Hey, the race is about to start. Wow, look at those fast cars go. Wow, that was a fun race. So cool.
Yep, it’s a lot like that. It’s really a lot of fun, but coming from the world of endurance racing, it was a ton of action packed into just a few minutes of actual head-to-head battling. It’s a very wild experience that feels like a combination of extreme sports and a Saturday night 3/8ths mile dirt oval. It’s unlike any other form of motorsport I’ve ever seen. It was awesome, and while it was over quickly, a day at the races beats a day at the office any time.
In the interest of full disclosure, Volkswagen flew me to Indianapolis, put me up in a nice room, fed me nice food, and brought me to Andretti Autosport the following day for a tour with the GRC drivers (Tanner Foust & Scott Speed) and Michael Andretti himself. Click the jump to see my weekend chronicled in photographs.
I arrived slightly late to the party as flights from Reno to Indianapolis are difficult to find and I didn’t get into town until mid afternoon, about 4 hours before the GRC Supercars Finale. I decided to spend my first hour or so scouting around the paddock to see what could be seen. There were some heat races going on while I was in the pits, so there was a lot of action going on.
First I did a little spy shooting. Did you know the GRC Hondas were longitudinally oriented?
There is a communal wash area in the paddock that everyone uses. I found that interesting, as they were washing up their cars between heats to keep the sponsor decals clean for the start of each race.
Unlike Honda, when the Volkswagens pull into their pit boxes, the team throws a moving blanket over their engines to keep them from being photographed. I can assure you that they are not longitudinal, however. I got to look at them up close and didn’t see much different from any other engine. Volkswagen apparently supplies these engines to Andretti as a slightly modified version of their WRC engine (two liters instead of 1.6), and Andretti is not allowed to do anything with them aside from install and uninstall. They can’t even fire them up to run on a dyno.
Foust won this heat after falling back to second behind the Ford of Steve Arpin at the start. He was right on Arpin’s bumper for a number of laps, and got quite a lot of mud slung up at the front of his car.
Within seconds of the car rolling in, it was up on the high jacks and swarmed by mechanics looking over every mechanical bit of the suspension to make sure nothing was in need of replacement or repair. In short order the front of the car was off, and the air filter changed.
Once the damage was assessed, they made changes and cleaned the car back to spotless. The Andretti team admitted that they usually have a decent idea of what their setup should be before they get to a track, but being that the event organizers changed the layout of the track the day prior to the race weekend, they were constantly chasing a decent setup for their cars.
Scott Speed’s heat was up next, and he managed to win that one running away. You can tell he was out front the whole time as the front of his car is practically spotless.
His car was also difficult to get set up, but as it turns out they did alright. Scott managed to win each of his heats leading up to the final.
This spec BF Goodrich tire seems like a very interesting piece of kit. Somehow they manage to balance grip on paved surfaces with grip on dirt. These tires grip so well that the GRC cars are capable of sprinting from a standstill to 60 in just 2.1 seconds.
The Hondas and Subarus have a longer wheelbase than any of the other cars, and as a result their driving style is quite different. This picture just helps illustrate that point. The larger cars were driving with a very loose rear end, running tail out through all of the corners, including the paved oval track banking. They were burning up their tires, throwing up huge clouds of dust. This particular corner is paved underneath the dirt that was laid down, and you can see the pavement coming through. The shorter wheelbase Fiesta behind the Honda was driving this corner much more like a grip race, as were the Volkswagens.
Here’s another corner that used to be dirt but has been wiped away down to the paved surface. Those grippy BFGs look even smarter now.
I posted up in the stands just in front of the jump, so I had some pretty good views of the big air these cars were capable of.
It’s pretty cool to watch a team win when you’re entrenched with the members of that team. Scott Speed led every lap of the feature race and Tanner followed him home to give VW a 1-2 victory.
Apparently Scott doesn’t normally do donuts, but this one was pretty epic. With huge power and 4-wheel drive, the car practically spun on its own axis. There’s a story that one of the VW guys told me regarding this. Apparently some of the competition thought VW had engineered some kind of illegal traction control system, and that’s why Scott wouldn’t do donuts. When he found out about this scuttlebutt, Speed immediately won the next race and proceeded to do a massive burnout. Take that!
This was a pretty cool display, and having interviewed Scott in the past, I enjoyed seeing him win. He’s a genuinely nice guy that deserves his success.
Prior to the awards ceremony, Steve Arpin just walked into the crowd and started talking to the kids there cheering for him. He’s a good sport, and a great model for sponsor-driven advertising.
Speaking of kids, this whole event was very kid friendly.
Here is just a small selection of GRC trophies that Andretti have won. They’re good at it. Now that some of the bigger names and their factory-supported dollars have left the series, Tanner and Scott are the only big names in the field. It’s a little disconcerting to see that, and the series definitely took a hit when Travis Pastrana and Ken Block left. There are some rumors of new manufacturers getting involved next year. The fact that GRC is starting an all-electric sub-series is likely helping that along. VW has expressed interest of their own in the eGRC.
Visiting Andretti was really cool. Unfortunately they wouldn’t let us take many photos because the shop floor is packed with cars in various states of disassembly. This was the Monday following IndyCar’s Iowa race, and the cars had already been trucked back from the prior afternoon’s race, and stripped down to an engine and tub. The cars had to be re-geared and prepped for the Toronto street course the following weekend.
Tanner is a great guy, and genuinely enthusiastic about what he does. Before everyone showed up to the meeting he was one of the first people in the conference room ready to talk about cars. We had a few moments to discuss our mutual love of Porsche’s 1976 912E. His father purchased one brand new, and I’ve had mine for a year now. Our cars are both Talbot Yellow, but his is a sunroof car with a black standard interior, while mine has sports seats in a red interior with no sunroof. That bit was fun.
Scott, also a good dude, was more than happy to talk about the future. He’s driven basically everything with wheels, and GRC is his favorite thus far. These cars accelerate even faster than his Formula 1 cars did. These guys are looking forward to the even faster potential of eGRC, and we’re right there with them.
What a wild weekend. Thanks VW.
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