The Race of Champions in Pite Havsbad, Sweden, two weeks ago should have been a place for Travis Pastrana to show his stuff, but injuries in a BASE jumping accident prevented him from competing. However, he’s interested on bringing over one of the ROC’s competitors to his Nitro Rallycross series.
Sebastian Vettel, the four-time Formula One World Drivers Champion with no off-road background, finished runner-up in the main ROC to Sébastien Loeb. He has since expressed curiosity about diving deeper into the discipline, telling DirtFish days after the event that although it is “not easy to just jump into it and be very good at it […] if somebody is willing to give me a shot and a chance and has a lot of time, I’m happy to look at it.”
In a video posted on NRX’s social media Wednesday, Pastrana seemed more than eager to give him that shot.
“Hey Seb! I’ve had a lot of time to think and watch some videos while I’ve been laid up on the couch,” began Pastrana, pointing to his crutches that he has been using while recovering from his injuries. “I see that you have mentioned wanting to try rally or rallycross. Funny you should mention that because we are actually doing Nitro Rallycross where you get to experience jumps and all kinds of door-to-door action. Super fun, lot of great drivers, love to have you in there.”
Pastrana is the defending American Rally Association champion and founder of Nitro Rallycross, the latter of which is the latest attempt to cultivate a rallycross culture in the United States. NRX held five rounds in its inaugural season last year with Pastrana winning the championship over Scott Speed, a former F1 driver whose departure from that series coincidentally led to Vettel making his first appearance in what has been his stomping ground since 2007. Third-placed Timmy Hansen was at ROC as a member of Team Sweden.
Although its leader was unavailable for what would have been his ninth ROC, NRX brought its new FC1-X car, which is fully electric and intended to be more powerful than the current Supercars that NRX and the FIA World Rallycross Championship use, to the event. It will make its racing début in the 2022 NRX season as a separate class from the Supercars. Being the first ROC held on a snow/ice surface, other vehicles were built to accommodate the conditions like the RX2e from the FIA electric rallycross division of the same name.
With Pastrana out of the picture, Colton Herta represented Team USA in the Nations Cup alongside Jimmie Johnson. Vettel and Team Germany partner Mick Schumacher were defeated by the Americans in the quarter-final on a tiebreaker, though Vettel avenged his loss in the individual tournament by beating Herta. He advanced to the final after triumphing over Tom Kristensen before falling to Loeb, though one could argue the odds were stacked against him as Loeb is a nine-time World Rally Champion and rallycross ace. Incidentally, Loeb also dabbled in rallycross for the first time because of an invitation from Pastrana: Loeb was challenged to enter the 2012 X Games, where he easily walked away with the gold medal while Pastrana was knocked out of contention early after a crash in his heat.
While it is unknown if Vettel will indeed take up the offer as he already has his Aston Martin F1 duties to worry about, his résumé would obviously make him one of, if not the most decorated name on the NRX grid. Outside of Speed, other F1 drivers who have done rallycross include Gianni Morbidelli (World RX), Nelson Piquet Jr. (Red Bull Global Rallycross), Jacques Villeneuve (World RX and Americas Rallycross Championship), Markus Winkelhock (World RX), and Alexander Wurz (World RX). Villeneuve, who ran seven World RX races in 2014 and one in ARX in 2018, won the F1 World Championship in 1997. ROC Team Great Britain competitor David Coulthard and 2009 F1 Champion Jenson Button have tested World RX cars in the past; Button, whose father John raced in rallycross, also previously considered a GRC run and currently operates an Extreme E team.