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A Brief History of Rallycross in North America

by Chris Leone // Website // Twitter
Images via Red Bull Content Pool: Larry Chen (1, 8); Christian Pondella (2, 4); Scott O’Brian (3); Garth Milan (5-6, 10)

With Friday afternoon’s announcement that Americas Rallycross will not continue for the 2020 season, the sport enters its second decade in North America with an uncertain future, but a fresh sheet of paper to work with. Here’s a quick look through the first 10 years of action in the United States, from X Games to ARX and everything in between:

2010

  • Rallycross makes its debut at X Games Los Angeles, joining the already popular stage rally action that had been a staple of the Los Angeles Coliseum event for years. Called “Super Rally” at the time, Tanner Foust took the checkered flag.
  • Rally America and New Jersey Motorsports Park put on a series of events throughout the summer and fall, many of which featured the drivers that would come to define the sport in the future. Foust and Dave Mirra were among the headliners, while Europeans Liam Doran, Sverre Isachsen, and Toomas Heikkinen would also participate.

2011

  • The inaugural Global Rallycross Championship saw the series visit four locations, kicking off at Irwindale Speedway in March and wrapping up with another edition of X Games Los Angeles, this time on the city streets. Foust would sweep both championships, as the inaugural GRC season saw both a head-to-head format and traditional rallycross format run on back-to-back days.
  • Alongside Foust, regular GRC drivers included his teammate Marcus Gronholm at Olsbergs MSE, the Subaru Rally Team USA duo of Mirra and David Higgins, Foust’s former Formula Drift rival Rhys Millen, European veteran Michael Jernberg, and quick privateer Stephan Verdier.
  • X Games would receive its traditional boost of entries from around the world, with Ken Block, Brian Deegan, and Liam Doran (Saturday’s gold medalist) all on hand. Travis Pastrana would also compete on Sunday thanks to hand controls quickly assembled by Subaru Rally Team USA, after injuring himself in a freestyle motocross event just days prior.

2012

  • Building on the promise of its first season, GRC began to really take off. Speedway Motorsports Inc. welcomed the series as a support act to multiple NASCAR events, including the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Block and Deegan stepped up to full-time action, while Pastrana landed a factory deal with Dodge to run his own team with the Dart. To replace him, Subaru welcomed Puma as a primary sponsor and added former European champion Isachsen and Bucky Lasek to its squad alongside Mirra. Millen also added Verdier in his second car, while Olsbergs MSE boasted a five-car lineup with Foust, Deegan, Gronholm, Heikkinen, and David Binks.
  • Gronholm scored the first two wins of the season before a freak injury at X Games Los Angeles all but ended his racing career. He was the second injured driver of the weekend, after Heikkinen fell short of the landing on the scaffolding gap jump and broke his leg. Drivers banded together and called for safer courses, and the gap was eliminated for the weekend. In the race itself, World Rally Championship legend Sebastien Loeb and European legend Kenneth Hansen banded together to dominate the weekend in a Citroen, with Block coming home second on just three tires.
  • Two weeks later in New Hampshire, Pastrana gave Dodge its first GRC win after facing off with Scott-Eklund Racing’s Samuel Hubinette.
  • The season would finish with two straight events in Las Vegas, one at Las Vegas Motor Speedway alongside NASCAR action and the other at the SEMA Show. Foust would win both races, although a dramatic move from ninth to second by Deegan at the start of the latter final kept things interesting. It was also revealed during the weekend that former William Rast CEO Colin Dyne had purchased the series.

