If there’s one thing that’s been asked over and over again since his departure from Formula One in 2007 and then NASCAR in 2013, it’s, “What ever happened to Scott Speed?” Lately, it looks like everyone finally found him.
The traditional racing crowd found Speed, that is; not everyone lost track of him. Speed’s been competing in the increasingly popular and youth-oriented Red Bull Global Rallycross for Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross, and put himself back on the radar of some former fanbases when he took the championship title last week in Las Vegas. And, he’s bringing the series up with him.
Speed competed in several high-level series before coming to GRC, including F1, NASCAR, ARCA, an Indianapolis 500 attempt and Formula E. Until Alexander Rossi got his seat with Manor Marussia this year, Speed was the most recent American to compete in a F1 car (and that was in 2007, so he held the title awhile).
All of those disciplines, Speed told Jalopnik in a recent interview, are different in their own way. But what made his GRC championship campaign (and triumph) particularly sweet was the fact that he “had to come from so far behind” in the standings.
That’s no exaggeration, either.
After finishing second in the season opener in Fort Lauderdale Florida this year and winning gold in the no-points race at X Games Austin, Speed missed the 10-car final in the next three points events—a major hit, considering that the series ran a 12-race season.
“We had failures, and we had some pretty big reliability issues,” Speed said. “Plus, from that point—when you don’t finish three of the first four races, it’s really a big hole to come out of.”
Speed quietly climbed out of that hole as the events went on, not calling much attention to himself until a sweep of the Los Angeles doubleheader during the second half of the season.
During that time, it was veteran GRC driver Ken Block who topped the charts. Block won three races throughout the season, holding the championship lead for all but one race until the penultimate series event in Barbados.
But as far as title contention went, Speed had other worries.
“To be honest, I was more worried about guys like [Bryan Herta Rallysport driver] Patrik [Sandell],” Speed said. “I kind of figured that eventually the luck would kind of run out over there in [Block’s] camp.”
Running “clean race weekends with no mistakes” is key in the championship picture, which is why Speed kept his attention on Sandell as the season wound down.
But Speed’s weekends weren’t without the muddle he advises against—other than winning his third-career rallycross gold at X Games, the lack of luck early on made the season an “adverse” one for his team.
“To be able to persevere through that—for my team to really come together, sort out our reliability issues, then find some more speed in the car throughout the year—to come from that far behind, I guess, is what makes it so special,” Speed said.
Adversity occurred in the Volkswagen camp also, as the manufacturer’s F1 deal going “up in smoke” in late September on the heels of Dieselgate. Even though Dieselgate breached into that area of motorsport, Speed said that the situation didn’t affect his GRC campaign.
All of the “external activity,” Speed says—he doesn’t know much about it.
“I have absolutely no idea,” Speed said. “They keep my job really simple for me—they strap me into the car and let me push the pedals and turn the wheel.”
Topping rallycross charts isn’t exactly new for Speed. He won his series debut at the 2013 summer X Games in Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil, driving for OMSE2—the satellite team that used a race-worn Olsbergs MSE car from the year prior.
That was two years ago, which might as well be decades in GRC time—the series just wrapped up its fifth year in existence, gaining entries from the likes of Andretti, Chip Ganassi Racing and SH Racing during recent seasons. It’s grown tremendously in those two years.
And as more drivers like himself continue to enter the series, Speed said that “the sport is kind of changing” in terms of competition.
“More and more guys are coming in, and it’s becoming more competitive,” Speed said. “Guys who have ran seasons before are finding themselves not making main events, etcetera.”
In Speed’s opinion, he jumped on the GRC train early.
Drivers from a variety of disciplines—NASCAR’s Kurt Busch, IndyCar’s Josef Newgarden and James Hinchcliffe, F1’s Jenson Button and others—all attended the finale in Las Vegas. After talking to a couple of drivers, Speed thinks it’ll be a matter of time before other big names enter the series.
“Everyone loved it,” Speed said. “[Entrance into the series] is just a matter of time and making stuff happen. It’s still very new, but I’m sure in the future that a lot of those guys will wind up here. There’s no question.
“I feel like at this point, I’ve kind of got a head start on a lot of other guys. Everyone I know—whether it’s in NASCAR, IndyCar—everyone wants to come here.”
When drivers with that caliber of experience do come to GRC, Speed said they’ll all have the ability to be fast right away. The challenges will stem from race conditions and championship consistency, he said.
“Where the experience will come into play is during racing and dealing with changing conditions,” Speed said. “But, I expect any of those guys to be able to come in right away and have the ability to at least win races and be fast.
“That’s going to happen more and more in this sport, and that’s the good thing about being where we are—I think we’re on the sharp end of that, so we’re leading the charge there.”
Steeper competition in the series means more difficulty finding success, but Speed is excited to “see how it plays out” as far as new entries and what the coming years hold for the series.
As far as Speed’s next few years, he signed on for another two seasons in GRC with the Andretti team in August—a deal he was anxious to complete, because he feels like the team has a solid foundation in the series.
That foundation stands on the various racing backgrounds that his team is able to bring to the series, and Speed said that “the Andretti side and the Volkswagen side, they just fit together really well.”
And it looks like he’ll continue to fit in that mix for the foreseeable future.
“I’m really committed to giving GRC my full time at this point,” Speed said. “As far as the one-off stuff with Andretti, who knows—but certainly, rallycross has my full attention.”
With his energy invested in GRC for the coming years, Speed has a firm belief in its future on the racing market—and reasons to back it.
“I think GRC is the future of motorsports [in America],” Speed said. “I mean, a lot of people have bought onto that train and a lot of guys believe that.
“Clearly, the series is putting on great shows. That’s what everybody likes—the show is fantastic, it’s fun for us being there at the track and they put together a great TV package.”
Speed said that everyone in GRC loves the sport and helps to push it forward in the racing market. With drivers like DC Shoes founder Ken Block, professional skateboarder Bucky Lasek and Top Gear USA host Tanner Foust, the GRC name is “getting out more and more.”
The stats back it up, too. Over the past two years, GRC’s television ratings saw a 330-percent growth (no, there is not a typo in that number) and the series sold out its final race of the season on the Las Vegas Strip.
And Speed thinks that events like the muddy, under-the-lights season finale further add to that allure.
“I think events like we had in Vegas are great events,” Speed said. “I think that was very well received from everyone I talked to, and I’m sure we’ll see more races like that.”
The sport has a “pretty good conversion rate” for creating new fans from what Speed’s seen, and he knew by the end of his series debut that GRC’s ability to bring in young audiences would be key in the motorsports market.
“We’re the only motorsport in this country that’s able to do that” Speed said. “I think, therefore, [GRC]’s got more longevity.
“The younger your audience, the more people you’ll have who will ultimately be able to come into the sport. Your young drivers and young people coming into the sport—that’ll always be fresh, and you’ll always have a growing audience.”
Photos via Volkswagen Motorsport
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