The running joke that’s gone on about me and races for more than four years at a rather consistent clip is that when I attend a race, it rains. It started as an inside joke among me and a few friends prior to the 2012 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach and grew greater legs from there as more people got on. And thus, the hashtag #BlameTony was born.
I use that as a setup to note that the two prior Red Bull Global Rallycross races I’d attended on site prior to this weekend’s Red Bull GRC Los Angeles presented by Honda at the Port of Los Angeles were also rain-affected, in last year’s season finale at Las Vegas and earlier this year at the MCAS (Marine Corps Air Station) New River military base. The internal hope for me this weekend was that I wouldn’t provide Red Bull GRC a trifecta of rain at events I’d been at.
Luckily, we were blessed with perfect weather at the Port of Los Angeles all weekend, and the picturesque backdrop served as a phenomenally better year-on-year season finale for the burgeoning championship, compared to last year’s rain-drenched finale in Vegas.
Red Bull GRC was mixed in among SEMA week last year in Las Vegas, and with so many from the motorsports industry on site in Las Vegas for that, it felt as though Red Bull GRC was not the featured attraction. Having the race schedule on an awkward Tuesday-Wednesday set up was also tougher by comparison to the usual Saturday-Sunday affair, and by bringing the finale to L.A., that alleviated that concern this year.
For starters, it’s apparent how much Red Bull GRC has caught on in L.A. This is the series’ headquarters, and it’s notable how many fans were already aware of what the series has to offer. A simple walk back to the paddock Saturday morning after checking in at the track rather surprised me, because there was a long line of fans waiting to get in the facility and watch the day’s action.
Red Bull GRC’s style of quick, rapid-fire races plays well here. When you have such a short track – 0.699 of a mile on this occasion – you can sit anywhere, whether in the GA or Honda preferred grandstands, or even watch from the Red Bull VIP area of the SS Lane Victory, and have a majestic view of the entire facility. There is not a bad seat in the house, and you’re treated to a show as the door-banging style of rallycross racing takes center stage from there.
The event layout here was slightly different than at MCAS or Las Vegas. All the manufacturer display areas are outside the track site, on the midway walk into the facility. They’re highlighted so that as you walk into the track site, you can check out what you want to check out first, and then be treated to the action once you were through the main gate.
Food trucks lined the track site as well, providing a bevy of surprisingly amazing options for fans at the circuit. Never in a million years did I think I’d be eating lobster tacos and New England clam chowder out of a food truck at a race track, but lo and behold thanks to Cousins Maine Lobster, I did on Sunday. And that was one of several eclectic options.
The only recommendation I would make going forward to amplify that is to have a shaded seating area after picking up the food; with sun-drenched afternoons both days, going into sunlight to eat the food you just acquired is a less than perfect scenario.
The level of interest from key IndyCar stakeholders was present all weekend throughout the paddock, and there was talk of potential new manufacturers looking around and scoping things out to see if they’ll join the field for 2017. Honda joined this year to run against Volkswagen, Ford and Subaru.
Then, perhaps most importantly, there was the racing itself. With this the last race weekend of the season, and championships on the line, the racing was tenacious – but fair. It was entertaining as all get out, too. A moment when Joni Wiman (No. 31 Honda Red Bull Olsbergs MSE Honda Civic Coupe) and David Higgins (No. 75 Subaru Rally Team USA Subaru WRX-STi) collided in mid-air over the jump was insane to witness.
Austin Dyne somehow drove the near entirety of the second race on Sunday with his hood up on his No. 14 AD Racing Ford Fiesta ST. Supercars debutantes Tanner Whitten (No. 07 SH Rallycross/DRR Ford) and Mitchell DeJong (No. 24 Honda Red Bull OMSE Honda) impressed in their first weekends in the big show.
And then, the title battles themselves were so much fun to watch as the tension built over each race’s respective final. The Supercars final was first up on Sunday, and it set up as a strategic chess match once Patrik Sandell (No. 18 Bryan Herta Rallysport Ford) got into the lead ahead of the pair of Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross #PinkBeetles of Scott Speed (No. 41 Beetle GRC) and Tanner Foust (No. 34 Beetle GRC) and then, lurking in fourth, was Brian Deegan (No. 38 Chip Ganassi Rallycross Ford).
Foust was in the difficult position of knowing he needed to get around Speed to secure the title, but he also wanted to race clean, fair and square against his teammate. While Sandell led, the question was whether Speed would make a mistake to open the door for Foust to make it through.
Then, on the second-to-last lap, it all changed. Speed went for the lead and Sandell and achieved it… only to see Deegan pull off the Honda Joker Lap move to end all Honda Joker Lap moves and leapfrog from fourth to first in one car. The “general” of Metal Mulisha laid down the law with this passing move, and would not be denied.
It made for an epic finish, as Deegan broke a five-year winless drought, and Speed secured the title over Foust, a hard-luck second. As Speed won and soaked up the moment, Deegan erupted in celebration, even taking the top of his firesuit off as the crowd roared.
This was merely the appetizer to the GRC Lites finale in the afternoon. Somehow, Cabot Bigham of Dreyer & Reinbold Racing pulled off a last-to-first run, after getting into second on the first lap after a first corner fracas where Olsbergs MSE X Forces teammates Oliver Eriksson and Miki Weckstrom saw their title hopes compromised.
Throughout the weekend, with the combination of the staff’s hard work, the perfect weather, the solid viewing, food and display options for fans and the great racing, it was obvious that a weekend like this is what makes Red Bull GRC sellable, and what makes it both fun and on the rise.
Note: The full Los Angeles event will re-air this Sunday, Oct 16 on NBCSN, from 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. ET.