2013

  • Due to increased pressure from the FIA, GRC would drop the word “Championship” for its name for 2013. It would also align with the Sports Car Club of America for sanctioning purposes.
  • ESPN announced that X Games would go global for 2013, taking GRC with it to Brazil, Barcelona, and Munich alongside its centerpiece event in Los Angeles. Global X Games as a whole did not go smoothly, with many weather-related cancellations, and even GRC was no exception after a clay-based course with minimal drainage in Spain proved too slick to race in the rain. In response, Munich was converted to a doubleheader. Nonetheless, this would have made GRC the first rallycross series to qualify for FIA World Championship status due to its presence on three continents in a single season.
  • Ex-Formula 1 and NASCAR driver Scott Speed was announced as the first driver in GRC’s new “Star Car” program in Brazil, and won the event in his first try. The “Star Car” concept was promptly abandoned and Speed was given the ride for the remainder of the season.
  • The remaining domestic portion of the season saw four more events at SMI tracks, albeit with standalone shows for GRC each time out due to demand for increased dirt on each course (including a dirt tabletop jump to replace the scaffolding gap jump). The season finale returned to Las Vegas as well during SEMA week, but at a new location that allowed for a larger course.
  • Heikkinen scored five victories in a row from the second Munich race through August’s Atlanta round to earn the championship. Speed would win two races, while Doran would take one in the Prodrive-built Mini and Block would earn his first GRC victory in the Las Vegas finale.
  • GRC Lites debuted in New Hampshire as the sport’s top development class and ran at all six American events, including X Games. Joni Wiman swept all six events to take the inaugural title.

2014

  • GRC’s biggest year yet would see the addition of title sponsor Red Bull, an over-the-air TV deal on NBC (with the exception of X Games), the addition of a factory Volkswagen squad run by Andretti Autosport, the return of Hyundai’s factory program, a switch to United States Auto Club sanctioning, and full-time commitments from names like Foust, Block, Speed, Millen, and Lasek.
  • The season started with a spectacular incident in Barbados, where GRC joined the Top Gear crew as a support act and stole the show. After Wiman passed him for the lead on the first lap, Block tried to retake the position, only to bounce off a curb and roll upside down into the outside wall. After the restart, Speed would take the season-opening victory.
  • X Games moved from Los Angeles to Circuit of the Americas in Austin, where 20 drivers would face off in a three-round, single-elimination bracket race format where only three drivers would advance from each event to produce a six-car final. The format, designed as a response to first-corner carnage in GRC’s typical 10-car final, only led to more incidents, with Foust, Pastrana, Block, and Deegan all eliminated early. Speed, Nelson Piquet Jr., and Lasek came home with the medals.
  • The 2014 season was one of temporary courses, as GRC attempted to gain a foothold in major urban markets like New York, Washington DC, and Los Angeles. The series also made its debut at Daytona International Speedway, where Millen would score a surprise victory. Los Angeles was marked by the debut of the Volkswagen Beetle, after Foust and Speed ran the majority of Andretti’s first season with European-built Polos.
  • Four drivers came to define the championship chase: Wiman, Block, Piquet, and Speed. In the Las Vegas season finale, run in the shadow of the High Roller Ferris wheel at The LINQ, Block won the battle, but Wiman won the war by just five points—a single finishing spot all season—despite not winning a race. Mitchell deJong also wrapped up the GRC Lites title with seven victories.
  • In response to GRC’s massive growth, the FIA European Rallycross Championship expanded to World Championship status a year earlier than planned. The 2014 season saw the series visit Trois-Rivieres in an event won by Petter Solberg, who that year became the first FIA World Champion in two different disciplines by adding the World RX title to his 2003 WRC crown.

