This past weekend was the inaugural round of the 2017 Red Bull Global Rallycross. Memphis International Raceway was the location chosen for this debut race. Holding the race at a Nascar oval is nothing new to the series – when Global Rallycross began, the series followed the Nascar circuit in the hopes of attracting new people from that fan base. The steep banked corners of the oval are another great added feature for the already technical GRC track layouts.
The racing festivities began Thursday evening on historic Beale Street in Downtown Memphis. This was a time for fans to come out and meet their favorite rallycross drivers and a few new ones who are up and coming in the sport. With an NBA game starting immediately after right down the street, this was a great opportunity to attract a few new fans and increase the size of the crowd at the racetrack over the following days.
The following day was the first time the teams were able to see the track layout that the Global Rallycross staff had put together for the race. It began on the front straight of the Nascar track which lead into turns one and two of the Nascar oval that carried the drivers onto the back straight before a sharp, ninety degree left-hand turn onto the infield. There was one more sharp left-hand turn on tarmac before the drivers hit the dirt and the seventy foot jump. The dirt is where the DirtFish drivers really shine, thanks to all of the gravel experience they have obtained at DirtFish. Following the jump, there is a short straightaway and a loose 90 degree right hand turn that lead into the final small section of dirt. Then it was back onto the pavement for another long straight that paralleled the front straight of the oval. The final section of the track was the most technical portion. It had sharp left and right turns as well as the Joker Lap before turning back onto the oval and heading back onto the front straight across the start finish line to do it all over again.
After training hard in the offseason, Conner and James had been itching to get in their race cars all week long and begin the 2017 season. To get them started, practice was the first thing on the agenda. This is meant to give the drivers an opportunity to get comfortable with the track, choose their lines around every corner, and work with the technicians to dial in their car’s setup. However, all of that could be completely thrown out the window when nine other cars are put onto the track beside them in the final!
Practice went well and both drivers were comfortable with the track. Unfortunately, James’ car shut off in the final round of practice. It was towed back to the DirtFish Motorsports Team paddock, where the technicians worked incredibly hard to diagnose the issue before Qualifying began. To the whole team’s disappointment, it became a bigger problem than anyone expected. The team worked tirelessly into the night before discovering a bad starter was sending the wrong information to the ECU, not allowing the car to start. Once the starter was replaced, the car ran like a dream and there were no more issues throughout the weekend.
Conner was able to qualify 5th, which put him into P1 at the start of his first heat race later that afternoon. This was the first time he would go head-to-head with the other drivers. Since Conner had a P1 starting position, he was in a great position to take the inside of the first turn on the oval and pull ahead of the rest of the field. He set the pace for the entire six-lap heat race and gave himself a wide open track to hit his lines through each turn and walk away with the win and fast lap times.
That was a great way for the team and drivers to end their day, giving them all a confidence boost heading into the following day when everything truly counts.
Saturday was intermittently sunny and in the 80’s all day long, allowing more fans to come out to meet their favorite drivers and soak in the sun while watching the adrenaline packed action on the track. After a quick warm-up for the cars and drivers, it was straight into the final heat race of the weekend. Both Conner and James drove extremely well and finished second in their respective heat race, which placed them both in good starting positions for the semifinals. James was in the first semifinal of the afternoon. He had a close battle with competitor, Burt Jenner, trading positions throughout the race and ultimately outdriving Jenner to take the 4th position and avoiding the Last Chance Qualifier. Conner was able to repeat his performance from the prior night and walk away with a win in the semifinal, giving him a P2 starting position for the final.
Since both drivers were in the final and didn’t need to worry about the LCQ, they were able to take some time to relax and watch some of the excitement of the supercar racing and even watch Subaru’s Chris Atkinson take a much anticipated heat win!
For those of you who don’t know, the finals consist of ten cars and ten laps. This is usually where the hits are hard and the overtakes are more difficult. With Conner starting in P2, he didn’t have the best starting position to jump into the lead right off of the line. Alex Keyes immediately dove right into the first position through the long banked Nascar corner with Conner right on his tail and Cyril Raymond following him. Not only did he have to push hard to get past Keyes, he had to pay close attention to where Raymond was to ensure he wasn’t able to sneak past him. On the seventh lap, Keyes was struck with a flat tire. This gave Conner the opportunity to move to the front of the pack with Raymond still right on his rear bumper. Luckily, once Conner had a wide open track in front of him, he was able to focus on hitting his lines through each corner and began to pull away from Raymond and the rest of the field. He finally crossed the finish line for his first win of the 2017 Red Bull GRC Lites season, over a second ahead of Raymond! James Rimmer was also able to run a clean race and slot into his highest ever Red Bull GRC finish in fifth place. Both finishes are fantastic results for the entire DirtFish team and hopefully just the beginning of what is to come for the rest of the season.
The next Red Bull Global Rallycross race is slated to take place in the home of the Kentucky Derby – Louisville, Kentucky in three weeks time. Follow DirtFish and our drivers, Conner Martell and James Rimmer on social media and watch live feeds, awesome videos and more!