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Nitro Rallycross: Weekend Preview

by Chris Leone // Website // Twitter
Images via
Josh Tons

Here it is: the game-changer of a rallycross weekend we’ve all been waiting for.

Travis Pastrana’s Nitro Circus has long been known for pushing the limits of action sports with bigger names, bigger ramps, and bigger tricks. For the past few years, that desire to push boundaries has resulted in the Nitro World Games, a multi-sport event featuring some of the biggest names in everything from skateboards to scooters.

Finally in 2018, that concept expands to rallycross, as the inaugural Nitro Rallycross takes shape at Utah Motorsports Campus in Tooele. The facility, home to everything from Pirelli World Challenge to Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series actions, now hosts a (presumably permanent) rallycross course featuring a three-way gap and over-under jump, rhythm section, and banked dirt corners.

That much, we’ve seen by now. Same goes for the entry list, which features Mattias Ekstrom and Timmy Hansen alongside the seven cars that have run full-time in Americas Rallycross this season. And if you were with us last weekend, we broke the news on the race format that returns the X Games-era head-to-head racing to American soil during heat rounds.

All that’s left, right now, is the racing.

Saturday’s show will feature the qualifying and heat racing portions, and Sunday’s will feature the semifinals and final. The heats should be especially fun, as the head-to-head matchups won’t feature an inverted ladder; the first and second drivers from the previous round will face off, as will the third and fourth, fifth and sixth, and so on.

A Thursday press release actually announced a change to the race format from there. While the regulations provided to teams said that six drivers would advance straight to the semifinals, the PR revealed that instead, only three will move on directly, leaving the rest to face off in multiple LCQs. Only six drivers will take part in the semifinals, instead of eight. And instead of six cars in the final, there will only be four, as two drivers will still go home in the semifinals.

The X Games-era drivers are likely favorites to win this event, as they’ve got experience with sending it over massive gap jumps. That favors one driver on each team: Pastrana on Subaru Rally Team USA, Tanner Foust on Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross, and Ken Block on Loenbro Motorsports/Hoonigan Racing Division. Keep in mind that Scott Speed, the three-time Red Bull Global Rallycross champion and Foust’s teammate on VARX, has never taken a gap jump; neither has Steve Arpin with Loenbro or Patrik Sandell on SRTUSA, though Sandell has had to face the massive jumps on the Ouninpohja stage at Rally Finland multiple times in his career.

The real question is how top European racers Ekstrom and Hansen will stack up against their American counterparts, but with Comtoyou Racing running Ekstrom instead of his own EKS RX team, it won’t be a direct comparison of machinery. In fact, multiple competitors, including Foust and Block, are confirmed to be running different vehicles than the ones they’ll take to next weekend’s FIA World Rallycross/ARX round at Circuit of the Americas. How the new machinery will hold up to the track, or how differently it’s been built to face the track’s unique demands, remains to be seen.

Nitro Rallycross will air concurrently on the Velocity television network and streaming online on the Motor Trend On Demand app. Saturday’s show kicks off at 4PM ET/1PM PT, and Sunday’s begins at 4:30PM ET/1:30PM PT.

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