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TMS Girds Itself For Attack Of The Killer Cars

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, June 8 2012

Texas Motor Speedway will host the GRC series this week. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images for TMS

FORT WORTH, Texas – Tanner Foust’s relationship with his Global Rallycross Championship Ford Fiesta is a car-guy’s definition of love/hate.

“The cars are amazing performers,” said Foust, one of America’s most recognizable action sports stars. “They’re basically 2-liter, turbocharged engines that make about 600 horsepower with a restrictor. They’re all-wheel drive, go 0-to-60 in 1.9-seconds. They’re very fast cars to 100 mph or so.”

So, what’s not to love?

“These (GRC) races will last five-six minutes, but you’ll be huffing-and-puffing by the end of it,” said Foust, fit-and-trim at 38. “A lot of it is just because the cars are wicked – they are violent little bastards and they want to kill you.”

That’s the calling card the inaugural Hoon Kaboom Texas will bring Saturday afternoon to Texas Motor Speedway, Round 2 of a “stadium series” booked at four Speedway Motorsports, Inc., oval tracks intent upon attracting a demographic weaned on the X-Games. Foust and an all-world lineup of X-Games/rally stars including Travis Pastrana, Marcus Gronholm, Dave Mirra, Ken Block and Rhys Millen will attack a water hazard, table top jump, chicane and gap jump on a man-made course encompassing pit road, a portion of TMS’ frontstretch and the Legends Car track.

“It is a little bit like a remote control-car track,” said Foust, driver of the No. 34 Rockstar Energy Etnies Ford. “And when I see videos of it from a distance it looks like a video game or remote control cars – but there’s little people in there, hanging on for life.”

Six-lap Sprint Car-style heat races beginning at 3:30 p.m. will lead to a 10-car, eight-lap main event designed to serve as prelude to the IZOD IndyCar Series Firestone 550k night race at 7:30.

“It’s the most exciting thing I’ve been around in 20 years,” Eddie Gossage, TMS president/promoter, said of GRC. “These cars are unbelievable. Zero-to-60 in two seconds and they’re going over jumps every lap, banging off each other in mid-air, going through a water element. There’s a little drifting to it…it’s just wild. It’s kind of like the LBJ Freeway.”

TMS brought in the Formula Drift series last summer in a bid to attract the same 12-to-25-year-old crowd, and admittedly failed to do so. But Gossage said Foust, Pastrana and Block compare favorably on Facebook with NASCAR superstar Dale Earnhardt Jr.

“And so it opens the door to a whole new demographic for us,” Gossage said. “If we can get them out to the racetrack to see this, stick around and see the Firestone 550 Saturday night maybe they’ll become regulars at Texas Motor Speedway. We think we’ve got a big future with Global Rallycross.”

Foust, of Dana Point, Calif., finished second to Gronholm during the inaugural GRC race at Charlotte Motor Speedway last month. A gold medalist at the 2010 X-Games, Foust is a familiar face to fans of “Battle of the Supercars” on SPEED opposite open-wheel bad-boy Paul Tracy and as host of “Top Gear” on The History Channel.

Foust said most production-based cars in the series are factory-backed _ including his 2012 Fiesta, the Subaru WRX STi, Hyundai Veloster and Dodge Dart _ and carry a price tag of between $400,000 and $500,000. A 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup car, Gossage said, costs $150,000. One key difference, Foust noted, is that each body panel on his yellow-and-black Fiesta is either carbon fiber or Kevlar. Minimum weight is 3,000 with driver.

“It’s a rubber band that’s wound really tight,” Foust said. ”It’s an enormous amount of force (boost), so everything is built with expensive materials to handle it. The turbos in a street car are making usually 11 pounds of boost…these are making 48 pounds of boost. So everything’s under a huge amount of strain.” The cars feature a manual sequential transmission that allows the driver to keep his foot flat on the gas and grab gears. “No clutch…just grab gears,” Foust said.

The format typically pits four-to-six, and sometimes eight, cars door-to-door on the track. Similar to Supercross motorcycle racing, four qualifying heats lead to a Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ) and the Main, which will start three-abreast.

Each heat will employ a standing start – five-abreast in Heats 1 and 2 – to take advantage of all that pent-up acceleration. Cars should reach 125 mph by the end of the long pit lane before turning hard left onto the frontstretch and over the table top jump. Competitors will continue through a tire chicane and onto the gap jump ramp – two metal ramps with a 70-foot space between them. The gap jump must be taken on every lap this season, as opposed to once an event in 2011.

