Volkswagen Magazine

Sport

Fear and rallying in las vegas.

Rallycross is booming, not least because the spectators on the circuit are getting very close to the drivers, their daredevil manoeuvres and driving duels. A report from the season finale of the US racing series Global Rallycross Championship.

Text Tom Kummer
Photos Wolfgang Zac

Vrrr...booom!

When Scott Speed started up the most powerful racing Beetle of all time, I was briefly transported back to the biggest non-nuclear explosion in the history of Nevada. Back then, in autumn of 1993, the “God of the tourist industry” Steve Wynn put on his victorious smile and pressed the detonation button: vrrr...booom! On the Las Vegas Strip, the former flagship – the Dunes Hotel – disintegrated into desert dust. The gigantic explosion cloud was visible as far as the Californian border.
Now a new era is blasting off in Sin City in the field of motorsports: Global Rallycross (GRC). Insanity on wheels. A calculated battle cry. A rejection of sense and normality.

It is a hot autumn afternoon. Powerful engine noises and magical dust clouds have been holding up the traffic in the centre of Las Vegas for hours. Now the gears of four GRC vehicles are booming through the pit lane: Beetle, Ford Fiesta ST, Subaru WRX STI and a Hyundai Veloster Turbo are slowly gliding towards the finish line of what is perhaps the craziest Rallycross contest of all time – on a monstrous car park in the vicinity of the legendary casino temple in which Frank Sinatra and Elvis once invented the age of “cool” and today DJs such as Deadmau5, Skrillex or David Guetta blast their beats.


But at the moment, a completely different sound predominates: vrrr...booom! Never before has a racing Beetle let out such a merciless howl while warming up. An excited girl named Twiggy is covered in tattoos and standing close to the epicentre, right next to racing legend Michael Andretti, head of the “Volkswagen Andretti” team that is competing in the GRC with two Beetles. Twiggy shoots a selfie with Andretti, screams with delight and swiftly pulls up her Rockstar T-shirt and flashes at all the Volkswagen mechanics. Her golden bra glitters in the midday sun.

»The sound of the Beetle engines feels like subsonic basses in the fans’ bellies. «

The German mechanics are unmoved, whilst Technical Manager Eduard Weidl absent-mindedly starts pedalling towards the start zone on his bike. Weidl wears an indefinable facial expression, as if his consciousness were constantly connected to a secret Volkswagen laboratory. Perhaps he is obsessively thinking about what could go wrong with the racing Beetle. Ultimately, the Volkswagen drivers Tanner Foust and Scott Speed were able to win four out of 10 races for their team in the first GRC season. Their GRC Beetle is regarded as a public favourite and girls like Twiggy go crazy about it at the pit stops.

The calm before the storm: a Rallycross mechanic taking a deep breath.

Just 30 seconds to the start, directly beneath the world’s biggest Ferris wheel, “The High Roller”. The fans scream as Volkswagen driver Foust takes the lead after the start of the race. The sound of the Beetle engines feels like subsonic basses that are pumped into the fans’ bellies by a brutally efficient racing technology. It is the most uncompromising type of third-generation Beetle. It was developed by Volkswagen Motorsport for Volkswagen of America as a Rallycross car and has an inline-four engine of 544 hp (400 kW), a sequential six-gear racing transmission, lamellar locking differentials on the front and rear axles, as well as McPherson struts and ZF shock absorbers. From zero to 100 km/h in just 2.2 seconds, the Beetle can reach a maximum of 200 km/h. But it is not just its inner values that are spectacular. Its exterior with extended wings, large tail plane, lowered suspension and front section give it an extremely sporty look. Vrrr...booom! Exploding Vegas.

The Rally Beetle.

 

The US racing series Global Rallycross Championship was established in 2009. Modified series cars simultaneously drive on circuits over 10 rounds, the fastest in the test starts on the inside track. The 2014 season was made up of 10 races, from New York to Barbados.
Volkswagen first took part in 2014 – initially with the Polo RX, from the eighth race with the GRC Beetle – and soon reached second place in the manufacturer ranking. Team drivers Scott Speed and Tanner Foust came in third and ninth overall.

 

Insanity on wheels: Volkswagen driver Scott Speed next to his 544 hp green GRC Beetle; in the background Harrah’s Hotel.

A beautiful dust cloud is migrating in the direction of Caesars Palace. In Heat 2 and Heat 3, Scott Speed and Tanner Foust are the winners. Speed wins with a battle cry that flew in the face of caution.


Fans are screaming at the finish line, waving with their iPhones and posting selfies from the Volkswagen pit stops. The mechanics are once again lying under the smoking Beetles. Computer experts are studying statistics. The team’s operations now look even more mysterious. The fans are staring fascinated at the obsessive activity of the German technicians in their overalls as if they were creating a piece of art with the cars. Passionate mechanics create race driving legends, perform feats of brilliance and are capable of redefining the future: fear and rallying in Las Vegas.

 

Global Rallycross is a breath of fresh air for motorsports. The future belongs to the small, flexible car – and race tracks that can be set up within 48 hours in any town in the world. Tracks with 30-metre-wide jumps, bodacious bends, roaring engines, beautiful dust clouds. Documented with GoPro cameras with shots that only directing geniuses such as Stanley Kubrick used to be capable of and that today make up a brand-new kind of reporting. They are following the tap dance of Scott Speed on the pedals as closely as they are Tanner Foust’s ballet on the clutch, brakes and gas. One shoe controls the brakes and tickles the gas pedal with its right side – madness incarnate that instantly ends up on the social networks where a large amount of the attention is focused on the racing show.
Particularly in the USA, the GRC Beetle evokes brand-new emotions for the Herbie successor: a cool, cheeky, unleashed compact car. GRC is still at in its early days. But whoever follows the response on Twitter and Instagram can get an inkling of the potential of this kind of race and what truly inspires the mass of young fans: the razor-sharp driving style, duels, the cars losing their grip on the road.

 

A bit like Carnival: The GRC racing series attracts all kinds of jokers, particularly in Las Vegas.

The GRC reality show also offers total democracy. It’s accessible to everyone! Nobody stops the fans from looking round the pit stops of the various teams. Nobody forbids them from watching the mechanics adjusting the race cars. Even the normally so reserved Nelson Piquet Jr. is patiently posing for selfies with fans. This gives us a look inside a brand-new generation of race car drivers.

 

At dusk, opposite Volkswagen, on the other site of the pit lane, the Ford Hoonigan team is celebrating their results with driver Ken Block – Block has just won the season finale and came in second overall, right behind the Finn Joni Wiman. Block’s children are playing in the mechanics zone with remote control toy UFOs. The mechanics’ wives are young and tattooed. The mechanics themselves look as if they played on the street corners as kids, dreamt of their own Mad Max road movie and turned metal scraps into hot rods. A strange smell of dog food and vegetarian fast food, of oil, dust and burnt tires is blowing in the wind.

On our side of the pit lane, the future looks more elegant. Controlled madness is more the order of the day. Only a precise look at the future, combined with systematic looks beyond the horizon, promises highly explosive coolness on wheels – and progress for everyone. Now Scott Speed and Tanner Foust are sitting on camping chairs on the roof of the big materials car and looking across the race track. The sun sets behind the Bellagio hotel. From the Ford pit lane echoes the sound of a mad pit bull. Speed and Foust are relaxing. At some point, Scott Speed stretches out his arm and points at a cloud of desert dust at the northern end of town. The cloud is slowly and majestically rising towards the sky. Night is falling over Las Vegas.