Travis Pastrana led a Subaru podium sweep at Glen Helen Raceway in Southern California, putting him in prime position to take the Nitro Rallycross championship with one round remaining.
Once again Pastrana won his opening heat race to secure a front row start in the final, keeping up his 100% record in that regard, and he took full advantage to grab the holeshot ahead of team-mate and fellow front row starter Scott Speed.
From there the Subaru team perfectly managed the race, with Pastrana controlling out in front, and Andreas Bakkerud acting as rear gunner in third behind Speed, holding off the rest of the pack.
Kevin Eriksson was the closest threat to the formation flying WRX STIs after passing Steve Arpin early on, but couldn’t find a way past team player Bakkerud. Meanwhile Pastrana had begun to ever so slightly edge away from Speed out in front.
Just 2.5 seconds covered that top four on lap three and a lap later – the halfway point in the race with this week’s final being extended to eight laps because of the shorter track – Eriksson opted to joker in a bid to move into win contention.
The strategy didn’t pay off though, with Speed and Bakkerud both going for the longer route on lap five and emerging still ahead of the Honda driver.
That call though did all but secure Pastrana’s victory, with both rejoining behind Arpin, who was not only the final driver in the field to joker, but was also slowing due to a right rear puncture.
Pastrana subsequently took his joker on lap six, easily holding onto the lead for the final two tours to win his second straight event in Nitro Rallycross and take his third career rallycross win overall.
Speed’s second and Bakkerud’s third ensured a first-ever podium lockout for Subaru, and the first time a single manufacturer had locked out a podium since the Global Rallycross race in Washington DC in 2015 – it was also the first time the exact same type of car had swept the top-three spots since 2014’s GRC race in the capital.
Kevin Eriksson held on for fourth, representing a massive turnaround for a driver who’s often been atop, or near the top of, the times all season, but has been saddled with horrendous luck.
Timmy Hansen got by Arpin late on for fifth, with Ronalds Baldiņš the final main event finisher in seventh, Robin Larsson retiring two laps from the end with a mechanical issue.
1 Travis Pastrana (Subaru) 6m31.551s
2 Scott Speed (Subaru) +2.195s
3 Andreas Bakkerud (Subaru) +2.520s
4 Kevin Eriksson (Honda) +3.399s
5 Timmy Hansen (Peugeot) +9.141s
6 Steve Arpin (Hyundai) +10.262s
7 Ronalds Baldiņš (Honda) +12.731s
8 Robin Larsson (Audi) DNF
Baldiņš’ route to the final, his first this season, was a controversial one, coming at the expense of Liam Doran and championship challenger Kevin Hansen – who had a coming together in the second last chance qualifier.
The pair had a race-long battle in the four-lap contest, trading the lead multiple times until Doran made a move up the inside of the first hairpin on lap three.
The track having been recently watered, both scrambled for grip but came together, with Hansen coming off worse and going up the track into the concrete wall.
Doran was hit with a five-second penalty for his role in the incident, which did nothing to aid the stricken Hansen’s case, but allowed Baldiņš to advance.
Doran wasn’t the only Audi-driving casualty from that race, with Tanner Foust failing to make the start grid after yet more mechanical issues for his Audi S1.
It was a similar story for his Dreyer & Reinbold Racing team-mate Cabot Bigham who didn’t even make it out of the heat races due to engine failure.
Timmy Hansen, who entered the weekend as points leader, faced an uphill battle all day, having to advance to the main event via the first LCQ after finishing fourth in both his heat race and semifinal.
He now sits third in the championship with one round remaining, 17 points back from new leader Pastrana. Minnesota winner Speed separates the pair, while after his exit at the the LCQ stage this weekend, Kevin Hansen occupies fourth and is out of the championship fight.
Casper Jansson won his second race of the weekend and third of the season in Sunday’s NRX Next race as his nearest rivals all hit trouble.
The Enlunds Motorsport driver bettered team-mate Martin Enlund and Sage Karam at the start, Karam running wide as he attempted to get by both for the lead. Karam subsequently jokered to get out of the traffic he found himself in.
That allowed George Megennis to join in the podium fight having been passed by Enlund at the start. He got by at the second hairpin on that opening lap and immediately set about hunting down Jansson.
Jansson continued to control the race up front and his win was all but assured when Megennis crashed out on lap five. Karam meanwhile had made the most of his early joker to overhaul those in front of him and settle into second place.
Such was Jansson’s commanding lead from the start though, Karam had to settle for second, while Enlund took third, with Lane Vacala fourth and Conner Martell – who spun early on – fifth.
Eric Gordon was the final finisher in sixth. Kyle Schwartz joined Megennis in making an early exit.
Jansson’s sweep of the Southern California weekend gives him a 15-point lead over Martin Enlund in the championship with 100 points still available at the final two races in Florida next month.
Karam, like Jansson a three-time race winner this season, holds third with 285 points, 35 points of the top spot, while Megennis holds fourth, a further five points back.