X Games 16 SuperRally - Click above for high-res image gallery
Race day for the X Games rally car action started out much like the practice sessions had begun the day before - with plenty of frustration. The drivers finally figured out how to deal with the steep drop-off in the dirt portion of the track that led back into the L.A. Coliseum, but a new challenge presented itself. The course layout for the rally racing portion of the event was designed with some very tight turns. So tight, in fact, that after a few practice laps only a handful of drivers could actually make it around the course without having to execute a three-point turn.
Much of the morning saw drivers working with course officials to create a course that the cars could actually drive on. After a few different configurations were tried, one was found, but at that point there wasn't any time left for practice. Essentially, the drivers would be competing on a course that they had never driven on. Would that result in excitement, chaos or both? Follow the jump to find out.
Knockout eliminations started out with a pair of Subarus driven by Dave Mirra and Chris Duplessis. The pair tore off the starting line, kicking up dust and rocks as they slid their way in and out of the stadium. Things looked to be going smoothly, and it seemed as though the problems with the race course had been solved. Then the red flags came out. Apparently, Duplessis took a wrong turn in the course, giving the win automatically to Mirra. His mistake wouldn't be the last of the day. Over the next several races, driver after driver would miss a turn, drawing out the red flags and ending each race prematurely. Whether it was unfamiliarity with the complex course or the massive amount of dust that was kicked up, many drivers just couldn't seem to figure out which way to go. "You make your own dust cloud and get lost, so you need to find your way," said Tanner Foust after the event. It was undoubtedly frustrating for the drivers, and perhaps more importantly, it was disappointing for the fans.
The lack of checkered flags brought about some unpredictable results. Ken Block, piloting a Ford Fiesta for the first time in the X Games, was knocked out in the first round by fellow Ford driver Brian Deegan. Last year's winner, Kenny Brack, and fan favorite Travis Pastrana both failed to get past the second round. It was a battle of Ford vs Mitsubishi in the semi-finals, with Tanner Foust paired with Antoine L'Estage and Brian Deegan matched up with Andrew Comrie-Picard. Both Fords ended up in the final, with Foust as the obvious favorite, having medaled the last three years. Unfortunately, like many of the previous match-ups, the race ended without a checkered flag when Deegan lost his way, handing Foust the win by default. Despite his second-ever gold medal, Foust showed obvious disappointment with how the race ended and even offered a do-over.
After the frustrations of rally car racing, expectations were low for the SuperRally event. The course layout was much simpler - essentially a lap around the arena that includes a simple loop outside the stadium - so everyone was hoping that the rally racing problems wouldn't repeat themselves. Since this was the debut of SuperRally at the X Games, no one really knew if it'd be a complete mess of wrecked rally cars or bring some much-needed excitement to the thousands of fans in attendance. The answer came half a lap into the first race.
SuperRally is awesome!
Three of the four drivers in the first heat - Dave Mirra, Andrew Comrie-Picard and Stephan Verdier - tore away from the starting line jockeying for position while Ken Block initially stalled his Fiesta and had to play catch-up. The wide-open course layout allowed the 500+ horsepower rally cars to really open it up, and the furious pace and side-by-side racing had the fans standing up and cheering for the first time all day. Plus, each driver had to take the jump at least once during the five-lap race, adding a new element of anticipation.
The Fiestas and Lancer Evolutions once again proved that they were fastest on course in the qualifying heats, although Travis Pastrana was unable to properly represent Subaru due to engine troubles. Tanner Foust, Brian Deegan and Stephan Verdier claimed their place in the final by finishing first in their qualifying runs, while Sam Hubinette, Rim Rooney, Andrew Comrie-Picard and Ken Block all earned a chance to fight for the final spot in the "last chance qualifer" race. Block took the early lead in his Fiesta with the Mitsubishi teammates of ACP and Hubinette not far behind. Block looked like the sure winner, but on the last lap his transmission failed, causing ACP to spin out behind him and leaving Hubinette to cruise into a spot in the finals.
The last race of the night began with the two Fiestas battling it out for the lead. Brian Deegan launched off the line just ahead of Tanner Foust, but Foust managed to muscle his way even and got the inside line going into the first turn. Tanner kept the lead from there to the finish, followed by Deegan for the same 1-2 result as the first event of the day. Hubinette, despite being the rookie of the bunch, captured third place for a debut medal. After the race was over, the drivers celebrated with donuts, launching off the jump, and causing general mayhem on the dirt course. It was obvious which event the drivers and fans enjoyed the most. "Door-to-door, I like racing the four cars, but even when you say you don't have a favorite kid, you always do. And SuperRally is definitely my favorite," Foust said after being awarded his second gold of the day.
Overal,l it was a day of highs and lows for the rally cars of X Games 16. The new venue provided myriad problems that nearly ruined the event for drivers and spectators alike. If rally racing is going to make a return to the L.A. Coliseum, then changes will be a must. Adjustments will need to be made to the course, drivers will need more practice time on the actual race route, and perhaps co-drivers could be used to help navigate. One thing's for sure, though: Bring back SuperRally. It was by far the most exciting event, and it'll be the one sure thing we look forward to next year. Missed the action? You can see the final SuperRally race in the video below. Enjoy!