Earlier this season, Scott Speed played what appeared to be a genius, albeit controversial, tactic en route to his only victory of the Nitro Rallycross season. But after losing the championship on countback, could that tactical decision actually have come back to bite him?
At the end of the season, three drivers were separated by a single point at the top of the standings. Speed was in the middle of that trio, sitting equal on 219 points with Travis Pastrana and one ahead of Timmy Hansen.
At ERX Motor Park in Minnesota, Speed went into the final of the qualifying battle bracket against Kevin Hansen, with team-mate Pastrana having secured the third qualifier spot already.
With odd-numbered finishers going into one heat race the next day and evens in the other, a win would’ve put Speed in the same race as Pastrana. However, after a tough start to the season, Subaru was keen to secure an overall event win to kickstart its season.
So Speed – understanding that second place would split both Subarus and should they both win their respective heats they’d have a front row lock-out for the event final and their best chance of winning it – decided to throw the bracket final.
At the time the tactical call was considered smart, if a tad unsporting. In fact, Subaru was hit with a $10,000 fine for the incident – the balance being paid to a local breast cancer charity in Minnesota. It would seem like money well spent as Pastrana and Speed got their heat wins the next day and capped off their weekend with a 1-2 finish in the final.
For Pastrana, his second place finish would catapult him into championship contention, while Subaru’s blushes were saved after missing out on the podium entirely at the first round in Utah. But for Speed, the tactical masterstroke that helped him to a 20th US rallycross round victory would actually end up having drastic consequences later on in the season.
Given Subaru’s form at ERX Motor Park, it seems highly likely that Speed would’ve beaten Kevin Hansen in that bracket final, thus giving him an extra point. An extra point that, as the final standings show, would’ve given him a fifth US title.
There’s several ‘what ifs’ relating to the battle brackets this season, with Speed, Pastrana and Timmy Hansen all missing out on what could be deemed vital wins – and therefore points – over the course of the season. But on this occasion it was a calculated decision, not an on-track defeat or mechanical issue, that took away that single point.
The reasoning at the time was bang on, and the rest of that particular weekend went exactly to plan. But with the benefit of hindsight and the fact the season ended up being decided by such a slender margin, Speed may well be ruing that call as he looks back on the 2021 season.