“This is suspenseful! We’ve got our wholeshots, but then there’s also the VWs, the Subarus, and the other Ford guys… and no one has any idea who will do what. And those buggers have been so tight lipped!

“Deegan will be full season this year and that will help us. We feed off each other so well. There’s some areas where he is faster, and some where I am.”

There’s a lot of excitement around the team and Arpin is also keen on delivering more programs for ENEOS.

“But walking around the shop, you can tell – everyone has that extra pep in their step.”

Valtteri Bottas wins chaotic season-opening F1 Austrian Grand Prix

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SPIELBERG, Austria — Valtteri Bottas won a chaotic season-opening F1 Austrian Grand Prix while six-time series champion Lewis Hamilton finished fourth after getting a late time penalty Sunday.

The Formula One race was interrupted three times by a safety car, and nine of 20 drivers abandoned, including both Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Alexander Albon – who tried to overtake Hamilton on the outside with 10 laps left, touched wheels and flew off track.

Hamilton was given a 5-second time penalty for causing the collision, having earlier been hit with a three-place grid penalty after an incident in Saturday’s qualifying was reviewed by stewards.

SHOW OF SUPPORT: Drivers take knee before race

Bottas led all 71 laps in the eighth victory of his career. It was the second consecutive victory in the season opener for the Finn, though he won four months earlier in 2019 after this season’s start was delayed by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Lando Norris of McLaren F1 celebrates after his first podium finish (Mark Thompson/Getty Images).

Bottas started from pole position and Hamilton from fifth, but it looked like a straight fight between the two Mercedes drivers as has been the case so often in recent years.

But late drama in Spielberg ensured otherwise and Hamilton’s time penalty meant Charles Leclerc took second place for Ferrari, and Lando Norris sent McLaren’s garage into raptures – and threw all social distancing rules out of the window amid the euphoria – with third place.

It was the 20-year-old British driver’s first career podium, and his superb final lap was the fastest of a dramatic season opener.

Norris became the youngest British driver to secure a podium finish and the third-youngest ever in Formula One.

Valtteri Bottas leads Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton during the Formula One Grand Prix of Austria (Mark Thompson/Getty Images).