“To be honest, this is the first time in any Rallycross race in the world where there’s been a metal jump, ramp-to-ramp,” said Foust, who most recently competed in a round of the European Rallycross Championship series in Hungary. “This will be a very unique thing. In the X-Games, where we’ve had over/under type jumps, they’ve always been made of dirt which is a little more forgiving if you land short. Don’t know what to expect here.”

Foust currently owns the world record for longest jump in a four-wheel car at 332-feet. Achieving a distance like that in one piece is a combination of selecting the right gear and a “seat-of-the-pants” feel for a speed between 51 and 55 mph as registered on the tachometer.

“There’s no exact speed that works because you need to be accelerating off the lift of the jump in order for the car to not pitch-over,” Foust said. “It’s just a feel when that turbo starts spooling-up…as soon as you leave the ramp you can tell if it’s too fast or too slow. You need to be accelerating off the ramp, because the acceleration  – just like on a dirt bike – keeps the nose up in the air. Rarely do these cars fly too high in the nose. If that happens you can hit the brake in the air and that will bring the nose back down before you land. That’s the trick.”

Asked how many cars typically go over a jump at once, Foust said: “I’m hoping two or less.” To which Gossage noted, “It’s wide enough for four.”

Failure rate at the gap ramp, Foust said, usually is one per event. Foust’s second car, used for ERC events, remained in Hungary after last weekend’s round. “I don’t know what the overnight is from Hungary,” Foust joked, anticipating Friday’s early-morning practice followed by qualifying at 10.

In addition, the cars will be driving underneath the ramp before heading back up the straightaway. “Every car, once in each race, needs to take something called the Joker Lap, in this case a short-cut,” Foust said. “What that does is if you’re stuck behind a car it gives you a chance to get some free track. Eventually that guy’s going to have to do the same thing and guys are going to come back together and race door-to-door again. But at least you might get a couple free corners to put some speed runs in.”

Foust said each driver will be braking from 120 mph to 15 mph twice every lap on 10-inch spec Avon tires produced by Cooper Tire. “To be honest, six-minutes winding these little rubber bands that tight – it’s right at the limit of their capability,” Foust said. “They’re about to break at the end of it.”

In addition to CMS and TMS, the series will visit New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway this summer. Saturday’s event is pivotal, as it’s the final qualifier for X-Games Los Angeles 2012, set for June 28-July 1. The top-12 in points after TMS automatically advance to the X-Games.

“For us, it’s the juice,” said Foust, whose teammate is 2011 X-Games gold medalist Brian Deegan. “To get the invite could change somebody’s career. It changed mine. It’s the fuel to our fire, it’s why we get the sponsors in the first place. And now that we can put the sport in big markets around the rest of the country, that’s great.”

Fans will be able to meet their favorite drivers during an autograph session from 6 to 7 p.m. on the concourse after the dust settles.

“In Texas, this will probably be the hottest Rallycross race I’ve ever had, and probably my car would say the same thing,” Foust said of the object of his love/hate. “It’s going to be a lot about keeping the car cool.”

Top 12 Global Rallycross Championship standings heading into Hoon Kaboom Texas, Round 2 of the series, with driver, car number in parentheses, country, team, car-make and points:

1. Marcus Gronholm (3), Finland, Best Buy Mobile/OMSE, 2012 Ford Fiesta, 22

2. Tanner Foust (34), USA, Rockstar Energy Etnies Ford/OMSE, 2012 Ford Fiesta, 19

3. Stephan Verdier (12), France, Motor City Disney XD/RMR, 2012 Hyundai Veloster, 15

4. Andy Scott (26), United Kingdom, Scott-Eklund Racing, 2010 Saab 9.3, 13

5. Samuel Hubinette (77), USA, Eneos Oil, 2010 Saab 9.3, 13

6. Rhys Millen (67), New Zealand, Hyundai Rallycross/RMR, 2012 Hyundai Veloster, 11

7. David Binks (17), United Kingdom, Best Buy Serve/OMSE, 2012 Ford Fiesta, 10

8. Travis Pastrana (199), USA, Dodge Red Bull Rallycross/Pastrana 199 Racing, 2013 Dodge Dart, 10

9. Dave Mirra (40), USA, Subaru Puma Rallycross/VSC, 2012 Subaru WRX STi, 8

10. Toomas Heikkenen (57), Finland, Bluebeam/OMSE, 2012 Ford Fiesta, 8

11. Bucky Lasek (81), USA, Subaru Puma Rallycross/VSC, 2012 Subaru WRX STi, 6

12. Sverre Isachsen (11), Norway, Subaru Puma Rallycross/VSC, 2012 Subaru WRX STi, 5

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, June 8 2012
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