Red Bull GRC: Seattle return to play pivotal role in title fights

Sandell (18) and Arpin (00). Photo: Larry Chen/Red Bull Content Pool

Red Bull Global Rallycross hits the Pacific Northwest for its second-to-last weekend of 2016, with a trip to Evergreen Speedway in Seattle (runs 5:30 p.m. PT/8:30 p.m. ET Saturday, Sept. 17, airs at 10:30 a.m. PT/1:30 p.m. ET, Sunday, Sept. 18 on NBC).

The Seattle track is the closest on Red Bull GRC’s schedule to an oval, with a big sweeping left-hander off the line to kick off the 0.791-mile, eight-turn circuit. Evergreen’s track is a bit different from DirtFish, which hosted the series in 2014.

Up front, Scott Speed looks to keep the momentum rolling that he’s achieved the last three races, which have propelled the defending Supercars champion into position to repeat.

Some roller coaster final round results left Speed playing catch-up to Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross teammate Tanner Foust in the opening five of 11 races.

But starting with a last-lap, last-turn pass of Brian Deegan at the lone MCAS New River race, the driver of the No. 41 Volkswagen Beetle GRC took his first win of the year.

He’s followed up with wins in Washington, D.C. and Atlantic City, N.J., the latter coming at Foust’s expense after Foust sustained a late-race puncture.

Foust sits second in points, nine back of Speed (409-400), and will look to recapture the early season form he had the first five races. He won three of the first five events in his No. 34 Rockstar Energy Beetle but only has one podium (third in Washington) in the last three races.

The pair of Chip Ganassi Rallycross entries – Deegan in his No. 38 NOS Energy Drink Ford Fiesta ST and Steve Arpin in his No. 00 ENEOS Ford – look to supplant the Andretti VWs. Arpin and fellow Ford driver Patrik Sandell (No. 18 Cuttwood Ford for Bryan Herta Rallysport) are the only non-Volkswagen winners in eight races, with one win apiece.

Arpin, Sandell and Deegan sit third, fourth and fifth in the points, at 357, 352 and 345 points.

Another question heading into Seattle is whether the Honda Red Bull Olsbergs MSE entries will take their first win. Sebastian Eriksson and Joni Wiman have improved their form as the season’s gone on in the Nos. 93 and 31 Honda Civic Coupes, but are yet to break through in a final.

Nelson Piquet Jr. returns for his third and last scheduled start in the No. 07 WIX Filters Ford for SH Rallycross/DRR, with Austin Dyne (No. 14 AD Ford) and the Subarus leading the rest of those in the Supercars field.

In GRC Lites, Cabot Bigham (No. 2 Dreyer & Reinbold Racing) leads the standings over 2015 class champion Oliver Eriksson (No. 16 Olsbergs MSE X Forces) and Miki Weckstrom (No. 45 Olsbergs MSE X Forces) with two weekends remaining. Bigham’s lead is 20 points, 344 to 324, with Weckstrom at 306. Conner Martell of DirtFish Motorsports sits fourth on 267 points with all others more than 100 points back of Bigham.

Justin Grant prevails over Kyle Larson in the Turkey Night Grand Prix

Grant Larson Turkey Night / DB3 Inc.

On the heels of his Hangtown 100 victory, Justin Grant worked his way from 13th in the Turkey Night Grand Prix to beat three-time event winner Kyle Larson by 1.367 seconds. The 81st annual event was run at Ventura (Calif.) Raceway for the sixth time.

“My dad used to take me to Irwindale Speedway, and we’d watch Turkey Night there every year,” Grant said in a series press release. “This is one of the races I fell in love with. I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to run in it, never thought I’d make a show and certainly never thought I’d be able to win one.”

With its genesis in 1934 at Gilmore Stadium, a quarter-mile dirt track in Los Angeles, the race is steeped in history with winners that include AJ Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Gary Bettenhausen and Johnnie Parsons. Tony Stewart won it in 2000. Kyle Larson won his first of three Turkey Night Grands Prix in 2012. Christopher Bell earned his first of three in 2014, so Grant’s enthusiasm was well deserved.

So was the skepticism that he would win. He failed to crack the top five in three previous attempts, although he came close last year with a sixth-place result. When he lined up for the feature 13th in the crowded 28-car field, winning seemed like a longshot.

Grant watched as serious challengers fell by the wayside. Mitchel Moles flipped on Lap 10 of the feature. Michael “Buddy” Kofoid took a tumble on Lap 68 and World of Outlaws Sprint car driver Carson Macedo flipped on Lap 79. Grant saw the carnage ahead of him and held a steady wheel as he passed Tanner Thorson for the lead with 15 laps remaining and stayed out of trouble for the remainder of the event.

“It’s a dream come true to win the Turkey Night Grand Prix,” Grant said.

Kyle Larson follows Justin Grant to the front on Turkey Night

The 2012, 2016 and 2019 winner, Larson was not scheduled to run the event. His wife Katelyn is expecting their third child shortly, but after a couple of glasses of wine with Thanksgiving dinner and while watching some replays of the event, Larson texted car owner Chad Boat to see if he had a spare car lying around. He did.

“We weren’t great but just hung around and it seemed like anybody who got to the lead crashed and collected some people,” Larson said. “We made some passes throughout; in the mid-portion, we weren’t very good but then we got better at the end.

“I just ran really, really hard there, and knew I was running out of time, so I had to go. I made some pretty crazy and dumb moves, but I got to second and was hoping we could get a caution to get racing with Justin there. He was sliding himself at both ends and thought that maybe we could get a run and just out-angle him into [Turn] 1 and get clear off [Turn] 2 if we got a caution, but it just didn’t work out.”

Larson padded one of the most impressive stats in the history of this race, however. In 10 starts, he’s won three times, finished second four times, was third once and fourth twice.

Bryant Wiedeman took the final spot on the podium.

As Grant and Larson began to pick their way through the field, Kofoid took the lead early from the outside of the front row and led the first 44 laps of the race before handing it over to Cannon McIntosh, who bicycled on Lap 71 before landing on all fours. While Macedo and Thorson tussled for the lead with McIntosh, Grant closed in.

Thorson finished 19th with McIntosh 20th. Macedo recovered from his incident to finish ninth. Kofoid’s hard tumble relegated him to 23rd.

Jake Andreotti in fourth and Kevin Thomas, Jr. rounded out the top five.

1. Justin Grant (started 13)
2. Kyle Larson (22)
3. Bryant Wiedeman (4)
4. Jake Andreotti (9)
5. Kevin Thomas Jr. (1)
6. Logan Seavey (8)
7. Alex Bright (27)
8. Emerson Axsom (24)
9. Carson Macedo (7)
10. Jason McDougal (18)
11. Jake Swanson (16)
12. Chase Johnson (6)
13. Jacob Denney (26)
14. Ryan Timms (23)
15. Chance Crum (28)
16. Brenham Crouch (17)
17. Jonathan Beason (19)
18. Cade Lewis (14)
19. Tanner Thorson (11)
20. Cannon McIntosh (3)
21. Thomas Meseraull (15)
22. Tyler Courtney (21)
23. Buddy Kofoid (2)
24. Brody Fuson (5)
25. Mitchel Moles (20)
26. Daniel Whitley (10)
27. Kaylee Bryson (12)
28. Spencer Bayston (25)