Drama, title races converge in Vegas
LAS VEGAS -- It has been a crazy month in the world of rallycross. Since Travis Pastrana's perhaps unexpected, but terrifically exciting "rubbin's racing" win over Swedish driver Samuel Hubinette in the last Global RallyCross round in New Hampshire there have been a bunch of interesting developments.
First, Global RallyCross management announced significant investment in the series for 2013 and beyond, which gave encouragement to the teams in building toward the future. GRC also announced that Las Vegas Motor Speedway this weekend would not be the final stop of the tour, but that a new final final round would be added Oct. 30 … in Las Vegas.
"We are going to be outside the SEMA [Specialty Equipment Market Association] convention center with a street race, an urban deal. It is something I know GRC was talking about early in their plans," Hubinette said of the new finale. "I like it and think it is going to be really spectacular. Of course the whole automotive aftermarket world will be there so it will be a perfect place to showcase all of the teams and the drivers. It's going to be really cool."
In team news, the dominant Olsbergs MSE Ford team is going to field all five machines for Las Vegas. Britain's David Binks plus Americans Tanner Foust and Brian Deegan are all ready to race, but Finland's Marcus Grönholm, who had logged victories in the first two rounds before X Games, is sitting out the race because of his injuries sustained from crashing during a practice run at X.
He will be in attendance at LVMS, but his doctors have not released him to drive quite yet, so expect his return at the October Vegas stop. Not to worry, team CEO Andreas Eriksson is going to jump into the car to substitute for the blisteringly fast Finn. Eriksson, a Swede, is no slouch and has replaced Grönholm in the past, notably placing 1st and 3rd in a GRC stop last year in Snoqualmie, Wash.
Equally exciting for the team [and fans who like a bit of full-contact racing] is the return of Toomas "Topi" Heikkinen. The other fearless Finn on the team is perhaps best known for doing 90 percent of the gap jump at X Games Los Angeles, before ending up on his roof with his car on fire. Topi shattered his left ankle in 15 places and only started walking again in early September. He was black flagged in Charlotte for aggressive driving and disqualified in Texas for breaking a course rule, but the youngest driver in the GRC field  is also one of the fastest and perhaps the most physical. Expect the other drivers in the field to be watching carefully for him.
It has also been a wild ride in the last month for the Rhys Millen Racing team. Having snared a new world record for sponsor Hyundai in the legendary Pikes Peak Hillclimb in August, Millen's team was disappointed to find out this past week that Hyundai was pulling out of motorsports in North America and therefore would no longer be sponsoring the team after the completion of this season.
Despite all the craziness, it is a heated battle for the championship title with many drivers still in mathematical contention. Tanner Foust is in top spot, despite not having won any of the previous races. Samuel Hubinette sits eight points back in second and Brian Deegan, one point behind Hubinette, is in third.
There is also the Discount Tire-America's Tire Cup up for grabs at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The "race within a race" offers a $25,000 cash prize to the driver with the most points from the GRC races at Speedway Motosports, Inc., tracks in Charlotte, N.C., Texas and Las Vegas. Foust and Deegan are tied for the lead in that chase with Hubinette only four points behind them.
"We may be leading the GRC championship right now in the Rockstar Fiesta, but I have yet to win an event in the U.S.," Foust said. "I've won in Europe a few times this year in the ERC [European Rallycross Championship], but that championship is decided, this is my weekend to push hard and focus on a clean race in Vegas."
If Foust was to look in his rear view mirror, whom did he fear the most as a championship threat?
"While the Fords in the GRC have proven their dominance over the years we are at a critical point in the 2012 championship," he said. "Travis and Samuel have proven that their rides can get the job done, however, I still think the greatest podium threats will come from the Ford camp. Andreas Eriksson knows the cars better than anyone and Brian Deegan is consistently fast. It should be a good battle!"
Foust's biggest threat right now has to be Hubinette, who has shown that his Eneos Saab is incredibly fast when the Scott-Eklund team can keep it in the race. He also reflected on his chances to come out on top:
"It's always hard to predict what is going to happen in the next race, but if I am looking back to how we have done in the past, in the events when the Eneos rally car is running well and we have no technical problems that's when I have been challenging for the top three spots," Hubinette said. "If Tanner and Deegan are also doing well then of course it is going to be a really tight battle towards the end.
"We all know anything can happen in racing and especially rallycross, it's six laps and everybody goes all-out. We have seen cars breaking down and guys hitting each other, but it also comes down to who takes the joker lap [or shortcut] at the right place. It's a little gamble in there too, you might take a chance and take it early or late and that might go against you. So many variables. I'm confident that I can drive a car up to the top position, but it all depends on what the other guys will do."
GRC's best and wildest drivers will all be throwing the dice in Sin City this weekend. If you can't make it out to the track, you can catch all the action live at 11:30 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN3 or on tape delay at 6 p.m. ET Sunday on ESPN2.