Gronholm Jumps Out to Early Lead, Holds Off Field for 2012 Global Rallycross Season Opening Win
Marcus Gronholm bested a world-class field of Global Rallycross drivers, including Travis Pastrana, Tanner Foust and Ken Block, to win the 2012 GRC season opener at Charlotte Motor Speedway Saturday.
Gronholm took the lead on the first turn of the first lap and won handily in the 10-lap feature.
Gronholm used his race strategy and took the joker lap on the start to open a lead that he would never relinquish. Tanner Foust came home second with Stephan Verdier taking third. Rounding out the top five were Andy Scott and Samuel Hubinette.
On the second lap, two of the race favorites, Foust and Travis Pastrana took the short cut and it wasn’t a lap before Pastrana found himself in the wall and done for the night, finishing ninth.
Competition was tight on the narrow course as there were several spins and shoving incidents. On lap four Foust and Toomas Heikkinen tangled with Foust coming out with the position. Hubinette spun on the last lap while runnig third and ended up in fifth. Several cars lit up the brakes as the competition was as hot as the evening.
The win was the first for Gronholm and his new Ford Fiesta team as he has not run during the past four seasons.
Here’s a recap of the rest of the night’s Global Rallycross racing action:
Round 1 – In the 1A heat, both the top qualifier, Marcus Gronholm, and the second-seeded Ken Block both took the joker shortcut on the first lap, taking control of the race. On the second lap, Richard Burton stopped mid-track and did not complete another lap.
Another lap into the six-lap event, Block went through the water feature and hydroplaned, sending him straight into the barrier and crumpling the front end of his car. As he returned to the pits, he was confident his team could fix his car for the remainder of the evening.
“Basically they’re putting water down on the track to make it difficult on us, and I’d gone through for three or four laps and it was consistent,” Block said. “Then all of a sudden that time it seemed like there was more water on there, and the car just hydroplaned right into the wall.”
With only two cars remaining on track, officials called the heat race: Grunholm won, Dave Mirra was second, Block was third and Burton fourth.
In heat 1B, Patrick Moro never fired and slowly worked his way off course. Meanwhile, Tanner Foust and Stephan Verdier also took the first-lap joker. But Sverre Isachsen takes his joker on the second lap and shoots out in front of Verdier, to the delight of the crowd. After six laps, that is how they finish: Foust, Isachsen, Verdier, Moro.
The 1C heat featured the same joker strategy, with first- and second-seeded Brian Deegan and Travis Pastrana taking the shortcut on the first lap. The two cars were locked in a dogfight until they passed under the water feature on pit road, when Pastrana though Deegan had made a mistake he could take advantage of.
“I thought he overshot the corner and then he came straight back across,” Pastrana said. “We didn’t hit him too hard, but we sheared a bolt off.”
Pastrana couldn’t restart, much to the disappointment of the NASCAR fans he had already won over with his Nationwide appearance earlier in the day. He finished in fourth for his heat, which was won by Deegan. David Binks and Tim Rooney finished second and third.
Five cars started heat 1D, with the top-seeded Toomas Heikkinen and second-seeded Samuel Hubinette again taking the joker on the first circuit to lead the lap. Rhys Millen took the joker on the second lap to pull into third. Bucky Lasey spun alone coming out of the hairpin turn, then took the joker to make up time. Finally the fifth competitor, Andy Scott, took the cheater lap on the fourth trip around, passing 81 for fourth. And that is how they finished: Heikkinen, Hubinette, Millen, Lasek and Scott.
The second round of heats featured the same groupings of drivers, and the only thing that changed was that the drivers picked their lanes based on finishing order in the first round of heats.
Round 2 – In heat 2A, Block’s car was not fixed in time to compete, so only three cars took to the track. Burton stalled at the start and never got going, leaving Gronholm and Mirra to battle it out again. By virtue of being the last two standing, both automatically transferred to the main event.
Heat 2B got off to a slow start for Isachsen, who seemed to have trouble slipping into gear. Foust and Verdier both took the joker, as did a still-slow Isachsen, to set the pace. Isachsen slipped off course after never getting up to speed, while Moro took the joker on the second lap. It wasn’t enough to put him in front of the leaders, and Foust and Verdier easily transferred.
Crowd favorite Pastrana brought the crowd to its feet in Heat 2C by making the most competitive on-track pass of the evening, slipping underneath Binks in the same place he’d spun in the previous heat. Deegan was in front, having taken the joker on his first lap, but something broke on the frontstretch, and he drove slowly off the track. Binks took the lead, but Pastrana took the joker on the next lap and slid out of the turn just in front of Binks for the lead. While the crowd cheered wildly, Pastrana continued to lead the final laps, as he and Binks transferred to the main.
Reversing their roles during the 1D heat, Hubinette and Heikkinen finished one-two in the 2D heat to advance directly to the finals. Hubinette advanced with a comfortable nearly two-second lead over the second place Heikkinen, who battled closely with Scott for the final automatic bid to the championship round. Scott and Millen headed to the Last Chance Qualifier round, while Lasek became the first casualty of the even. By virture of finishing fifth, he was eliminated from competition for the evening.
Last Chance qualifier – Andy Scott and Rhys Millen took the top two transfer positions in to the A-main feature after seven cars started the six-lap race. Millen and Tim Rooney took the top two spots on the opening lap as they elected to take the joker lap on the opening pass. On lap two, the car of Sverre Isachsen took over the lead by taking the short cut, but it was short lived as Andy Scott soon took over and Millen followed to the checked flag.