The 2017 Red Bull Global Rallycross season has reached its mid-point – which is remarkable considering it only seems like yesterday when we were gearing up for the season opener in Memphis, Tennessee.
This season has already proven to be one of the most competitive in recent memory. The names at the top of the standings may be familiar, but we’ve already had four different winners in the opening six rounds. That’s not happened since 2015, a year that featured a record seven different race winners across the course of the year.
A new record win tally could well be reached this season, with front-runners Mitchell DeJong, Chris Atkinson, and Patrik Sandell, as well as Austin Dyne, Oliver Eriksson and Cabot Bigham all yet to make their way to the winner’s circle.
As the championship gears up for its first pilgrimage to the American motorsport Mecca of Indianapolis, The Checkered Flag takes you through the main talking points of the season so far.
VARX are beatable
Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross have been the undisputed benchmark in Red Bull GRC for more than two seasons now.
This year they introduced an all-new Beetle, incorporating lessons learned over their past two championship-winning seasons, and many saw this as a sign that not only would their dominance continue, but they could even complete a never-before-seen clean sweep of race wins.
The reality has been quite the opposite. Sure, they’ve taken a clean sweep of pole positions, but ‘only’ half of the main event wins have gone to the team – one for Scott Speed, two for Tanner Foust.
Speed won the season opener, and has been on the podium in all but one round. Engine failure in the first part of the Ottawa double header kept him on the sidelines.
Meanwhile Foust had to wait until round three in Thompson for his first triumph after Sebastian Eriksson avoided the carnage in Louisville to take Honda‘s first win. A broken wheel proved to be the only blip in a perfect weekend for Foust in Thompson, but he was back on form in Canada, winning the second event of the weekend after Steve Arpin took a popular home win on the first day.
When things go right for VARX, they’re the kings, but such is the nature of rallycross, they’ve had a far from smooth run so far.
The star of the season?
Steve Arpin has had a magnificent first half of the season. The Canadian, running his own single-car effort after Chip Ganassi Racing chose not to extend their two-year stay in the series, has been Volkswagen’s main challenger so far, despite the factory might of Honda and Subaru also featuring.
He’s already tripled his career wins tally thanks to victories in Thompson and Ottawa, and sits just 27 points behind leader Foust. That gap could have been smaller, even non existent, had he not sustained a puncture in the second Ottawa main event.
Going into 2017 Arpin was adamant he would be challenging for the championship, and he’s certainly made good on his promise. The final four venues, Indianapolis, Atlantic City, Seattle, and Los Angeles could prove to be positives for Arpin too – built on oval circuits, Indy and Seattle are likely to be similar to Thomspon; Arpin was quick in the Atlantic City main event last year; and in LA, his team won the season finale in 2016 with Brian Deegan.
Coming of age
2014 Red Bull GRC Lites champion Mitchell De Jong made his full-time Supercars début this year, after nearly two years on the sidelines.
You wouldn’t have guessed the teenager had been away though – and in some ways he hadn’t, filling his time with spotter duties, iRacing, RallyX on Ice in Europe, and a one-off appearance in last year’s Red Bull GRC season finale – and he’s already asserted himself as a serious championship threat.
De Jong is yet to finish outside the top five and has taken a trio of third places, two of which came last time out in Ottawa.
He’s also leading Olsbergs Honda’s championship charge, sitting fourth in the points ahead of race winner Sebastian Eriksson and 2015 Lites champ Oliver Eriksson – That’s something of a surprise considering the rookie mark next to his name, but for those who know just how good the Californian is, it comes as no shock.
He’s not a potential future champion, he is a future champion. Maybe even this year? Possibly, but that maiden win has to come first
Mixed fortunes for the Japanese marques
While Honda have finally taken their first win and have two drivers in the top five in the points, it’s been a different story for Subaru.
The Vermont Sports Car-led operation introduced their fifth new car in four seasons at the start of the year and had high hopes with their new powerhouse driver pairing of three-time race winner Patrik Sandell and WRC veteran Chris Atkinson.
Despite flashes of pace, and a podium finish for Atkinson, there have been a few hiccups for the team.
They failed to complete the event in Louisville due to technical issues, and further problems have left Sandell languishing at the bottom of the standings.
That’s not to say the season has been a bad one so far for Subaru. In fact, Atkinson’s third place in Thompson was the team’s first podium finish since 2014. They’ve come a long way in the first six rounds of the season, but they’ll need a little more consistency if they’re to match the likes of Honda in the second half of the year.
The flying Frenchman
Can anyone stop Cyril Raymond? The Frenchman made the trip across the pond off the back of winning the 2016 RX Lites Cup, winning two rounds from seven.
This year he’s already won three out of three in that championship (now called RX2), and is currently topping the Red Bull GRC standings after winning the last four races.
He began the year with a second place finish in Memphis, before slipping down to ninth in Louisville. Then came the impressive run that sees him top the Lites standings at the halfway point in the season.
Could he become the first driver ever to win WRX and GRC titles in the same year? It’s looking more and more likely.
The 2017 Red Bull Global Rallycross season continues on July 9 at Indianapolis Raceway Park.