Tanner Foust kicked off the 2016 Red Bull Global Rallycross season in spectacular fashion at the weekend with a dominant display at the Phoenix double header event at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park which saw him leave with the championship lead and the series’ all-time wins record.
Visiting what was a new venue for the series, the two-time champion quickly got up to speed and proved unbeatable across the weekend’s races, winning three heats, two semi finals and both main events. Team mate Scott Speed also took a trio of heat wins and a brace of semi final victories, putting Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross firmly in the driving seat for this year’s championship.
It’s quite a difference from the start of last season where, despite a win at Daytona and an X Games triumph, VARX were left wondering ‘what if’ after poor luck and reliability issues blighted the early part of their year.
Whatever demons the team had though were banished by the Los Angeles double header last September and the team went on an impressive winning streak which would serve as a taster of what was to come in 2016.
“Whenever you introduce a new car to competition, there’s a learning curve as the driver and the team work to figure out how to tap into all of its potential. By the end of last season, the Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross team was tough to beat,” said Foust, who won three championship rounds last season. “The Volkswagen team won almost half of the races in GRC last year and, with Scott winning the championship, I know we’ve got a target on our backs this year. Winning the first two rounds of GRC in 2016 has certainly proven that we are committed to keeping our spot at the top.”
Foust attributed the team’s strong performance, which has seen them win six of the last seven races, to hard work. Many saw VARX as the team to beat not just this year, but in 2015 too, and their relentless nature is now reaping the rewards.
“The way to keep winning in racing is to keep working. It’s the same for anybody: if you sit back and spend the off-season admiring your results from the previous year, your competition will get ahead of you,” he said. “After running a full season on the Volkswagen Beetle GRC car in 2015, we identified a few things we could improve over the winter. And with a new tire for the series this year, I know we aren’t the only team that put some time into vehicle setup.”
Another of Volkswagen Andretti’s strengths is their driver lineup. Although one of three full-time two car teams in the series, VARX boasts arguably the most diverse pairing in the paddock with Foust a two-time Formula Drift and Red Bull GRC champion as well as a multiple FIA World and European Rallycross race winner, while Scott Speed is a veteran of 28 Formula One starts and more than 160 entries in NASCAR‘s top three divisions.
“This is our third year working together on the Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross team and we both bring different skill sets to the table that I think have made us faster as a team,” said Foust. “There’s nothing better than knowing there’s a guy out there in the same equipment that you know you can battle. It’s great motivation.”
But despite his biggest rival being parked next to him in the garage, Foust doesn’t discount the rest of the field.
“Every single driver in this field is capable of winning races so you can’t count anybody out,” he admitted. “Patrik Sandell seems to show the best speed as the M-Sport cars are very strong but OMSE can never be overlooked with their consistency.”
Now holding a 25 point lead in the championship going into the next round in Dallas in just under a fortnight’s time, Foust can look ahead to the rest of the year, which features a drastically different calender to last season.
The visit to Phoenix last weekend was just one of four new venues for 2016 and there’s one that Foust has his eye on more than any other – a return to the state that gave him his first Red Bull GRC win back in 2011.
“I’m looking forward to getting back to Seattle. It’s been a couple of years since we’ve been there with the series and the Pacific Northwest fans are incredible,” he said. “We’re at a new venue for GRC this time, but I have spent a lot of time at that track with Formula Drift and it’s going to be fun to see that facility built out with dirt and jumps for rallycross. I’ll actually be there for drifting this year as well, so I’m doubling down on Seattle!”