RallyCross is quickly becoming one of the X Games' most exciting events, with many of the most popular athletes flocking to four wheels in the past few years. For X Games 18 this past weekend, the lineup of drivers was the most impressive yet, with eight-time WRC champion Sebastien Loeb accepting Travis Pastrana's challenge to take on the rest of the field, not to mention European RallyCross champion Sverre Isachsen and skateboarder Bucky Lasek bolstering team Subaru.
Despite never having raced in X Games, let alone anywhere in North America, Loeb was undoubtedly the favorite going into the event. Yes, his specially built Citroën DS3 has significantly more horsepower than his standard rally car, but Loeb has also proven he is incredibly fast no matter what he is driving. The rest of the X Games field was full of experienced and capable drivers including two-time WRC champion Marcus Grönholm, Tanner Foust, Liam Doran and Rhys Millen. It's also hard to count out Brian Deegan, last year's gold medalist, and the always-entertaining Ken Block.
Could Sebastien Loeb translate his WRC success into inaugural X Games success, or did one of the other RallyCross drivers beat out the venerable Frenchman? Scroll down to find out.
Related GalleryX Games 18 RallyCross
This is the second year that X Games has held the RallyCross event on the streets of Los Angeles. Unfortunately, the organizers apparently didn't learn much from planning the event last year, and they designed a course that ended up being extremely unsafe for drivers. The first incident occurred during Friday's practice session when Finnish driver Toomas Heikkinen shorted the 50-foot jump, smashing directly into the steel ramp at nearly 50 miles per hour. Heikkinen's Fiesta landed upside down and caught fire, though he managed to crawl out to safety despite breaking his ankle.
At this point, many of the drivers called for the course to be changed, and race officials decided to fill in the gap between the ramps to prevent any further safety issues. Driver injuries were present in the next day's practice, however, when Marcus Grönholms mashed into an exposed concrete light post on the corner just after the newly revised ramp. Grönholm was knocked unconscious and was immediately taken to the hospital where he suffered bleeding in his brain. Thankfully, his condition is improving, although he remains hospitalized.
The incident with Grönholm caused further changes to the course, with drivers walking the track before Sunday morning's practice session to point out any unsafe sections. Hopefully event organizers will take note, and design a safer course from the start for next year's race.
The racing finally got going Sunday afternoon, with action-packed four-car qualifying sessions. In the first heat, Sam Hubinette and Ken Block dominated, securing their place in the finals, while Sebastien Loeb and Tanner Foust easily took the top two spots in the second race.
The third event brought the first surprise, with Sverre Isachsen topping last year's gold medalist Brian Deegan in a very close race. The Norwegian rookie started on the outside but managed to get the jump on the other three competitors, sweeping past them to take the lead on the first corner. His Subaru edged out the Fiesta by a little more than a half second, sending both to the finals.
Things got even more dramatic in the fourth heat, where Pastrana looked to be the favorite. Pastrana, driving in his 2013 Dodge Dart for the first time at X Games, had qualified second overall and had the prime inside position at the start. He took advantage of that by quickly jumping out to the lead ahead of Andy Scott, David Binks and David Higgins. Unfortunately for Pastrana, Scott, who had the slowest start, slammed into the back of the No. 199 car, smashing the Red Bull driver into the wall so hard it visibly moved the concrete barriers. Pastrana was actually trapped in his car for several minutes, and the usually calm driver was clearly upset when he finally exited the vehicle. The accident brought out a red flag and a restart was announced, but Scott was disqualified and Pastrana's Dart was undrivable, leaving Higgins and Binks to qualify for the finals by default.
X Games allows for a ten-car final, meaning that two additional cars can advance in the remaining "Last Chance Qualifiers." In the first, Liam Doran, last year's Rally Car Racing gold medalist, managed an all-important quick start and took advantage of his inside position to give himself a nice cushion. Dave Mirra's Subaru went limp after the first corner, leaving Stephan Verdier and Bucky Lasek to challenge Doran for the final qualifying spot in vain.
To fill out the final tenth spot in the second LCQ, Rhys Millen, Bryce Menzies and Andy Scott lined up. Scott initially false-started and Millen stalled, but race officials called for a restart and mandated that they line up behind the other two drivers for the infraction. On the restart, there was another false start, this time Menzies, causing yet another restart. That left Rhys to start out front all by himself, and he took full advantage. Menzies blew a tire midway through the first lap, leaving Millen to breeze into the final.
For the ten-car final, Sebastien Loeb was the favorite, starting in the front inside position. He managed to protect that advantage from the start, darting out to an early lead and driving flawlessly for the remainder of the race. It was a performance everyone fully expected from the eight-time rally champion.
"The X Games was a good experience, the track was good and I was excited to race at the X Games and win this competition," said Loeb after the race. "The most difficult point was that first corner because you lose everything if someone hits you."
Perhaps just as impressive, however, was Ken Block, who managed to go from fourth to second despite running the last three laps with a blown rear tire. Last year's gold medalist, Brian Deegan, cemented his place as a contender with a solid third place finish, giving Ford the remaining podium positions.