Red Bull GRC: Sandell switches to Subaru for 2017

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Patrik Sandell will make a big career shift in next season’s Red Bull Global Rallycross, with a switch to the factory Subaru team.

The Swede has been one of Red Bull GRC’s top drivers for several seasons. In his last two years with Bryan Herta Rallysport in a Ford Fiesta ST, he finished eighth (2015) and fifth (2016) in the championship, winning one main event final in each season. His win in Dallas earlier this year was one of the season highlights.

Subaru Rally Team USA grew in competitiveness as the year went on with development of the Subaru WRX-STi and a midseason driver switch from Sverre Isachsen and Bucky Lasek to Chris Atkinson and David Higgins.

“Atko” will be back alongside Sandell next year for his first full Red Bull GRC season, to provide Subaru a strong lineup.

“To finally be a part of the Subaru family is a childhood dream coming true,” Sandell said. “I was watching Subaru cars rallying all over the world as a kid, and I am now very proud to be in those same shoes. Subaru have been able to create a unique passion around its’ brand and cars that I really like, as I am so passionate about both rally and rallycross myself. I am really looking forward to meeting all the Subaru fans out there that share my passion for the sport. It feels like this is where I belong.”

“I enjoyed my first taste of rallycross last year with the team, and it’s clear to see the potential both the team and the car have,” explains Atkinson. “I’m excited to come on board full-time with the squad, and I can’t wait to get started. The guys are working so hard in Vermont in the off-season now to really give Patrik and I something very special to drive in 2017.”

Higgins and Travis Pastrana may enter selected Red Bull GRC rounds, while focusing primarily on the new American Rally Association (ARA).

Red Bull GRC is yet to release its 2017 schedule, but the season has started in mid-to-late May (Fort Lauderdale, 2015 and Phoenix, 2016) the last two seasons. The series runs its races on NBC and NBCSN.

It’s doubtful there will be much other driver movement among the other teams while Herta’s team will need to replace the speedy Swede.

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed its new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with Ford Motor Co. in an event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and team principal Christian Horner.

It’s the first Formula 1 team to launch in the United States for 2023, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin, Texas, for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen already had wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

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Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts inevitably will turn to establishing a dynasty, and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his chief rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.