Speed never eluded Patrik Sandell and the Kobalt Tools Bryan Herta Rallysport team in 2015, but luck often did.
But Sandell had both – plus a rocket start – to help launch him to his first win in 2016 in the third round of the Red Bull Global Rallycross season at Dallas a couple weeks ago.
The driver of the No. 18 Ford Fiesta ST launched strongly off the line and that was enough to break the early season run of success for the Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross team, which had dominated the first two races in Phoenix plus the various preliminaries in Dallas.
As Sandell explained, nailing the start was critical at Dallas given the lack of passing opportunities.
“The start is so critical and you have to make a good launch as part of the show,” Sandell told NBC Sports. “So we really tried to find the perfect launch. We failed in our semifinal, we went too far over edge. But in the final we made it perfect, and it was one of the best launches in the field.
“We tried to work with all the details all the time. These cars are so extreme; we tried to go down a road with a different diff setting to make the car go faster. But then in the past, we’d broke driveshafts after the jump. After that, we went with a better direction on the car.”
Sandell’s team only has the one car to work on now; the Herta rally effort has downsized from three cars down to one this year. Austin Dyne and Colette Davis, who ran out of the BHR stable last year, are under different teams this year in GRC Supercars and GRC Lites, respectively.
The single focus has helped Sandell early on in 2016, with final round finishes of second, fourth and first thus far in three races.
“It’s been good from the team standpoint. Last year, with it being the team’s first year in Rallycross, it was busy with three cars at same time. I think as a team, I think this is maybe what they should have done form the beginning. The feeling is we’ll do this thing, perfectly for one car now, to extend the program.”
Sandell also described the offseason tweaks he and the team have done to meld.
“We tried to go through everything to see where we could improve,” he said. “We have one year now together as a team. They know me better as a person and driver. They know what to ask for. We communicate much better.
“We tried to take some weight off the car, and try to find better balance. It’s just all small details. We were fast last year as well, but you have to find the small details.”
Sandell and Herta as a collective unit are on a bit of a hot streak at the moment, Herta’s driver Alexander Rossi having scored a famous victory in the 100th Indianapolis 500. Herta will be able to attend this weekend’s races in Daytona after IndyCar conflicts at both of the first two weekends.
Meanwhile Sandell was at his first Indianapolis 500 and related his experience.
“He’ll try to do most races doing forward,” Sandell said of Herta. “He had fantastic experience when it comes to asphalt and that part of the track. I know it on the dirt section! Bring more speed. He’s been proud so far. ‘Just keep winning,’ he said!
“I was there the whole race. It was the first Indy 500 race for me ever. To be there 100 years, and with Bryan and everyone winning, was incredible. It was fantastic first laps and last 50 laps… but the 100 laps in between was long! I’m used to such short spurts. The last 50 laps were just insane. But we saw Rossi back in eight or ninth. Then everyone had to refuel, and he came through; it was so cool to see him win.”
Sandell had a double DNF in Daytona last year so should undoubtedly fare better this go-around.
“It looks like all the asphalt sections more or less there in the same design,” he said. “The dirt section seems to be a bit faster. When you have the tight hairpins, it stacks up the whole field.
“The field then gets stretched out after the corner. This track should create tighter racing. Let’s see how we go, as it’s definitely a cool track to run on!”