The inaugural American Rallycross (ARX) series swung into Austin for its season finale. It was at the Circuit of the Americas where the stage was set for roaring, sliding, soaring action.
Rallycross, in its various forms, has been an intriguing series for a while now. Having grown up in the glory years of Group B, I’ve always loved the pure car control, occasional seemingly lack of control, and drivers pushing it to the limit with grip at a premium.
This modern ARX racing series is no different.
Remember when the Mickey Thompson Stadium Truck series was a big thing? Racing out in the desert couldn’t draw a big crowd so a football stadium with 30,000 – 60,000 people was a spectacle. Rally racing in the woods often has the same “problem” as desert racing. Very cool vehicles paired with amazing drivers, but a lack of an on-track audience and little television exposure limits sponsorship and potential fan interaction.
While the ARX events don’t take place in a football stadium, these are rally cars in a confined venue where people can see most if not all of the track. Couple that with short races four-lap qualifying heats, six lap races) and it makes for easy viewing in our current ADD environment. Personally, I’d prefer races and qualifying to be a couple laps longer, but that’s because the action is awesome.
A lap of a track is 35-50 seconds depending on that tracks layout, COTA was about a 35-40 second lap. Qualifying heats are interesting in that it’s all about the total time you register in your heat. That is how you’re placed into the grid for the race heats. Just because you won your heat race, doesn’t mean you won’t start in fourth or fifth position based on the other qualifying heats.
One of the signature features of Rallycross racing is the “Joker” or “Joker lap”. This is an extended part of the track that everyone must complete at some point in the race. It can add two to four seconds to your overall lap time and deciding when to take it is a strategy all on its own.
If you are jammed up in traffic and being held up, take the Joker. If you start on the outside at the beginning of the race you may take the Joker right away to avoid getting caught up in traffic and give yourself clear air. If you are in the lead, you may wait until the last lap to make sure you’ve built enough of a gap. Thankfully for the driver, the team is keeping track of this and will radio to the driver telling them the optimal time to make a dash through the Joker section.
From a fan perspective, Rallycross has much to offer. The racing action is easy to see. In other forms of racing, you often have to be a sponsor or pay stupid amounts of money to get into the pit area. Even then the drivers and cars are typically locked away from view. Here, your ticket buys you a pit pass where you can get up close to the team, the cars, and the drivers. You could walk up to the team area, and see Patrick Sandell, Tanner Foust, Ken Block, Craig Atkinson, and others. And they’re all out there signing autographs.
There are two classes of cars in the ARX series. The junior class is called ARX2. These are spec cars with a specifically built chassis and a body that resembles a Fiesta. They are all-wheel drive and limited to around 300 horsepower. As you would surmise this is the building ground for up and coming racers. These cars are quite capable and look like a ton of fun to drive.
ARX is the headline class. These are OEM-based cars that are really purpose-built race cars. The frame and part of the shell must be OEM but the suspension is race spec, engines are billet blocks, and there is enough carbon fiber to build a Cirrus airplane. The engines are 2.0-liter units producing somewhere between 600 and 650 horsepower. With all-wheel drive, on dry pavement, they can do 0-60 mph in 1.9 – 2.2 seconds depending on gearing. As they like to say, that’s faster than an F1 car. Due to the gearing and the short track nature of the courses, top speed is 100-110 mph.
ARX or American Rallycross is a new series, picked up from the pieces of the previous Global Rallycross series. Now it’s backed and run by global sports marking powerhouse IMG. The 2018 series was only four rounds, but plans for 2019 were discussed at the track and it looks like the 2019 series will have six to eight rounds. IMG, along with the teams involved, want a sustainable growth strategy where ambition doesn’t exceed the series ability.
Stay tuned for the second part of this story where we dive a bit more deeply into the Subaru team, the cars, and the action from the weekend.
[Disclaimer: Subaru flew us to Austin to hang out with them at the race. They covered travel, food, and lodging.]