Despite it being his first experience of rallycross and his first time competing in North America, there was no stopping Sebastien Loeb on the streets of LA as he dominated proceedings to win X-Games Gold. As Ken Block struggled with a puncture, the Citroen driver was able to pull out a gap of over ten seconds to take a comfortable victory, with defending champion Brian Deegan stealing third from Tanner Foust in the latter stages.
“It's great to have Seb here,” said Block, “but I knew him coming here meant one thing: that he’d be near the top of the podium, which is the way it is.”
The event was a sombre affair after enormous accidents befell Finnish drivers Toomas Heikkinen and championship leader Marcus Gronholm, both of whom were forced to sit out the rest of the weekend. 21 year old Heikkinen failed to clear the 79 foot gap jump during practise and smashed headlong into the ramp on the other side, the car tumbling to the ground upside-down and on fire. Heikkinen crawled from the wreckage with the assistance of fellow competitor Deegan, and was treated in hospital for a broken ankle and abdominal injuries, but will be out of action for some time. Double WRC champion Gronholm was an expected contender for victory after dominating the opening two rounds of the championship, but was knocked unconscious after making contact with a protruding concrete block in practise. Gronholm had to be cut from the wreckage of his Best Buy Fiesta, but thankfully appears to have recovered after spending a few nights under observation.
Heikkinen's accident, the third gap-jump incident this season after Bucky Lasek and Sverre Isachsen were each forced to bail atTexas, prompted organisers to close the gap and build a flat surface between the ramps. Most drivers agreed with the decision, although Travis Pastrana, despite having dislocated his shoulder on the violent jump inTexas, spoke out against the decision.
“I say keep the jump – it's the X-Games so of course it's technical. If you go too slow it's going to hurt and if you go too fast it's going to hurt,” Pastrana said. “For me, I like the best of the crazy and you can make up time doing things that others don't want to do.”
Sadly for Pastrana, he was unable to add to his tally of X-Games medals after being shunted into the wall by the Saab of Andy Scott in Heat 4, with David Binks and David Higgins, the Manxman a late entry in a fourth Subaru after Heikkinen's forced withdrawal, also caught up in the mess. However, with damage to Pastrana's Dodge Dart proving terminal, and Scott black-flagged for his part in the accident, Binks and Higgins were both admitted to the final.
Pastrana's second successive failure to make the final -causing him to miss out on the opportunity to test his skills against Loeb – left him deeply frustrated.
“This is our big event, and to have someone take it from me is devastating,” said the ten-times X-Games gold medallist. “I always say create your own luck, but when you’re on the inside and you get the holeshot, you brake at the point where everyone has braked all day for the corner and someone decides to come in and not brake, that’s a devastating way to end what could’ve been a fantastic week for the team.”
The other heats, while they had their moments, were far less dramatic. Scott's team-mate Samuel Hubinette dominated Heat 1 ahead of Block and Liam Doran, while Loeb won his heat with a virtuoso performance ahead of Foust, Lasek – who won a skateboarding silver on Saturday – and Stephane Verdier. Heat 3 was the closest of the lot, with Isachsen making a cracking start to lead from Deegan, Rhys Millen and Pastrana's inexperienced team-mate Bryce Menzies, which he managed to hold to the end despite intense pressure.
The two Last Chance Qualifiers, consisting of the third and fourth placed drivers from each heat, were contested frantically with a spot on the back row of the final up for grabs for the winners. Doran held Verdier at bay for victory in the first LCQ, after car troubles had again plagued the unfortunate Dave Mirra, while Millen ensured Hyundai were represented in the final with victory over Scott, Menzies having crashed after a puncture.
The final required numerous attempts before it got underway, with red flags called for Isachsen, whose bent steering arm had left him stranded on the racing line. Once the track was cleared, the race was finally able to get underway. As expected, Loeb got the best start from the inside, with Block placing his car inside Hubinette, who was pinched into the wall on the tight corner exit – costing him several seconds. Following Block through on the inside was Foust, with Binks slotting in behind in fourth, Millen fifth and Deegan sixth.
In his attempts to recover lost ground, Hubinette clattered into Doran, putting the Swede out on the spot, although the wounded Doran was able to continue. The action continued thick and fast on lap three as Millen punted Binks out of the race, gifting Deegan fourth place ahead of Doran. As Loeb continued to lead from Block, his tyre delaminating all the time, Foust began to drop back with technical issues. Foust, who 24 hours earlier had completed the Hot Wheels Double-Loop Dare alongside stuntman Greg Tracy, was forced to concede the bronze to Deegan, but was still able to hold station ahead of Doran and Millen for fourth, and score crucial championship points over the absent Gronholm.
An elated Loeb celebrated the 73rd win in his international motorsport career, but afterwards was left contemplating the health of his greatest rival.
“We know it’s a high level event and I’m really pleased to win,” Loeb said. “But maybe my main rival, Marcus GrÃ¶nholm, wasn’t able to race. I’m just happy he’s okay.”