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Posted: 12:35 p.m. Saturday, June 7, 2014

X Games Austin: Scott Speed seeks second RallyCross win of season 

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By Dave Doolittle

American Scott Speed will be looking to keep up his winning ways in the second round of the Global RallyCross series Saturday at Circuit of the Americas.

And judging from his results in the opening heat Friday, the 31-year-old could be on his way to a second-straight series victory.

Speed, who won last month’s season-opener at Top Gear Festival Barbados, powered his Volkswagen Polo across the line Friday about a second ahead of Sverre Isachsen also in a Subaru.

Four heats were held Friday, and four more are part of Saturday’s racing at the Southeast Austin circuit.

On Friday, Speed’s Andretti Autosport teammate Tanner Foust won his heat, while Anton Marklund also took the checkered flag in a Volkswagen. Travis Pastrana was the only non-VW driver to win Friday, crossing the line first in a Subaru.

Saturday’s race is also part of the inaugural X Games Austin at the Southeast Austin circuit, and the top three will earn medals in the action sports event that’s making its debut in Austin. The Global RallyCross series features 600-horsepower cars that go from 0 to 60 in 1.8 seconds. It holds 10 rounds from May to November, mostly in the United States.

Nineteen drivers entered the Austin round, including Hoonigan Racing’s Ken Block  and Marklund Motorsports’ Toomas ‘Topi’ Heikkinen, last year’s series champion who this season races full-time in the FIA World Rallycross Championship, which has rounds around the world.

The format for this weekend consists of two sets of four- to five-car heats in which the top three in each advance to two six-car semifinals. The top three in each semifinal will advance to a six-car, 10-lap final.

Block, who finished second in his heat Friday, said he doesn’t necessarily let up to save the car for the final.

“The thing is every step puts you where you want be in the main event,” said Block, 46. “You want to keep getting the best results you can, then you’re on the front row of the final. You end up on the back row, there’s no way you’re going to win.”

The eight-corner course is short and tight and features an almost 50-50 split between dirt and tarmac. It has been built in the stadium section  of the 3.4-mile track that has also hosted Formula One, MotoGP and other global series. Lap times have been around 30 seconds.

Block said making the adjustment between the two surfaces is not particularly a challenge to drive but requires compromises to the car’s setup.

“You got to set the car up well so it’ll work on then dirt, but you got to make it where it’s not too soft to go very quick on the tarmac,” said Block, who was uninjured in a scary crash on the first lap of the season-opener that took him out of the race. “So it’s kind of finding the right balance that works well on both surfaces.”

Nelson Piquet Jr., the former Formula One driver who joined the series this year after spending three years in NASCAR, said he is still getting used to driving on dirt.

"It's quite different. The tires we drive are very slick and not really  designed to go on dirt," Piquet said. "You have to be quite patient and slow, which isn’t really my nature, and I have to control my urge to put the foot down. You try to make the best of both worlds with the changing surfaces."

Piquet didn’t understand why the course was built so short.

“I hate to badmouth, but honestly with the size of the place, they could’ve done a little bigger,” said Piquet, who finished second and third in his heats. “I don’t know why they did it this small.”

Piquet, who crashed out of the RallyCross Lites final earlier Saturday morning, said a good result in Austin is not going to be easy.

“The first corner is a bit aggressive and a bit complicated, just because of the angle,” Piquet said. “We’re going to need a little bit of luck on the start, try to get away from the trouble and then it’s going to be to really nail laps over here because it’s a tricky track. It’s difficult to get around this place.”

About Dave Doolittle

Dave Doolittle is a web editor for the Austin American-Statesman.

Send Dave Doolittle an email.

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