PREVIEW: 2016 Red Bull Global Rallycross Championship


Credit: Larry Chen/Red Bull Global Rallycross

The 2016 Red Bull Global Rallycross Championship finally gets underway this weekend with a brace of events at the Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in Phoenix, Arizona.

The 2016 season will be the sixth in the season’s history and the level of competition is higher than ever with no fewer than three full factory-backed teams and four established IndyCar teams competing in the Supercars category.

Credit: Chris Tedesco/Red Bull Content Pool
Scott Speed is optimistic of defending his title – Credit: Chris Tedesco/Red Bull Content Pool

Teams and Drivers

A total of 13 drivers have so far been confirmed to be taking part during 2016 season. Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross and Scott Speed will be defending their title together with series all-time wins record holder Tanner Foust also racing a Beetle for the team.

“I’m optimistic that we’ve done a good job, and we will be carrying the torch,” Speed told the official Red Bull GRC website. “We’ll be continuing to carry the torch as the team to beat.

Last year’s runner-up Sebastian Eriksson and 2014 champion Joni Wiman will also return for Olsbergs MSE but gone are the team’s legendary Ford Fiestas after the multiple champions inked a deal with Honda in the off season. As a result the Swedish team will race brand new Honda Civic Coupés this year with the hope that they will be able to rekindle the dominance they previously enjoyed with the Fiesta.

Credit: Honda/Olsbergs MSE/Red Bull Global Rallycross
Olsbergs will campaign Hondas in 2016 – Credit: Honda/Olsbergs MSE/Red Bull Global Rallycross

One team that will be campaigning the proven OMSE Fiesta will be SH Racing. The Washington DC race winners have had a big change over the winter break with Nelson Piquet Jr. leaving the squad, being replaced by Jeff Ward. Ward, a motorcross legend and former IndyCar race winner proved to be extremely quick and capable in his three outings for Chip Ganassi Racing last season, often being one of the fastest cars on track.

Ward’s former team, Chip Ganassi Racing, go into 2016 how they left 2015 – running a pair of M-Sport Ford Fiestas for Steve Arpin and Brian Deegan. Deegan hasn’t run a full time schedule since 2013 but is set to enter every round this season.

Another IndyCar team running the quick M-Sport Ford Fiesta is Bryan Herta Rallysport who have scaled back from a two car effort to run just one entry this year for Patrik Sandell. The Swede has taken a single race win in each of the last two seasons but will be looking to mount a sustained title challenge this year.

Credit: Larry Chen/Red Bull Global Rallycross
Subaru will skip the opening rounds to further develop their new car – Credit: Larry Chen/Red Bull Global Rallycross

Subaru is the final big name team to have confirmed their involvement for the 2016 season, although the desire to develop their new WRX STI GRC Supercar further means that we won’t see Sverre Isachsen and Bucky Lasek on track together until The Base in July.

Austin Dyne, Pat Moro, and Rhys Millen have yet to officially confirm their full 2016 plans but are expected to feature during the season.

IndyCar driver Sebastian Saavedra will also feature at the opening rounds in Phoenix, although anything beyond that is still up in the air.

Credit: Chris Tedesco/Red Bull Content Pool
Traditional final venue Las Vegas will not return to Red Bull GRC in 2016 – Credit: Chris Tedesco/Red Bull Content Pool

Calendar

As has become the norm with Red Bull GRC, this season’s schedule features a host of changes. The season begins with a double header event (the first of four) at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in Phoenix, Arizona this weekend before moving onto Dallas in Texas for the second round on June 4. Although in the same state at the same weekend, that weekend will mark the first time ever that Red Bull GRC has not ran an event as part of X Games.

Next up will be the first returning venue of the year with Daytona hosting a double header event on June 18-19, followed by another double header at The Base on Independence Day weekend. The venue for the event is yet to be confirmed but last year’s ‘Race The Base’ event took place at MCAS New River in North Carolina.

Washington DC returns earlier than last year with a single event on July 30 before the series makes its way to another new venue in Atlantic City, New Jersey on August 28 with Bader Field airfield playing host to the event. Another new venue in Evergreen Speedway in Seattle, Washington follows on September 17. The season will end in the series home town of Los Angeles with a pair of back-to-back events taking place on October 8-9.

