Looking at the Nitro Rallycross schedule for the weekend, the three-lap last chance qualifier didn’t exactly stand out. It was probably going to be the equivalent of the 20-minute drum solo when you pop to the restroom at a rock concert.
But if you chose to take a comfort break during the LCQ, you would have missed something rather crazy. It might’ve been the shortest multi-car race of the weekend, but it delivered a season’s worth of drama.
The LCQ was there to determine the final two drivers for the afternoon’s showpiece, 10-car final. Six drivers lined up, but only one driver escaped unscathed – winner Kevin Hansen.
Our story begins, however, with the RX Cartel duo of Liam Doran and Robin Larsson. While Hansen and Mini driver Oliver Bennett were duking it out up front, the Audi pair were about to tear up the script.
Liam Doran ended the first lap with a spectacular tire failure on the start/finish straight that sent him flying into the concrete retaining wall. Initially the race continued, with Larsson – who had made an incredibly good start – hunting down the leading duo.
That charge was soon halted when Larsson suffered a slow roll entering the ‘Talladega’ turn, a steeply banked right-hander off the gap jump. He’d already pitched his car up onto two wheels at the same location earlier in the weekend, but this time he went all the way round, perfectly nailing the landing. 10/10 for style.
He continued, but the race didn’t. With Doran’s car still stranded, albeit without the ‘British Bomb’ onboard, the decision was made to put out the red flag and clear up the mess.
Race neutralized, everyone paused for breath. That was it, right? Once we re-racked it was to be a routine three-lapper to nail the main event grid, surely? No.
The race was restarted from the beginning. Original lap count, original grid positions. It was pretty much a repeat of the original start too with Bennett’s rapid launching Mini making life difficult for Kevin Hansen into the first corner.
But likewise, Hansen was inadvertently causing trouble for Bennett on his tail, something that would eventually prove to be the Brit’s undoing.
“I had a cracking start,” Bennett told DirtFish. “I think we actually had a quicker car.
“I was pressuring him on some inside corners but they watered the track and the screen got fully covered in dirt to the point where I couldn’t even see out of the windscreen.
“So I put the wipers on; the wipers wouldn’t do the job. Then I put the washer on, which maybe was a mistake. It did clear the windscreen until I got back in the dust again, then it caked back up so over the start/finish on lap two I actually couldn’t even see the track.”
Visibility at an all-time low, Bennett eventually ended up in a rut he didn’t anticipate, handing the win and a final berth to Hansen.
“The car was fine but I went up over a little bit of a banking, it’s quite sandy and deep so I was just stuck. The only way I could go was forward,” Bennett said.
”It was a bit of a shame. I guess it all came from letting Hansen back on that inside position. I think we probably had the faster car and if I was out in front with some better visibility it would’ve been a different story but the visibility here’s been really tricky.”
With Bennett out of the equation, and Larsson miles back after restarting with his wheels on the ground, the second-place spot fell into the hands of Cabot Bigham, who had been quietly going about his business.
Soon enough, visibility issues were to rear their head for him too, culminating in a spectacular car failure as he crossed the finish line.
“When I was approaching him [Bennett] I knew I had the pace to pass him and I had an opportunity in the semi as well but with the dust it was nearly impossible to position the car in a place where I could actually pull it off,” Bigham told DirtFish.
“I wasn’t fully aware that he’d gone off track so that’s, I think, part of what led me to want to continue driving as hard as possible until the checkered flag.”
So what should have been an easy conclusion to the race for Bigham became anything but. He kept his fighting spirit and battled to the end – something that ought to be commendable, but sadly ended up being his undoing.
“I think some part of me was so hyper-focused on running aggressively to the finish that I over-drove the final corner,” he said. “There was a little cloud of dust looming on the last tire stack and I hit that thing full-tilt.
“The Colin McRae mentality just carried over and I was going to finish no matter what, so I had to limp that thing across.
“It really is a shame and I apologize to the team for not being able to get a good result in the final.
“I was just trying to over-drive and I should’ve taken my spotter’s advice and eased up.”
Bigham made the finish of the LCQ at least, albeit with three-quarters of a car, and later joked that if the damage were to prevent him from crawling through those last few feet, he would have got out and “run like Ricky Bobby” over the line.
While the damage was later deemed to be repairable, it couldn’t be sorted in the brief window ahead of the final, bringing a premature end to his weekend.
It was a messy result for two of the smaller entries in the paddock, but both certainly took the positives out of it.
“We’ve done some set-up changes over the winter which I think are really strong now, and I’m quite confident,” Bennett said. “I think our car is as fast as any of the other cars out there, even the Peugeots.
“And we’re feared off the start, there’s no doubt that they all worry about us for the first corner if I get off the line when the light goes green.
“I’ve enjoyed every lap I’ve done whether I’ve been in a good position or bad position or it’s gone my way or not. I’ve really enjoyed it from a driving point of view.”
Bigham added: “Fortunately, due to good engineering, just the bolt-on stuff sheared off and nothing was damaged on the frame. So we should be totally fine going into ERX and I know that I have learned quite a few lessons this weekend and I plan on having a very competitive run.
“The Audi, by all means, is a car capable of winning. It’s very quick, it’s surprisingly fast in terms of pace, but I think there are certain things we can do to make it even better and we’re going to go about doing that.”