Photo: Larry Chen/Red Bull Content Pool

Red Bull GRC: Speed, Andretti, VW closing on three-peat in L.A.

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Red Bull Global Rallycross concludes its 2017 season this weekend in Los Angeles, arguably the series’ marquee event and now traditional late-season venue at the Port of Los Angeles just outside Long Beach. You can watch coverage of the Supercars finale on Saturday, October 14, at 4:30 p.m. ET on NBC.

For Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross, a three-peat of driver championships is almost guaranteed. Scott Speed, back in the team’s No. 41 Circle K Volkswagen Beetle GRC, enters this weekend with a 30-point lead over teammate Tanner Foust in the No. 34 Rockstar Energy Drink Beetle (756-726). At 74 points back, Loenbro Motorsports’ Steve Arpin (No. 00 Ford Fiesta ST) is mathematically eligible but in need of a minor miracle to overtake either Volkswagen Andretti driver.

A Speed title would be his third in succession after winning the 2015 title in Las Vegas and the 2016 in L.A. last year, snatching it from Foust’s grasp (recap of L.A. weekend here). Foust swept the Seattle doubleheader to keep his title hopes in 2017 alive.

“L.A. is a great track and it’s a home state race for me. I’ve always felt comfortable there,” Speed said. “This year, we go into the final race with a big lead [in points]. My job is to keep us in the most protected position as possible while on track and keep the tires rolling until the checkered flag. If I can do that, we’ll have another championship for the VARX team!”

Foust said of his hopes, “We’re ready to put on a good show for the fans in L.A. this weekend! It’s hard to call the San Pedro Pier a home track, but the location and backdrop is certainly one of the most unique in motorsports. This weekend’s GRC season finale event should be a blast!”

Full championship-clinching scenarios are linked here, via Red Bull GRC’s official website.

Elsewhere in the Supercars field, Cabot Bigham is back at Bryan Herta Rallysport after missing the Seattle round, and the Northern California native returns to the site where he clinched last year’s GRC Lites title in dramatic fashion after surviving some first-lap chaos. Arpin, Bigham and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Austin Dyne make up the three Fords in the field, and Arpin will deploy a split livery this weekend.

The Honda Red Bull Olsbergs MSE trio of Oliver Eriksson, Mitchell DeJong and Sebastian Eriksson will look to deliver a win for the Honda Civic Coupe not far from Honda Performance Development’s headquarters in Santa Clarita, Calif., and after a tough weekend in Seattle.

Subaru Rally Team had a strong Seattle with both Chris Atkinson and Patrik Sandell scoring a podium apiece, the only drivers outside the Andretti pair to make into the top step.

The GRC Lites title was decided at Seattle in favor of Olsbergs MSE X Forces’ Cyril Raymond, the French talent having taken that series by storm all season. Although the title isn’t up for grabs, the Lites cars do put on a good show in Los Angeles, and witnessed some great racing here last year. Coverage of that race airs Wednesday, October 18, at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

The 0.654-mile, 11-turn track at the Port of L.A. is quite similar to last year. A full course breakdown is linked here with a track map below.

MRTI: Herta standing tall, riding wave of momentum in Indy Lights

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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It would be hard to top the month of May that Colton Herta is coming off of.

The 18-year-old, now in his second year competing in the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, enjoyed a sweep of the three Indy Lights races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, winning both events on the IMS Road Course – charging through the field to do so (he fell back as far as sixth and fourth between Race 1 and Race 2) – and outdueling Andretti Autosport stablemates Pato O’Ward and Dalton Kellett to win a frantic Freedom 100.

In short, it was a near perfect month for the young Herta.

“It’s super special to win in Indy and to get do the triple there at a place that’s so nostalgic, it’s a pretty cool feeling,” Herta told NBC Sports about his Indy success.

And all three were thrilling drives in which Herta spent the entire time battling with rivals – Santi Urrutia on the IMS Road Course, and the aforementioned O’Ward and Kellett, and Urrutia as well, in the Freedom 100.

Colton Herta edged Pato O’Ward to win the Freedom 100. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Herta is no stranger to winning – he won twice in 2017 (Race 2 at St. Petersburg and Race 2 at Barber Motorsports Park) – both times in dominant fashion.

As he explained, it isn’t necessarily more challenging to dominate a race versus battling rivals the entire way, but different mindsets are required to survive each.

“It’s a different skill set,” he asserted. “Obviously when you start up front, there’s a lot more pressure to perform, so it’s more about managing the gap to the guys behind. Whereas you’re not as nervous when you’re in the back of the pack, because you can’t go any further back. So there’s less nerves going into the race. And it’s more about attacking the whole time and taking a little more risk.”

In discussing his Indy victories more, Herta detailed that outdueling opponents in intense duels – like the ones at Indy – comes down to thoroughly analyzing one’s opponents and making aggressive, yet smart passes.

“You can see what the guys are doing ahead of you, and obviously if you follow them for a lap or two you can see where they’re struggling and you can make up ground on them,” he explained. “And that’s the biggest thing: going for an overtake that you can make – especially when you’re in the running for a championship fight like this – going for an overtake that you know you can make without taking a massive risk, and kind of seeing the tendencies of the car in front of you and where they’re struggling and when you’re making up time.”

Herta’s run of recent success comes as more evidence of a driver who appears to be more polished than he was last year. While blisteringly fast – Herta captured seven poles in 2017 – there were also a number of errors that kept him from making a more serious championship challenge.

Though Herta began 2018 with a somewhat ominous crash in Race 2 at St. Pete, the rest of his season has been much cleaner. He finished third in Race 1 at St. Pete and second and third at Barber Motorsports Park before his run of victories at IMS.

Still, despite the appearance of a more polished driver, Herta explained that his approach is no different than it was in 2017.

“Not much has changed,” he asserted. “The mindset obviously is still the same because, especially with a (seven car field), you need to win races and you need to win quite a few of them to win the championship. (Staying out of trouble is about) just kind of settling in and knowing that a second or third place, or even a fourth or fifth place, isn’t terrible to take every now and then.”

And because the field in Indy Lights is small this year – only seven cars are entered at Road America – Herta revealed that maintaining a hard-charging style and going for race wins is paramount, in that the small fields make it harder to gap competitors in the title hunt.

“It’s hard to create a gap. On a bad day, you’re still going to be closer (to the guys ahead of you). Like Pato O’Ward in Indy (on the road course) had an awful weekend and finished in the back in both races (fourth and seventh), but I’m only at a (six point) lead. It’s tough to get ahead, so you want to minimize mistakes. It’s tough to make a gap, but it’s also tough to fall behind.”

As such, Herta is most certainly focused on bringing home an Indy Lights crown in 2018, which would propel him into the Verizon IndyCar Series, but he isn’t putting undue pressure on himself to force it to happen.

“In the second year, you have to get it done, and it’s tough to move up to IndyCars without that $1 million scholarship. So yeah, it’s important, but there’s no need to put more pressure on myself for how it is. I just got to keep doing what I’m doing, keep my head down, and if we can replicate what happened in May more and more, we should be in IndyCar next year,” he detailed.

And a potential move to IndyCar is certainly on the minds of Herta and Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing, even if the Indy Lights title ends up in the hands of someone else.

“We are thinking about it for sure, and we have some sponsors already committed on this year that I think we could bring up into IndyCar,” Herta revealed. “But, if we win the Indy Lights championship, we’re going to race (IndyCar), whether it’s the four races that we’re given or whatever it may be.”

Herta will look to improve upon his results from last year at Road America, when he finished 12th in Race 1 and third in Race 2.

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