Two-time World Rally Championship winner Marcus Grönholm took a pair of wins this weekend after two days of hard-hitting competition at the first-ever Global RallyCross Championship event, held Friday and Saturday at Irwindale Speedway outside of Los Angeles.
The legendary Finnish driver emerged victorious in both days of racing, piloting his Best Buy Ford Fiesta to victory in Friday's head-to-head SuperRally contest and the multi-car RallyCross event on Saturday.
"The track was good to drive," said Grönholm. "The competition was good with many good drivers... I want to come back and race here again this season."
The first-ever Global RallyCross Championship event saw a field of top drivers in two-wheel and all-wheel drive classes competing head-to-head on a mixed dirt and tarmac course that featured a massive, 70-foot gap jump never seen before outside of X Games competition.
Second place on Saturday went to Rockstar Energy Drink driver and Top Gear host Tanner Foust, who campaigned the same Ford Fiesta he took to double-X Games Rally gold medals last summer. He said he was excited to be at the inaugural Global RallyCross Championship event.
"We broke a lot of ground this weekend at this first event," said Foust Saturday. "The final was crazy: When I saw Grönholm's car right over my head on the jump, I knew he had it."
Third-place overall went to Formula DRIFT regular Stephan Verdier, who put in consistently fast times all weekend in his Subaru WRX STI.
"The last round was insane," said Verdier. "I can't wait to do it again at the next one."
The two-day Global RallyCross Championship race featured a roster of top drivers from around the world, including Subaru Rally Team USA driver Dave Mirra – a BMX star with more X Games medals than any other athlete in the world – European rallycross veteran Michael Jernberg, from Sweden, and the Hyundai team of Rhys Millen and five-time British rally champion Marcus Dodd.
Drivers competed in a head-to-head format on Friday, and took on aggressive, multi-car rallycross racing on Saturday that culminated in a six-car final race for the win.
Among the notable guests on-hand to watch Saturday's contest were Monster World Rally Team driver Ken Block, NASCAR driver AJ Allmendinger and motocross pro Brian Deegan. Although they weren't competing, these stars were in the stands to cheer on the action trackside and they all said they were looking forward to having a chance to race in the series.
Top X Games athletes including Travis Pastrana and Deegan have described rally car competition as "action sport, with a roll cage," and both days of competition lived up to that reputation. In a spectacular Friday crash, Colorado driver Jimmy Keeney flipped his Subaru WRX STI while attempting to claw back lost time over Hyundai driver Dodd in his rallycross Veloster. Keeney emerged unharmed and said he hoped his privateer team would be able to find the budget to rebuild and return to the series later in the year.
Joseph Burke also rolled his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX while navigating the tight path underneath the gap jump early Saturday, drawing an enthusiastic reaction from the fans in the grandstands. Burke was unharmed and was able to regain the race by Saturday's afternoon competition.
Drivers in the Global RallyCross Championship are vying for the first-ever series title – and a chance to earn an invitation to X Games 17 Rally competitions held in downtown Los Angeles this July. Two-wheel drive entries also have a shot at a prize purse to benefit grassroots competitors.
The two-wheel-drive category saw young driver Dillon Van Way win the Day 1 head-to-head SuperRally contest his Ford Focus, while former all-wheel drive X Games driver Matthew Johnson drove his new Nitro Circus Mazda RX8 to rallycross victory in exciting Day 2 competition that saw him up on two-wheels while attempting to move through race traffic, then pushing past the leaders in the final after they tangled on a tight corner.
Second place in Saturday's two-wheel drive rallycross competition went to veteran competitor Randy Zimmer in his Mazda Miata, while Lauchlin O'Sullivan took third.
For his part, winner Grönholm said he was enjoying this new racing experience. In addition to two World Rally Championship titles (2000, 2002), the legendary Finnish driver also won the 2002 Race of Champions and earned the Nations' Cup at the contest in 2006. In 2009, he took on the Pike's Peak International Hill Climb in a similarly prepared Ford Fiesta.
Fans tuned in to watch the action live on Facebook and ESPN3 where coverage streamed all day long. Full race coverage will air April 17 on ESPN2 (check local listings). The series has a multi-year programming relationship with ESPN, with Global RallyCross Championship broadcasts slated to follow NASCAR Nationwide and NHRA shows on ESPN and ESPN2.
In addition to the fierce door-to-door competition at Irwindale, drivers were also available for autograph sessions; a vendor midway offered further entertainment for fans.
"It is a great feeling to have this first event in the books," said series co-founder Brian Gale. "It is the realization of years of hard work and the amount of interest from sponsors, manufacturers and participants is really encouraging. I can't wait to watch it on ESPN."
The RallyCar organization sanctions the Global RallyCross Championship events. Competitors in the Global RallyCross Championship may also elect to score points in the U.S. Rallycross Championship.
Teams will next travel to the Seattle area April 15-16 for the second round - "Twin Peaks" – to be held in Snoqualmie, Washington.