Red Bull GRC: Daytona offers first chance at familiarity in 2016

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Last year’s first two races of the Red Bull Global Rallycross season were at Ft. Lauderdale and the X Games in Austin, the latter of which was a non-points race.

Then the series headed to the infield road course at Daytona, for what proved to be two barnburner races won by Tanner Foust and Sebastian Eriksson. Eriksson, then a rookie, secured his first and thus far only final round win in Red Bull GRC.

The story is a bit similar this year. The series’ first two race weekends have come at Phoenix and Dallas, two tracks that weren’t on the calendar last year.

And now, the series heads to Daytona this weekend for Rounds 4 and 5 (airs Sunday, 2:30 p.m. ET on NBC, hosted by Rick Allen, Anders Krohn and Kristen Kenney), for its second doubleheader weekend of the year and first where familiarity will be an important factor.

Patrik Sandell won the series’ most recent round in Dallas to move into second place in the championship behind Foust, who swept the Phoenix doubleheader.

The driver of the No. 18 Kobalt Tools Ford Fiesta ST for Bryan Herta Rallysport says his team needs to maximize its early weekend pace throughout a double race weekend, since they’ve noticed teams have caught up to them quickly.

“We haven’t really figured out yet why it’s been that way!” Sandell told NBC Sports. “Normally we’re very quick and very fast in the first 2-3 laps. Normally we come to an event and know where the setup will be. It’s been 90 percent good straightaway.

“But we have to learn … and we did in Dallas, where we’d work on details, and had different launch maps there. We have to do things like that in Daytona as well. You have to watch when we get more rubber down, when there’s water down vs. not, so there’s many things we need to keep track of. We have to change the car and try to make it better for each session, even if we know the track.”

Eriksson, meanwhile, who drives the No. 93 Red Bull Honda Civic Coupe for Olsbergs MSE, has a bit of familiarity for the first time in his GRC Supercars career. The young, talented Swede is still learning his new car that OMSE has developed but comes into Daytona with the momentum from winning here last year.

“For us, racing at Daytona is really cool because of the history of the track,” Eriksson said in Honda’s pre-race advance. “To defend my first victory in Red Bull GRC in the Honda Civic would be special. The team has worked really hard coming into this weekend and we expect to be up at the front and running hard all weekend long.”

Another driver who can use this race as a potential springboard to success is SH Rallycross’ Jeff Ward. Ward, who will drive the No. 07 MET-Rx SH Rallycross/DRR Ford Fiesta ST on Saturday before the car shifts to WIX Filters primary sponsorship on Sunday (360fly remains on the car in an associate role for both races), raced here last year and was fun to watch, particularly in race two when he had a big battle with then-teammate Steve Arpin.

Foust and Scott Speed, of course, in the Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross Beetles, are always tough to beat. Speed, in particular, will look to avenge a nightmare Daytona 2015 weekend.

The other six Supercars entries are Arpin and Brian Deegan in the two Chip Ganassi Racing Fords, Eriksson’s teammate Joni Wiman, and then Austin Dyne and Rhys Millen before Sebastian Saavedra makes his return to the field for his second race start.

A 15-car GRC Lites field is highlighted by the team debut of CORE autosport, with two cars for Jon Bennett and Colin Braun.

Entry lists for both divisions are linked here.