PREVIEW: Gymkhana GRID joins rallycross at X Games

PREVIEW: Gymkhana GRID joins rallycross at X Games


PREVIEW: Gymkhana GRID joins rallycross at X Games


There will be a new motorsport joining the familiar Global Rallycross Championship round at X Games this weekend when the Irwindale Motor Speedway venue will play host to Gymkhana GRID competition (ABOVE) on Saturday evening. Global Rallycross Championship racing hits the modified dirt and pavement course Sunday afternoon.

The high-profile X Games Los Angeles is always a big draw for drivers and the field this weekend features 18 top competitors. The event is the sixth of nine rounds in the 2013 Global Rallycross Championship, and the fourth and final X Games Rallycross race of the year.

Aggressive young Finnish driver Topi Heikkinen heads into this round with a target on his back. The current championship leader has scored a podium result at every round this year and is looking to make it four wins in a row this weekend. But while he has so far avoided black flag penalties in 2013, this could be the race where his pushy style catches up with him. He has been involved in a number of on-track clashes and last season was disqualified at two rounds for overly aggressive driving.

Although it is mathematically possible for Heikkinen to be overtaken in the championship, it’ll be tough. Heikkinen, has a commanding lead with 96 points. Behind him, though, is a tight battle for second. Action sport veteran Brian Deegan, has 62 points, ahead of two-time defending Global Rallycross Champion Tanner Foust, with 61, and Swedish rally driver Patrik Sandell, who has 60. Rounding out the top-five is Ken Block whose two second-place finishes this season have contributed to a 58-point tally. All of the top-five drivers pilot Ford Fiesta rallycross cars. But for Block, the focus is more likely to be Saturday’s Gymkhana GRID competition. His series of short action films has redefined the automotive video genre and inspired this weekend’s X Games gymkhana competition.

Together, his Gymkhana series of videos have garnered a combined total of more than 250 million online views since the 2008 debut of “Gymkhana Practice,” an online video short featuring the driver stunting around an old Southern California airport in a Subaru.

Now, with the introduction of the one-off Gymkhana GRID event at X Games on Saturday evening, Block is helping to drive the popularity of a little-known motorsport that challenges contestants to race the clock while navigating a set series of features that favor the skills of a stunt driver. The name “gymkhana” originates from an obstacle-based type of horse-racing competition that is sometimes also called “Omoksee.”

It is expected that there will be eight competitors in the Gymkhana GRID competition, set to take place on a specially designed mirrored course laid out on the oval and infield of Irwindale Speedway. The cars are required to comply with Global Rallycross Championship build rules, so most of the cars and drivers will do double-duty, competing in both the gymkhana and rallycross contests at X Games. One notable exception is Subaru Rally Team USA factory driver David Higgins, the current Rally America points leader, who will run only the Gymkhana GRID event this weekend in a dedicated car.

The first U.S. Gymkhana GRID competition took place late in 2010 at Irwindale Speedway. Competitors, invited by Block, brought out their rear- and all-wheel drive cars for the one-off event, which was grand in scale but felt largely grassroots in nature. The final battle of the night came down to a head-to-head battle between Block and Foust in a pair of virtually identical Ford Fiestas. Foust narrowly edged out Block for the win.

Saturday’s race will give Block another shot at Foust both will compete in their all-wheel drive Ford Fiesta rallycross cars. So-called “British Bomb” Liam Doran is another favorite for a top result in his Mini. He battled Block late last year in a European demonstration Gymkhana GRID event, coming in second.

Also returning to Irwindale Gymkhana competition for the first time since his 2010 is versatile privateer Stephan Verdier, who has variously run alongside Foust and Block in the top ranks of Formula DRIFT, rallycross and rally in the United States although this time his Subaru is built in its all-wheel-drive configuration, rather than the rear-wheel-drive spec he brought to the competition last time. Like Block, Foust and Doran, he is also set to compete in Sunday’s rallycross contest.

The new rallycross companion series, Rallycross Lites, is also on the schedule this weekend making it the first time in X Games history that motorsport fans can enjoy three different four-wheel motorsport competitions during the course of the event.

The Lites class features a spec racer designed and built by top rallycross outfit Olsbergs MSE for cost containment and durability and is intended as a development venue for future stars of rallycross. It is the first appearance for Lites at X Games, and the third round in the series this year. Joni Wiman, a protg of two-time World Rally Champion Marcus Gronholm, is looking to make it three in a row after winning the first two rounds. Rallycross Lites joins the Global Rallycross Championship at all six of the domestic rounds of the series in 2013.

Gymkhana coverage starts Saturday night at 10:30 ET on ESPN, with rallycross competition set to air on ESPN at 5 p.m. on Sunday.