2015

  • GRC ran its largest schedule ever by round count, as competitors lined up for 13 different races (including the non-points round at X Games Austin). New events included the series’ first visit to an active military base at MCAS New River, while returning venues included Daytona, Washington DC, Barbados, and the Port of Los Angeles.
  • After Andretti Autosport’s move into the series, IndyCar teams came calling for GRC in a big way. Chip Ganassi Racing joined the series with a two-car effort, one full-time ride for third-year driver Steve Arpin and another split between Deegan and motocross and IndyCar star Jeff Ward. Bryan Herta Autosport took over Austin Dyne’s second-year program and lured former Junior World Rally Champion Patrik Sandell away from Olsbergs MSE. All four would run the same M-Sport Ford Fiestas that Block had been racing since the previous season. Dreyer & Reinbold Racing would also run two cars in the GRC Lites class for Miles Maroney and Alex Keyes.
  • Four different drivers won the first four events of the season, with Block kicking off the festivities in Fort Lauderdale, Speed winning his third X Games gold medal in Austin, Foust earning the Beetle’s first win in Daytona, and Sebastian Eriksson—a late-offseason hire by OMSE alongside Wiman—scoring his first victory in the second Daytona round. With three wins and five podiums in the first seven rounds, Block also established himself as the early championship favorite, although Piquet’s first victory in Washington DC also made him a threat.
  • The championship began to shift in Los Angeles, as both Block and Piquet struggled while Speed swept both races. Things changed even more dramatically in Barbados when Block rolled again and Foust and Speed went 1-2 on both days. That left the Volkswagen duo to settle the championship score in Las Vegas, where Speed’s third place finish was enough to secure the title. Oliver Eriksson earned the GRC Lites crown after coming down to the final race with teammate Austin Cindric.
  • World RX once again headed to Trois-Rivieres, where Davy Jeanney scored the victory—the second of his career and most recent win to date.

2016

  • Car count became GRC’s biggest concern at the start of 2016, as Block departed the series to run a two-car World RX effort with himself and Andreas Bakkerud and Subaru missed the first half of the season due to repeated struggles in testing. Nonetheless, every race of the Supercar season still ran with some form of elimination before the final. The series also welcomed a major new manufacturer in Honda, which paired up with Olsbergs MSE to run Wiman and Sebastian Eriksson and added a third car before the end of the year.
  • Foust and Speed won eight of the 11 completed events (the second final at MCAS New River was cancelled due to a flooded course) and dominated the season. Speed would lock up his second straight championship in the new season finale in Los Angeles by just four points. Deegan, in his return to full-time racing, Arpin, and Sandell were the best of the rest, scoring a victory each. Arpin’s win was Chip Ganassi Racing’s first, on the same weekend that the team returned the Ford GT to the winner’s circle in Le Mans. Deegan’s win in Los Angeles came in his final rallycross start to date.
  • GRC Lites produced its most exciting championship battle yet with multiple drivers on the cusp of the crown in Los Angeles. In the end, Cabot Bigham went from last to first on the grid to steal the title by just five points, a single finishing position all year, over defending class champion Oliver Eriksson.
  • Timmy Hansen won the World RX of Canada, giving Peugeot its third straight win in the event. RX Lites also made its debut in Canada in 2016, and Mitchell deJong earned the victory.

2017

  • The final GRC season saw 10 Supercars on the grid for all races, with the full-time return of Subaru and full-time expansion of Honda to three cars joining the two Volkswagens and individual Ford efforts from Herta, Austin Dyne, and Loenbro Motorsports, the latter of which picked up the former Chip Ganassi Racing program. All three of the previous years’ GRC Lites champions moved up to full-time competition in 2017 to comprise GRC’s most robust rookie class ever.
  • Another dominant season for Speed and Foust once again saw the title come down to the finale. Although Foust won the final three races of the season, Speed’s second place runs in each of those events—part of a year in which he earned a podium in every main event that he ran—were enough to clinch the championship by 19 points. His only hiccup came in Ottawa, where he damaged the car on the jump in his final heat and missed the semifinal.
  • Arpin and Loenbro Motorsports were the best of the rest after the Canadian won in both New England and in his home province of Ontario for his first multi-win season and best year to date. It was a fitting win as GRC made its first-ever Canadian stop behind the Canada Aviation and Space Museum.
  • Cyril Raymond proved himself the best young rallycross driver in the world by sweeping both the GRC Lites and RX Lites titles. The Frenchman won 12 times around the world, six in each series, and was a perfect three for three in Canada across both championships.
  • World RX Supercar champion Johan Kristoffersson scored the victory in Trois-Rivieres, his third win in a five-race winning streak at the time. It was the first win for Volkswagen in the event.

