Tanner Foust (Ford Fiesta) and Josh Wimpey (Volkswagen Golf) won the two main events in the first Rally America Rallycross at New Jersey Motorsport Park, Millville, New Jersey. But the big news from the weekend may not be the performances of the winners, but the event itself.

Euro-Rallycross
Anyone who has followed European motorsport over the last several decades is probably aware that they developed a form of circuit racing for rally cars, which they named rallycross. It’s basically short-course off-road racing with shorter jumps, or motocross with two more wheels. The vehicles began as regular rally cars, but evolved into lightweight (2,400 lbs), high-output (600 bhp?) specials, with 0-60 mph times on the order of 3 seconds. This is distinct from the form of rallycross that developed in North America, a slalom event for rally cars, which is done on a purely amateur basis.

There is no question of rallycross replacing traditional special stage or endurance rallying in Europe. Rather, it’s a unique form of the sport which allows fans to view rally-type cars without the need to venture into the forests, mountains, or deserts.

The first old-world-style rallycross in the U.S. was the “SuperRally” event at the recent X Games 16 in Los Angeles. Based on the success of that event, Rally America (under their new brand name RallyCar) arranged to organize three events on the European concept at New Jersey Motorsport Park near the town of Millville.

Based on the results of the first round, August 28-29, the competitors who were there were generally enthusiastic. It can’t replace special stage rallying, several told us, but it is a chance to do a rally-in-miniature, racing wheel-to-wheel, in front of their fans. As Subaru team leader noted, “This series has the potential to be the most fun racing that anyone’s ever driven.”

Small But Quality Field
As is often the case with first-time events, the field in New Jersey was modest – about a dozen cars each in the 2-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive divisions, which raced separately. It would be no surprise to see more if the series gains media exposure.

The standouts in the AWD field were the Olsbergs MSE team out of Sweden. Olsbergs is heavily experienced in European-style rallycross, and has won the rally portion of the X Games for the last two years. Likewise, lead driver Tanner Foust won both the Rally and SuperRally events at the X Games this year, and entered rounds of the European Rallycross Championship for experience. Tanner’s 2010 Ford Fiesta once again carried the colors of Rock Star energy drink. He as supported, for this event only, by rally veteran Ramana Lagemann, who piloted the team’s older, squarer 2008 Fiesta.

On their other hand, Subaru Rally Team USA brought their regular 2010 Impreza WRX STI special stage cars for their drivers Travis Pastrana and Dave Mirra. American rallying’s “blue man group” followed the trend among rally teams of taking the rally equipment out, stiffening the suspension (in their case stiffer springs but the same shocks), and mounting tires with minimal tread. According to team leader Lance Smith, the team is working on dedicated rallycross racers, based on their X Games vehicles, but these would not be finished until the second round of the series, in early October.

Several of the top entries from the Rally America series turned out to keep those teams honest, most notably Canada’s Andrew Comrie-Picard (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9) and Chris Duplesis (Subaru Impreza WRX STI).

On the 2WD side, there were no obvious favorites. Likely contenders included Josh Wimpey (VW Golf Mark 2, in Group 2 trim), Wyatt Knox (Team O’Neil Mazdaspeed 3 turbo), Dillon Van Way (Ford Focus), and Dan Brosnan (Nissan Sentra).

Elimination Process
The course was NJMP’s Lightning Circuit, with some pavement subtracted and some dirt sections added. The dirt portions were only one lane wide in places, limiting passing there. Lap times were just over a minute for the fastest cars, which according to Foust made it just a little longer than a typical European RX track.

The event format consisted of practice and qualifying, followed by a series of qualifying races, and the final race-off (called the “A Main”). Those who didn’t qualify for the final would be given a last-chance qualifier (“B Main”) just before the big race, the winner of which would be given the last grid spot for the A Main. Qualifying races were four laps each, and the main events five laps each.

Track time seemed generous, which was helpful since some of the teams were getting used to running on tarmac. Most drivers quickly settled into heavy oversteer, even on the pavement. This provided some dramatic photos.

The standing start of the qualifying races proved critical. If the quickest driver could get off the line first, then beat everyone through the first (paved) sweeper and the following (dirt) chicane, he could probably hold off everyone else for the remainder of the race.

B Main
In the 2WD B Main, Dan Brosnan (Nissan) got the fastest start from Justin Carven (Volkswagen Rabbit turbo-diesel, running on cooking oil). But Brian Johnston (Honda Civic Si) gradually picked off both of them to win by 5.6 seconds. Brosnan was the runner-up with Carven only a second behind.

In the 4WD B main, Chris Duplesis handily defeated Arkadiusz Gruszka (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9) and Paul Tingaud (Audi A4 V-8).

A Main
Two days of practice and racing built a lot of anticipation for the final events, especially as the fastest cars had not always faced each other during the eliminations.

In the 2WD A Main, Josh Wimpey drove away to an 11 second win over Wyatt Knox and Randy Zimmer (Subaru Impreza RS). Wimpey’s Volks was basically a Group 2 car, and thus probably not the most powerful in the category, but that didn’t seem to matter.

In the 4WD A Main, Foust and Lagemann led from the start with the others tightly bunched behind. Comrie-Picard was third ahead of Mirra, while Pastrana finished the lap last behind Duplesis after spinning and hitting a water-filled barrier. After the first lap, the race was red-flagged as the barrier was apparently blocking part of the course.

On the restart, Foust and Lagemann were ahead again, while Duplesis pitted with an unspecified mechanical problem.

Race over? No way. Pastrana put on a charge, passing teammate Mira, then Comrie-Picard, then Lagemann. Foust, with the engine running warm, a lead, and about a lap to go, was told by the team to ease up and turn off the engine’s anti-lag system. But almost immediately they radioed “Push! Push! Push!” Foust pushed, and won by 4.2 seconds. Mirra moved ahead of Lagemann to follow his teammate to the flag.

What happens next depends, in large part, on the fans. If North American rally fans embrace rallycross, it may have potential. Certainly many of those present in New Jersey seemed enthusiastic. Pastrana claimed that they were cheering so loudly that “I could pretty much hear them in the car.”

AWD results:
1. Tanner Foust, Ford Fiesta
2. Travis Pastrana, Subaru Impreza WRX STI
3. Dave Mirra, Subaru Impreza WRX STI
4. Ramana Lagemann, Ford Fiesta
5. Andrew Comrie-Picard, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9
6. Chris Duplesis, Subaru Impreza WRX STI

2WD results:
1. Josh Wimpey, Volkswagen Golf Mark 2
2. Wyatt Knox, Mazdaspeed 3
3. Randy Zimmer, Subaru Impreza RS
4. John Tancredi, Mazda Miata
5. Brian Johnston, Honda Civic Si
6. Dillon Van Way, Ford Focus

Story and Photos by Thomas Barker

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