Credit: Larry Chen/Red Bull Global Rallycross
VARX dominated the second half of 2015 – Credit: Larry Chen/Red Bull Global Rallycross

Five big questions

The start of any new motorsport season always brings intrigue and a host of unanswered questions, but what will be the main talking points of the 2016 season?

Can VARX continue to dominate?

Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross started 2015 as the team to beat but despite an X Games gold medal and a win at Daytona, the first half of their campaign was underwhelming. By September though the team hit their stride, winning four of the last five races, with Scott Speed claiming his first driver’s title. The big question is will VARX face a tough start again, or can their carry on their late 2015 form and leave the rest of the field in their dust?

Will Sandell have a decent crack at the title?

Patrik Sandell’s 2015 season was much the same as Volkswagen’s. Often one of the fastest cars in the field, bad luck and reliability issues plagued the former Junior World Rally Champion early on. A win in Detroit followed by a second and a third place in DC and LA I seemed to show what the Swede was capable of, but with the Bryan Herta Rallysport team now focussing all of its resources on him, can he sustain that form throughout the season?

Credit: Larry Chen/Red Bull Global Rallycross
Brian Deegan is finally back full time – Credit: Larry Chen/Red Bull Global Rallycross

How will Brian Deegan fare in his first full season in three years?

Brian Deegan has finished on the podium in every single Red Bull GRC season and has only once failed to finish in the top 10 in the points – in 2014 when he only ran in four events, finishing third in two of them. In the two full time campaigns he has done, his lowest finish is fourth, leaving little doubt that Deegan is one of the series’ top drivers. But will that time away from full time GRC competition be a curse, or will he add to his sole race victory and challenge for the title?

How good will Honda be?

Olsbergs are to Red Bull Global Rallycross what Ferrari is to Formula One. They’ve been there since day one, winning the most races and championships and earning the most admiration. However, after five seasons with their in-house built Ford Fiestas, Olsbergs MSE make the switch to Honda in 2016 with the Civic Coupé. The Swedish outfit has remained extremely quiet since the announcement of the Honda partnership, but there is now doubt that the team has been working hard during the break to put together a strong package. Will they challenge for wins and the championship straight away? That may be an optimistic goal for some, but Olsbergs have the track record to prove that if anyone can win straight out of the box, it’s them.

Credit: Larry Chen/Red Bull Global Rallycross
Austin Dyne is one of a handful of drivers without a victory to his name – Credit: Larry Chen/Red Bull Global Rallycross

Will we see any first time winners?

Every Red Bull GRC season has seen a first time winner at some point or another, be it Nelson Piquet Jr. last year, Rhys Millen in 2014, Ken Block in ’13, or Travis Pastrana in ’12. This season’s confirmed driver lineup features no fewer than six drivers yet to reach the top step of the podium – Steve Arpin, Jeff Ward, Austin Dyne, Bucky Lasek, Pat Moro, and Sebastian Saavedra.

Arpin, Ward, and Dyne have all shown they have the speed and the talent to race at the front, so for them wins are certainly a possibility this year. For Lasek, Moro, and Saavedra, slimmed down schedules and under developed cars may prove to be their undoing.

Credit:Garth Milan/Red Bull Content Pool
GRC Lites will once again support the Supercars class – Credit: Garth Milan/Red Bull Content Pool

GRC Lites

Once more Red Bull GRC’s Supercars class will be supported by GRC Lites. For the first time in the championship’s history, the reigning champion will return to defend his crown with 2015 victor Oliver Eriksson back with Olsbergs for another crack at the title. He will be joined by rookies Miki Weckstrom and Cole Keatts.

Other returning names include Alejandro Fernandez (AF Racing), Tanner Whitten, Alex Keyes (Dreyer & Reinbold Racing), Collete Davis (Rhys Millen Racing), and Conner Martell (DirtFish Motorsports).

The remaining rookies include Travis Pecoy, Christian Brooks (AF Racing), Cabot Bigham (Dreyer & Reinbold Racing), Parker Chase, and Harry Gottsaker (PMG Rallysport).

The development series will again race at every round of the Red Bull GRC, and feature spec 310 horsepower, mid engined spaceframe cars.