After back-to-back race weekends in the west, George Megennis heads to The Florida International Rally & Motorsport Park near Jacksonville still in NRX Next championship contention. And while he has “zero expectations” of a title, he’s targeting two victories at the season-ending event.
Megennis arrives at the final double header of the series fresh from two intense weekends that yielded great results – three second places from those four starts. The YellowSquad driver found the Phoenix circuit – where he scored the first of those two podiums – “a lot of fun” and said it had a “good flow to it”, but it wasn’t without its challenges; Megennis dubbing the first final of that weekend “probably the most dangerous race of the season so far”.
“It was all in the fact that the sun was so low by the time we started the race, no one could see the apex of turn one.
“After the restart the sun was so low I had to have Eric [Färén, spotter] come on the radio and tell me when the lights went green because I physically could not see.
“So it was pretty blind going into turn one … I was looking really good, started alone on the front row after the restart, but unfortunately on the joker merge Sage just pushed it a little bit harder into the blindness so he was able to come out with the win but I was extremely happy to come out with a second and not crashing the car, having any major damage just because it was very sketchy with the sun.”
A day later he weathered a typical rallycross storm to emerge with another silver medal as his rivals faltered.
“On Sunday it was a really action-packed final. I got a decent jump off the start, I got sandwiched into turn one. I had Conner Martell on my inside [and] Casper Jansson on my outside both trying to cut in and then I was told ‘joker don’t follow’ on the second lap.
“I really was fully committed to the joker far before the joker – I was all the way to the left – then at the last second Vacala decided he wanted to go joker. I pass him on the entry there [but] I really did not expect him to joker that lap at all, he was so wide on the entry.
I just got a better run out of turn one and was able to pass him in the air so that was really satisfyingGeorge Megennis
“So then I came out of the joker in fourth and unfortunately Conner Martell had a big spin which really threw a wrench in the works trying to avoid him without hitting him or making contact with Casper spinning.
“Then on the very last lap I had a really good pass on Casper going up the hill. I just got a better run out of turn one and was able to pass him in the air so that was really satisfying, really nice, and then I just managed to come home with a second which was really good.”
That joker in Phoenix was unique in that rather than being a traditional longer route, it was actually a shortcut with an inside merge that presented a few new strategy options, as well as an added layer of entertainment for onlookers according to Megennis.
“I personally think it makes a big difference and it’s a lot more fun for the fans,” he said. “What you get happening is maybe the fourth-quickest guy gets a really good start and he immediately goes to the joker and comes out in the lead, then everyone else has to try and either get past on track or joker and hope to come out in front.
“I really think it makes the racing really good and fun, especially when the joker merge is on the inside, it really adds a lot of drama.
“From a strategic standpoint, it’s definitely a little bit different,” he added. “Instead of purely defensively jokering, you can do an offensive joker which really throws a wrench in the works because say you’re stuck behind a really slow guy, you can just chuck it into the joker, come out in front of him, and, if you have the pace, just pull away and that way it’s a good way to pass people.
“But on the other end of things, say you have a problem or a puncture, everyone behind you can just joker immediately and you have no chance to defend so you’re just immediately back to last. So it’s very much give and take strategy-wise but I think it’s a lot more fun and better.”
A week later the series moved to Glen Helen Raceway in San Bernardino, California, and a track that Megennis dubbed “my favorite track of the year”, heaping praise on the course layout itself, as well as the racing surface and its maintenance.
“I loved Glen Helen! It was so much fun,” he enthused. “Driving it in a Lites car, it was the nicest track of the season so far.
“All the jumps were super-low and super-far so it was really easy on the back, and it had a really good flow to it with all of the banked corners and the crests to unsettle the cars.”
Characterising the penultimate weekend of the year, Megennis said that it was all about “being in the right place at the right time and having enough pace to capitalize on others’ mistakes” as he notched up his third podium in succession.
“I was just trying to catch up to Sage and Casper [Jansson, eventual winner], but at the same time I was also trying to be very conservative because the track had developed enough where I was actually having to brake for a couple of the jumps whereas on Friday everything was flat-out except for the start/finish line. So it was just how consistent can I be without pushing the car too far to the breaking point.
“And then luckily for me Sage and Casper had a good scrap ahead of me, so I was able to gain some time and that meant that when Sage made a mistake coming over one of the jumps and spun it I was able to just throw it around the outside of his car and take second. From there it was just a case of driving it to the finish.”
Next up is The FIRM, a track that Megennis has some familiarity with thanks to his open-wheel racing brother Robert. He also expects it to have a more European flavor, which should make it ideally suited to the Swedish-developed Lites machines used in NRX Next.
“From looking at track maps and prior knowledge of the facility, it is a road course track which used to have a rally school as well so immediately the rally portion is going to be well maintained and the road course is going to be well maintained so hopefully it’ll be more of a European-style track with a lot of tarmac, maybe smaller jumps which will be easier on the Lites cars, and of course better racing.
“But it’s Nitro, you never know what they’re going to do, and I’m never not wanting to jump a car so I’m really looking forward to seeing the track for the first time. This track looks like it’ll be a lot of fun.
“I’ve seen some onboards so I know what the surface of the road course portion is going to be like, I know how grippy it’s going to be.”
Robert, fresh from his second season in Indy Lights and a maiden (partial) IMSA campaign, will also be on-hand in Florida to provide vital assistance as George looks to clinch a top-three spot in the standings.
“He’s always super-supportive and helpful going over data and video and he’s really helpful on the racecraft side on Tarmac as well as on dirt, so I’m really happy that he’s going to come with us again this weekend to help me with my driving as well as just being there to support me,” the younger of the Megennis brothers said.
“Of course he’s driven race cars for six years now, so he’ll always be really helpful and I’m always really happy to have his input whether it’s from a driving standpoint, a setup standpoint, or just general advice.”
Elaborating on the championship situation, Megennis affirmed that he’s chasing a top-three spot, but insisted that he’s been pleased with how the year’s played out.
“Coming into this year I really had zero expectations so to be this far up in the championship is wild in itself,” he said. “But I’m in fourth right now so getting on the podium for the championship is very attainable and I’m striving for two wins this weekend.
“I’m also still just learning. I’m learning so much every weekend, I’m just trying to build the basic skills that I need to take my career to even further heights in the future.
“Of course I’m always striving to win and be the fastest, but also this is my first year in cars, I’m still trying to learn as much as possible and every single weekend this year I’ve learned more and more so hopefully I get a bunch of wins but I really just want to get as much experience in the car and learn as much as possible, that’s always going to be number one.”