Americas Rallycross is North America’s next big shot at bringing delightful vehicular chaos in race form to the masses. The series’ first-ever North American round is this weekend at Austin’s Circuit of The Americas, and the course is going to be a blast.
See, even if you’re not a die-hard motorsports fan, rallycross is just good, dirty fun. Despite all the drama that’s dogged the sport behind the scenes in the U.S., it’s all but the perfect spectator sport. Fire-belching turbocharged machines with gigantic wings and huge fender flares hurtle across courses with both dirt and tarmac, getting sideways at every turn, kicking up big beautiful clouds of dust and occasionally catching air.
Every on-track session is short enough to satisfy all but the weakest attention spans and/or bladders. Even if you’re there in person, the dust cloud won’t get so big as to block the cars.
And I know ARX in Austin is going to be good because I rode in one of the 600-horsepower Subaru rallycross cars, and couldn’t quit laughing for most of the lap.
(Full Disclosure: Circuit of the Americas and Americas Rallycross wanted us to come check out the course that they tossed me into the passenger seat of a Subaru which sounded like NO FUN AT ALL. Just kidding! I need to jump a car again now.)
ARX stepped in to fill the hole left by Global Rallycross after GRC went under in a sea of lawsuits and controversies, and it’s off to a good start. It’s put on by the same company (IMG) that puts on the FIA World Rallycross Championship, and the teams I spoke with were impressed by how smoothly the series’ first race went, and were optimistic that this group is in it for the long haul to grow rallycross in North America.
Best of all, ARX’s utterly ridiculous inaugural race at Silverstone featured not only a driver who drove most of one race with his hood up to a second-place result, but another car that rolled over but kept going anyway after landing wheels-down. These are clearly my kind of lunatics.
That season opener was also a good watch as the cars—which are built up from production models—are pretty evenly matched. ARX cars use 2.0-liter turbocharged engines modified to produce around 600 brake horsepower each. Acceleration from 0 to 60 mph is a face-melting 1.9 seconds, faster than the Formula One cars COTA was originally built for.
COTA is where they’re heading this weekend. The roughly half-mile-long course there is relatively small, having been set up between turns 12 and 15 of COTA’s main F1 track. It’s a little tight in some sections accordingly, with a squiggly part in the middle that can’t fit the four-wide mayhem the series had at Silverstone.
But then you realize that “track limits” as defined by pavement-bound series aren’t really a thing here so long as you’re keeping the car between the barrels. The more open sections that utilize the full width of the F1 track (plus the grassy parts to the side of said track) will offer plenty of space to pass.
It was this strange difference between driving this section in a track car and riding along through the rallycross course there that broke my brain the most when I rode along with Subaru driver Patrik Sandell. Sandell and his teammate Chris Atkinson were using Travis Pastrana’s rallycross car to practice with, because Pastrana was off promoting his then-upcoming attempt to break some of Evel Knievel’s records. (Spoiler: he did it.)
I’m used to staying within the boundaries of the pavement, for one. The very first corner that Sandell took with me as a passenger was a shortcut around Turn 13 through the infield grass. My eyes grew as wide as saucers when I saw him turning early there, but then realized that it was fine after I saw that yes, that’s really where the course goes.
The full, paved length of Turn 13 is the “joker lap” for Saturday’s ARX debut, whereas the shortcut is what they’ll use for regular laps. Joker laps throw an extra element of strategy into rallycross’ short-but-sweet race format. The driver has to take the long way around one section of the course once per race during that lap. Get the timing wrong on your joker lap, and your competitors will simply pass you while you’re stuck taking the long route.
The lone jump on the course also wasn’t too huge, although it was enough to put a big, dopey grin on my face. ARX representatives noted that they’ve been building up the height of the jump every time they maintain the course. There should be enough door-banging mayhem to fulfill my need for chaos, regardless.
The ride along was a riot, just in case that wasn’t obvious. A big air duct for the car made it a little awkward as it blocked my view of the driver a little, but any ride where my perpetually shocked looking stuffed Rally Chicken and I make the same facial expression at times is a good one. By the time we got to the jump, I was pumping my fist in the air rooting for maximum air.
This car, named the VT18X, is all speed and violence in the best possible way. VT stands for Vermont SportsCar, the team that handles Subaru’s factory racing programs in the United States. They’ve heavily modified a 2018 WRX STi for rallycross domination to create the VT18X for Americas Rallycross and like events, including Nitro Circus’ just-announced Nitro World Games.
The VT18X looks very similar to Subaru’s Global Rallycross car from last year, as the production WRX STi it’s built from hasn’t changed much. However, the rallycross sedan’s aerodynamics have been revised for this year to create a wider, meaner car. (I’m still waiting for this whole rallycross-style aero package to be offered on a road car, though.)
Saturday’s ARX race isn’t just Subarus, though. Many familiar teams from in GRC moved over to this new series, including Volkswagen’s ultra-fast New Beetles, driven by Tanner Foust and Scott Speed. Hoonigan—one of the earlier teams to bail from GRC—is finally back in an American rallycross series in a partnership with longtime GRC competitor Loenbro Motorsports.
Together, they’re running a two-car Ford Focus RS RX effort with drivers Steve Arpin and Ken Block. There are also some new faces and cars we rarely see over here as well, like Timo Scheider in a Seat. You can see the full list of competitors in the series here.
If you’re anywhere near Austin this Saturday, you should go. The main events are being held later in the day to take advantage of cooler evening temperatures. A full schedule and other relevant information about the event can be found here. Tickets to this round are free for anyone who buys tickets to the World Rallycross/Americas Rallycross combo-weekend in September, making it sort of like a two-for-one deal.
Unfortunately, I won’t be there in person due to a scheduling conflict, so our own Kurt Bradley gets to have all the fun in my place. He’ll be out there shooting the action and getting up-close with everything that makes ARX tick, so watch this space for further updates. If you also can’t go, never fear. The event will be livestreamed on ARX’s YouTube channel, and highlights will be shown on CBS Sports on July 18 at 8 p.m. ET.
In the meantime, enjoy a few more views of ARX’s test day, courtesy of Kurt.
UPDATE [12:22 p.m.]: Somehow our file system ate my onboard to where it was only showing 17 useless seconds of the forward-facing video. Luckily, World Rallycross did a onboard video in April that we could swap in its place.