Back in March of 2018, it was announced that Global Rallycross would be shutting down its operations. This basically left all rallycross fans in the United States stranded when it comes to top level rallycross competition. While World Rallycross is still out there, they’re predominantly in and around European countries with a stop in Montreal during GP3R. Lucky for us though, a new championship, the Americas Rallycross Championship (ARX) was announced following the news of GRC.
Their first race (in America) was held at Circuit of the Americas and I knew I just had to go. The track has been in the planning for quite awhile and was made specifically for the World Rallycross Championship’s (WRX) first ever United States round that took place September 2018.
ARX’s first round at COTA basically gave everyone an early access look into what the new track and racing would be like. Being a rallycross nerd, I had to go check it out. I also brought my camera gear along to document it.
Being that it was in July, aka the middle of summer, it was a ripe 97 degrees (36C) with what felt like 90% humidity. Honestly, I was expecting worse so it wasn’t the end of the world but I knew I’d need at least a small waterfall worth of water in me to be able to shoot the race the entire day.
It was a single day event, which made things slightly harder since I’m so used to race weekends being two to four days long.
The one main disadvantage is the limited amount of time I had on track to shoot. So planning my route for the day was difficult as everything happened so fast. I did my best to do most of the planning the night before but there was only so much I could do without a proper photo map and just Google Maps at my disposal. But I digress.
The morning of the race started with a driver’s autograph signing during the local Cars and Coffee. Side note: the Austin Cars and Coffee is without a doubt the biggest one I’ve been to. 100%, would recommend.
This quickly lead straight into the morning practice session.
With two classes, the Supercar class (ARX) and the lower spec class (ARX2), I knew this race day was going to fly by really fast.
I started off the day by simply walking around the pits.
There were plenty of familiar faces as pretty much all the manufacturers and teams from GRC moved over to ARX this year aside from Honda.
There wasn’t much time in the paddock because practice was coming up and all the teams were making their final adjustments before practice started.
They definitely wanted to maximize practice time because there were only three sessions per class and each session was limited to four laps. So at best, a team who made it out to every session had 12 laps.
I tried my best to move around as much as possible to try and shoot at a different location every time there was a small break during practice groups.
When practice got going, I started at the jump but ran around to three other locations to maximize my limited shooting time.
Before I knew it, all of practice for both classes was over in less than two hours.
ARX runs the same race format as WRX, so I wasn’t too familiar with it, since I spent the last three years covering GRC, which ran their races very differently.
ARX practice sessions are significantly shorter than GRC’s and instead of running qualifying, there is a random draw for the first of four heat races, which are called Qualifiers. The drivers not only have to fight for position, but also final race times.
Every Qualifying race's times will, in return, set up drivers for their grid position for the next Qualifier.
This makes for some pretty exciting races very early on during the day.
There was an hour break before Q1 so I took this opportunity to stand in front of a fan for forty minutes while chugging down roughly five bottles of water and two energy drinks. Time well spent if you ask me.
The pre-grid area is always a favorite of mine. Drivers use this opportunity to briefly chat with their competitors before they grid up and bump/rub each other for 5 minutes during their race.
It’s a nice “calm before the storm” moment where the pre-adrenaline boosted drivers are doing their best to stay calm for when the chaos inevitably ensues during the race. Everyone approaches it differently. Some will chat with others while some will hide in their cars, avoiding conversations with others.
Q1 was a go and the Volkswagen duo of Scott Speed and Tanner Foust made their intentions clear with their 1-2 results. Steve Arpin was right behind the two and finished Q1 third overall.
Block was able to win his Q1 race and was sitting 5th fastest, eventually moving up to third fastest in Q2.
It was beginning to look a lot like the VW guys would take a 1-2 finish after their Q2 but I knew Block and Arpin would be giving those guys a run since they were also on pace to finish really well.
For the next spot, I decided to head up to the tower by the track’s amphitheater where Taylor Swift totally rocked the stage two years ago during F1 weekend.
I got to the top just in time to watch Arpin head out again. He was having some suspension issues which really held him back all day. When it worked, I saw small glimpses of the car shining.
Unfortunately, the day wasn’t his as his Q3 saw him get passed by Travis Pastrana and Chris Atkinson, as the two were starting their hunt for the VW’s as they got more comfortable with their Subarus.
By now, most of the drivers had a pretty good understanding of the track. The dirt had hardened quite a bit so it definitely didn’t look as exciting as it did during practice and Q1.
Q4 turned out to be a pretty exciting race. Starting at Turn 1, Ken and Scott spent the entire race trading places left and right. A few people I talked to didn’t think there would be much room for passing on the track prior to the racing but the two drivers managed to mix things up and battle it out throughout the 4-lap qualifier. The grandstands were erupting from the exciting door-to-door anarchy happening on track.
With just the semi-finals and finals left, the drivers took one last look at the track.
Do you guys remember the neighbor from the show Home Improvement?
The sun was now getting low enough to the point where it wasn’t unbearably hot. It was now only really hot.
I just kept telling myself that Florida is worse but that didn’t help much as I was still sweating profusely. I spent this time finding small pockets of shade as the sun was now casting larger shadows around the track.
The ARX2 final was a go and the lowered sun was giving a nice glow to the dirt the drivers were picking up from the now harder clay/dirt mix.
Before I knew it, the 6-lap final was done and they were now onto the ARX final with the Supercar class.
At the end of the ARX2 final, I knew there would only be about 30 minutes of holy light left.
Luckily, the event organizers got the ball rolling with the ARX Final and the cars were off with roughly 15 minutes of light left.
This made the final corner, Turn 8, glow more than it did for the ARX2 class.
I had planned to be at the finish line for the final race but didn’t think about the dirt affecting the shot so I was pretty excited as the cars were flying by and kicking up the small amount of dirt.
I can only imagine what it would’ve looked like if it hadn’t hardened.
The Joker Lap was affecting the the overall finishing times for some of the drivers. Tanner made a bad call by taking the Joker Lap first as he was immediately stuck behind traffic, slowing him down, which almost locked him into third by the time all the drivers made it past the first corner. Ken avoided taking the Joker first and basically glued himself to Scott. The two ran 1-2 throughout the entire race. Travis was able to get some clean air in the middle of the race and took a later Joker, allowing him to move from last on grid to fourth overall, jumping more positions than any other driver during the Final.
I’m excited to see what the future of Americas Rallycross Championship will be like if this is just the start. With more rounds this upcoming season, things look promising.