Timmy Hansen’s first visit to the United States as a competing rallycross driver ended in triumph on Sunday afternoon, as he became the winner of the inaugural Nitro Rallycross event at this year’s Nitro World Games. The Team Peugeot Total driver chased down longtime FIA World Rallycross rival Mattias Ekstrom in the main event, finally taking the top spot as Ekstrom was forced to take the Joker Lap on the final circuit.
Held at Utah Motorsports Campus for the first time in its brief history, Nitro World Games’ venue shift primarily accommodated a brand new rallycross course, designed by Nitro Circus founder and Subaru Rally Team USA driver Travis Pastrana. The new layout proved to be both compelling and challenging, as well as physically demanding: Pastrana chipped a tooth on Sunday, while Ken Block had to withdraw from the event on Saturday citing injury concerns due to inadequate suspension on his vehicle.
Sunday’s race format differed largely from the event builds previously communicated to competitors and fans. The format eventually used to complete the event featured a pair of “challenger” races featuring the bottom five competitors, as the top three advanced directly to the semifinals. But all those two races would do was set the grid for the semifinals, and the semifinals would in turn merely set the grid for the eight-car, six-lap final. The elimination that would have been mandatory to run a four- or six-car final was phased out of the format.
That meant that, compared to the relatively clean, three-car heat races we saw on Saturday, carnage was inevitable in Sunday’s final. In truth, the beating and banging started early, with Steve Arpin and Tanner Foust charging full speed into contact in the first challenger race that ended with hub damage to both cars. Pastrana’s Subaru teammates Chris Atkinson and Patrik Sandell would see similar contact-based issues multiple times during the day.
Hansen won the first semifinal, and Americas Rallycross points leader and three-time Red Bull Global Rallycross champion Scott Speed took the other, to give them the two front-row spots on the final grid. The lineup prioritized the semifinal winners well, giving them Row 1 to themselves, with three cars each on Rows 2 and 3.
But as different as this course may have looked from the more pavement-heavy Red Bull GRC courses from the past few years, the driving in the first few corners looked exactly the same. Speed jutted out to the lead after the first corner, but contact between four different cars trying to take the gap jump on the first lap ended with broken cars and DNFs for both Speed and Pastrana. Ekstrom, who took the smaller jump at the start, would end up with the early lead, with Hansen and Foust chasing him.
The longer Joker Lap would end up making all the difference, though, as Hansen took it earlier in the race and Ekstrom saved it until the very final lap. That meant that, as Hansen gained roughly a second a lap in the final two laps, Ekstrom was powerless to put up a fight for the victory after he took his Joker Lap. The final margin of victory would be 2.47 seconds, as the two World RX competitors finished well clear of their ARX counterparts.
Foust would take home third, and Arpin would cross the line fourth, more than 40 seconds behind the winner. Sandell would retire late in the race after contact while fighting for that fourth position with Arpin, and Atkinson pulled off early in the main event as well.
Of the nine competitors in the field this weekend, all but Pastrana are scheduled to get back in the car this weekend at the inaugural World Rallycross of the United States at Circuit of the Americas. Speed beat Block and Foust in ARX’s inaugural visit to the track in July, but Hansen and Ekstrom will be seeing the track for the first time. Pastrana’s spot in the third Subaru Rally Team USA car will be taken by 2013 GRC champion Toomas Heikkinen, who was Ekstrom’s World RX teammate at EKS RX last year.