Well that was quite the finale, wasn’t it? Travis Pastrana is the 2021 Nitro Rallycross series champion after finishing fourth in the final round at the Florida International Rally and Motorsports Park level on points with Subaru Motorsports USA team-mate Scott Speed – ahead courtesy of his greater number of victories.
But how does the field stack up from our perspective? For the final time this year, here’s the DirtFish Nitro Rallycross Power Rankings.
10. Oliver Eriksson
On a European-esque track, the European teams and drivers were expected to shine. Step forward Sweden’s Oliver Eriksson in his Swedish-built Ford Fiesta ST.
A top-five qualifying performance was followed by a strong second in his opening heat on Sunday. Of course, that doesn’t award a final spot these days, so he had to go via the semifinals and LCQ.
After stalling in his semi on a restart, once he finally got going he was easily a match for race winner Steve Arpin and Fraser McConnell, right until he sustained a puncture as a result of contact with Liam Doran after the aforementioned stall.
That knocked him out and into the LCQ where he wouldn’t advance from, but the simple fact of the matter is had that tire held up in the semi, he’d have made the final for the first time since the 10-car affair at ERX.
9. Kevin Eriksson
Everything about Kevin Eriksson’s season has shown that he ought to be a proper championship challenger, but things haven’t quite gone his way.
In Florida though, he didn’t necessarily have that bad luck that’s blighted his year, instead he just had a quiet weekend overall.
Solid and consistent, but solidly and consistently just outside the positions he needed to advance further in the weekend.
8. Tanner Foust
After a rotten home event in California thanks to a plethora of issues, Foust was able to regroup at a track that was expected to be a perfect fit for the Audi S1.
The Foust vs Speed battle of yesteryear resumed in the third heat on Sunday, with Foust matching his former-team-mate early on until varying joker strategies split them apart. It was a similar story in his semi as he dropped back after another strong start.
That dropped Foust into the LCQ where he overcut the very fast Eriksson brothers on the joker, before holding them both off to take a decent win.
In the final he finished in the thick of the pack while the focus centered on the championship challengers out in front.
7. Robin Larsson
Robin Larsson’s fifth place at The FIRM wasn’t just his best result of the season, it was the best result for any Audi all year.
We shouldn’t be surprised really. Larsson is one of Europe’s finest, and the S1 is one of the best cars on a sealed surface in modern-day rallycross, and unlike the dirt-heavy tracks of the first four rounds, there was plenty of that this time around.
An impressive opening bracket win was followed by a spin in his second head-to-head as he engaged in a tight duel with Kevin Hansen. Come Sunday he was again applying the pressure on the Peugeot driver in their heat and semi – second in that race gave him a second straight main event spot which would lead to that elusive top five.
It’s been a long time coming, but Larsson’s perseverance was finally rewarded somewhat last weekend.
6. Fraser McConnell
Once again McConnell’s truck load of potential wasn’t quite realized as lady luck decided not to play nice.
A bizarre issue with broken bolts left him playing catch up on Saturday, but all thoughts of reliability went out the window on Sunday – at least initially.
Second in his semifinal should’ve given him a nice starting berth in the main event, but McConnell was dropped to third (and out of the transfer spots) after contact with Oliver Bennett on the joker merge forced him to cut the course. It was a ruling that might’ve been correct by the letter of the law, but cruel given the circumstances. Even Bennett agreed.
Nevertheless, he had the pace to make it out of the LCQ. He jokered early but had the pace to assume the lead once everyone’s strategy had shaken out. That was until a broken drivetrain took him out. Again.
Another rotten end to an otherwise promising weekend for ‘Frazz’. You really have to feel for him.
5. Steve Arpin
Ever the fast starter, Arpin overcame engine issues on Saturday to continue his fine form off the starting grid, but besides a semifinal victory he wasn’t quite the threat to the front we’ve seen him be at points this season.
An early joker call might’ve given him a better chance at a strong result in the final too. Nevertheless, Arpin cemented his position as the ‘best of the rest’ behind the Hansens and the Subarus, and with a year in the Hyundai now in the bag, should the Arpin-Loenbro-GRX Hyundai combination return next season, better results will more than likely follow.
4. Kevin Hansen
Out of championship contention after that controversial coming together with Liam Doran two weeks ago, Kevin Hansen went to Florida with one job: to help brother and team-mate Timmy Hansen win the championship.
He played that role to perfection, not putting up much of a fight against Timmy in the battle bracket final four match up, then pushing Travis Pastrana as hard as he could in their opening heat on Sunday.
He couldn’t quite better the Subaru driver in that first round race, but took a comfortable semifinal win later in the day. That brought him to the final where contact with Pastrana at turn one could’ve blown the championship wide open.
Ultimately it didn’t have as drastic an effect as first thought, but him keeping Scott Speed – the only real victim of the lap one sunt – behind did. It prevented the four-time US champ getting a fifth crown, but it couldn’t quite stop Timmy from missing out on the top spot by a solitary point.
3. Timmy Hansen
Reeling from his World Rallycross Championship defeat just one week ago, Hansen arrived in Florida 17 points off the championship lead – the same margin Johan Kristoffersson overcame to beat him in Germany.
OK, the points formats are different between Nitro and World RX, but it provided the ideal motivation. It almost worked, too.
Second in qualifying, a heat win and a perfectly managed final victory (which gave him the all-time Nitro RX wins record with three) certainly combined for a champion’s weekend, but just one point separated him from that top spot – something he could’ve grabbed on Saturday by beating Scott Speed in the battle bracket final. Or indeed at any other bracket defeat over the course of the season.
What might have been, eh?
2. Scott Speed
Scott Speed did everything he needed to do to grab a fifth US rallycross title, alas it was just not to be. After winning the qualifying battle bracket, Speed was just five points adrift of leader Pastrana meaning he needed to finish two positions ahead of him to win.
He started the final on pole, with Pastrana third, which would’ve got him the crown had they finished in their starting positions. But contact between the pair in the first corner put Speed on the back foot, and it wasn’t his doing either.
While he recovered to finish ahead of Pastrana on the road – which meant both finished equal on points – Pastrana’s two wins to Speed’s one on the season meant he missed out. Just.
1. Travis Pastrana
Points champion and our champion too, and it was never in any doubt. All we heard from the Nitro Circus ringleader in the build-up to the finale was how the mostly asphalt track at The FIRM would prove to be a weakness for him. He could’ve fooled us…
He began finals day with a controlled drive to his fifth heat win of the year, making him the only driver to win all of his heats across the season.
And while his contact with team-mate Speed in the title-deciding final (in which he was helped by a nudge from Kevin Hansen) was a blemish on an otherwise impeccable season, his recovery and restraint in the immediate aftermath, managing his race to get exactly what was needed rather than pushing hard for glory and risking a slip-up, showed exactly why he emerged from the season victorious.
With a championship win in America’s premier rallying championship – the American Rally Association presented by DirtFish – too, this was the perfect season for Pastrana.