Red Bull GRC: Patriotism, high speed highlight trip to MCAS New River
Red Bull Global Rallycross will be all about the red, white and blue with its trip to the Marine Corps Air Station - or MCAS - New River this weekend in Jacksonville, N.C. for Rounds 6 and 7 of the season (Saturday and Sunday, 5 p.m. ET, NBC).
The event quickly proved a highlight on the full schedule last year, with its inaugural trip wowing military members and providing a great point of interaction for them with the Red Bull Global Rallycross paddock, drivers and teams. This year, further Marine interaction and a street party will kick off the weekend.
Last year’s race was only the fourth round of 12 in the 2015 season. This year, it’s a doubleheader, and already pushes the Red Bull GRC season - which only started a little more than a month ago - past its halfway point.
So beyond it being patriotic, it’s also a pivotal weekend to finish the first half and start the first race of the second half strongly. The track laid out at The Base is 0.713 of a mile, split 58.3 percent pavement to 41.7 percent dirt.
Thus far the top two drivers in the series are Tanner Foust and Steve Arpin, with Foust currently holding a 32-point lead over Arpin. The pair split the wins in Daytona, Arpin having secured his elusive first win in Red Bull GRC for Chip Ganassi Rallycross on Saturday in a chaotic final, while Foust bounced back on Sunday with his third win of the year for Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross.
Arpin said the pressure to perform in front of the Marine Corps this weekend will be his driving focus as he looks to continue his hot start to the season in the No. 00 Jacob Companies Ford Fiesta ST.
“All I think about New River is it’s huge!” Arpin told NBC Sports after winning his first race at Daytona. “It’s gonna be our Super Bowl.
“I think first and foremost is, and I never knew how much of an impact this will be, until in the moment, but literally to have the opportunity to be there and see the smile and excitement we can put on the men and women face that fight for us. It was the most humbling feeling I’ve had in my entire life. I think of that more so than the racing. It should be such a great opportunity.
“That being said on the racing side of it, we know it will be a big fast track. One of VW’s strengths is big, high speed tracks. So we will try to find a bit more speed.”
Foust, and VARX teammate Scott Speed, will need to atone for a nightmare trip to MCAS New River last year. Both cars failed to make the final round with a series of mechanical gremlins sidelining them in the preliminary rounds.
“We did find a small component – literally a flywheel bolt made of bad material, and we had a bad batch,” Foust, driver of the No. 34 Rockstar Energy Drink Volkswagen Beetle, explained to NBC Sports. “So we had engine problems. And then I had a collision with Ken (Block) in Turn 1 that broke my car. It’s a great environment. We have a bit of work to do. But our Beetles are fast, and we’re looking forward to it.”
Speed, in the specially liveried No. 41 Special Operations Warrior Foundation Volkswagen, also seeks a bounce back after his challenging Daytona weekend, where he had an engine change, then a fire, then a switch to a backup car - but he still brought home a second place finish in Sunday’s second round of the weekend.
Two of last year’s top three finishers, race winner Block and third-placed Nelson Piquet Jr., won’t be back to defend their results from a year ago. So that leaves the races a bit more wide open.
Another Ford driver, Patrik Sandell, sits fourth in the points in his No. 18 Kobalt Tools Ford for Bryan Herta Rallysport. He was second here last year. Then-teammate Austin Dyne was fourth, and that marks his most recent top-five finish.
Piquet’s replacement at SH Rallycross/DRR - Jeff Ward - is due a good result after a frustrating start to the season in the No. 07 MET-Rx Ford Fiesta ST. Ward sits only eighth in the championship standings.
Arpin’s teammate at Ganassi, Brian Deegan, made his regular season debut with the team this race last year but failed to finish in the final. He’ll be keen to secure his first win for Ganassi in one of the two races.
Then there’s the Red Bull Olsbergs MSE Honda Civic pair of Joni Wiman and Sebastian Eriksson, who have been poised to break through with improved reliability as the year has progressed. Eriksson has made three trips to the podium while Wiman, the 2014 series champion, hasn’t yet this year but was fourth in both Daytona races.
“Being able to race in front of all of the servicemen and women who work and call the base (MCAS New River) home is truly special, and on top of that we get to compete with them on July 4th weekend,” Wiman said. “I am really looking forward to the first practice session so we can truly see how fast this course is.”
Of note, the Subaru Rally Team returns for the first time this year with Sverre Isachsen and Bucky Lasek. Rhys Millen (Hyundai Veloster) misses his first weekend of the year.
Coverage of both races is at 5 p.m. ET on NBC, each of Saturday and Sunday.