2018

  • A tumultuous offseason saw GRC’s remaining teams abandon the series to establish Americas Rallycross with IMG, World RX’s promoter. The move coincided with World RX’s first-ever planned American round, as the series would head to a new, permanent course built at Circuit of the Americas. GRC attempted to continue by announcing a re-spec of the Lites cars before introducing a new, more cost-effective top-tier car in 2019, but went out of business before either could happen. Subsequent legal battles made their way into the media in one of the ugliest transfers of power in recent racing history.
  • The inaugural ARX season was established on short notice and lacked both GRC’s car count and media package. The series debuted in England at the inaugural World RX event in Silverstone, months before GRC had planned its new season finale at Lydden Hill, the birthplace of rallycross. While ARX mustered 10 cars for its inaugural event, aided in part by a number of European drivers willing to race while Euro RX was on break, it never again fielded double-digit Supercars in an event. In addition, only one round of the inaugural ARX season was run as a standalone race, as drivers were able to take to COTA before the World RX event.
  • However, the season also included a bright spot for teams as Pastrana’s Nitro World Games built a rallycross track at Utah Motorsports Campus that featured a three-way crossover jump, banked dirt turns, and more loose surface than any other track on the continent. Timmy Hansen and Mattias Ekstrom led the European invasion at the standalone event, and finished first and second.
  • For the fourth straight year, Speed was the Supercar champion, once again defeating Foust for the title in the first year of ARX. Each driver won two races, but Speed’s pair of runner-up finishes proved the difference, as Foust scored one third place result during the year. Not long after, Volkswagen would announce an end to its factory support of the team, leaving Speed to accept an offer to drive for Subaru. In ARX2, former GRC Lites standout Conner Martell made good on the promise of his 2016 and 2017 results to earn his first championship.
  • The 2018 World RX season, its last with major manufacturer involvement to date, saw Kristofferson win 11 of the series’ 12 events, including both the Canadian and American rounds. Oliver Eriksson was the RX2 winner in Trois-Rivieres.

2019

  • ARX began to establish itself as a standalone championship by expanding to six rounds, taking over the former World RX event at COTA entirely and adding four rounds at new permanent circuits built at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway alongside its return to Trois-Rivieres with World RX. It also added ARX3, a crosskart class featuring spec vehicles built by Sierra Cars.
  • Four different drivers won the first four rounds of the season, with Speed on top in his debut for the recently rebranded Subaru Motorsports USA at Mid-Ohio, Chris Atkinson and Sandell splitting the wins at Gateway, and Foust on top in Canada. Speed would lead the points through four rounds, but a back injury suffered at Nitro Rallycross would end his quest for a fifth straight championship.
  • With a win at COTA to aid him, Foust would lock up his first rallycross title since 2012 in ARX’s premier class despite missing the last final of the season in the second Mid-Ohio event. Atkinson scored his second victory of the year to earn second in points, just one marker ahead of Subaru teammate Sandell. Subaru Motorsports USA also earned its first-ever rallycross title by taking home ARX’s teams championship.
  • DirtFish’s Fraser McConnell (ARX2) and John McInnes (ARX3) were the other ARX champions. McConnell dominated ARX2 to the tune of five victories in nine races, while McInnes’ title was highlighted by a sweep of both inaugural Mid-Ohio rounds.
  • Nitro Rallycross returned with a bigger and badder circuit, and a different Hansen on top of the podium. This time, it was younger brother Kevin who took home the gold medal from the imposing Utah circuit.
  • Andreas Bakkerud won the World RX of Canada for his only victory of the 2019 season. Bakkerud tied Timmy Hansen on points in the championship, but lost the title by a wins tiebreaker.
  • Despite an expanded championship and season-ending combine for development drivers at Mid-Ohio, ARX announced in November that it would cease operations for 2020. The championship ended its existence having hosted only 10 events. In the wake of ARX’s demise, rumors persist that Nitro Rallycross will expand its offering to a larger slate of events for 2020, though no announcements have been made.
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