As if a race weekend couldn’t become anymore exciting and action-packed than the rounds in New England, Ottawa absolutely topped that!
Rounds five and six were held at the unbelievable Canada Aviation and Space Museum, located just on the outskirt of the capital city, Ottawa. Surrounded by high-horsepower and heavy-lifting airplanes, the track for the weekend was built on the decommissioned runways of Ottawa/Rockliffe Airport. This track was fast… It featured long straightaways, flatout corners and a huge dirt jump placed right in front of the grandstands; grandstands that were absolutely packed throughout the weekend!
Ottawa was by far one of the best turnouts DirtFish Motorsports has ever seen at a Global Rallycross event over the last three seasons. The only events in 2016 that are comparable were Seattle and Los Angeles with close attendance numbers. The excitement and energy of the fans was uplifting and made the event so much fun for everyone involved. The atmosphere was reminiscent of the 2014 race at the DirtFish headquarters in Snoqualmie, Washington.
Friday began as any other race weekend with driver meetings and track walks, followed by media rides and the first set of practice. Following the practice sessions, the driver’s’ initial reactions about the track were very positive. They felt that the GRC staff had set up a fun, fast course with great passing opportunities and a tricky dirt section.
Since this was a double header, both Saturday and Sunday were packed full of racing with very little downtime for the teams and fans. Compared to previous races, there was always action happening on the track! First on the docket for Saturday was Qualifying. Between the ten GRC Lites drivers, it was the closest qualifying session all season – split by less than one and a half seconds from first to tenth, everyone was fast on this track. The two DirtFish drivers, Conner Martell and James Rimmer, qualified in fourth and seventh, placing them in separate heat one races where they finished third and fourth. The following heat and semifinal races were mostly anticlimactic with both drivers finishing near the back of the pack in both sets.
The final on Saturday is where all the action really happened! James started off with some of the best racing we have seen from him in GRC yet. From the beginning of the race, he moved right up to the third position and fought hard to maintain it throughout the majority of the race, nearly making a pass around Core Autosport driver, Colin Braun to move up to second. Conner was breathing down his neck the entire race, doing his best to find an opportunity to pass his teammate. On the final lap, James wasn’t able to scrub enough speed following the jump, leaving the door open for Conner to pass him on the inside. Following the pass, James was doing his best to regain his podium position. As both DirtFish drivers raced flatout through the fastest corner on the course, each driver took a different line through, and as Conner moved from the outside to the apex of the corner, James tapped his rear bumper. At 84 miles per hour, James lost control of his car and crashed straight into the stack of tires on the inside of the corner, sending the car onto its side and into a spin, finally landing on all four wheels. This gave Conner his third podium finish of the year.
Luckily, James was uninjured and mostly shaken up by the situation. Once the car was unloaded from the tow truck, the crew began assessing the damage. At first glance, the damage looked to be mostly cosmetic. Unfortunately, after taking measurements, they discovered that the front right of the frame was bent eight millimeters from where it needed to be. This is when the work really began.
To give you an idea of the extensive work that his crew had ahead of them, the front part of the frame is an intricate tube frame structure that is bolted at the top of the firewall and welded in four locations at the bottom of the frame. This required them to spend all night carefully removing all of the front suspension and drivetrain, then cut the structure off and grind it back down to a smooth, clean surface for the new front end to be welded to. Using lasers and precise measuring tools, the technicians placed the new piece in the correct position and began welding and bolting everything back together. This tedious, time consuming task lasted until two in the morning when they were able to put the finishing touches on the car and go back to the hotel for roughly four hours of sleep before another full day of racing that morning.
Sunday was a new day and everyone on the team was anxious to continue the momentum they had created the previous day. If you hadn’t been at the race on Saturday, you wouldn’t have known that a wreck had even happened. Both James and Conner were driving well throughout the day, with Conner winning a heat race and James taking a second place in another. Unfortunately, Conner made a habit of hitting the tire stacks around the course throughout the weekend and in Sunday’s semifinal that ended his race on lap five.
Heading into the final race on Sunday, James was starting in front of Conner on the grid and both drivers weren’t looking for a repeat of Saturday’s performance. For Red Bull GRC finals, this one was fairly tame – there was tough racing and clean passes throughout the race. The two DirtFish cars came across the line one after the other, but not in the order we are used to seeing. James crossed the line in fourth place and Conner in fifth!
While the results weren’t as high as the team had hoped and James had a spectacular wreck, everyone from DirtFish Motorsports felt this was one of the best events we have attended in the 2017 season. From the improved driving of one driver, to the podium finish of the other and the teamwork that shined through and the energy of the fans, the weekend was successful in very different ways than we are used to. The team and both drivers came away from the weekend with confidence and high expectations for the next round of GRC in Indianapolis on July 9th!