Daytona International Speedway has hosted many iconic motorsport events over the years – NASCAR and sportscar racing are synonymous with it and even motocross has been held at ‘The World Center of Racing’.
Back in 2014 rallycross joined Daytona’s illustrious roll of honor when the now-defunct Global Rallycross series headed to Florida for the very first time.
In its early years, GRC had made multiple trips to NASCAR facilities, with the likes of Atlanta, Bristol, Charlotte, Las Vegas, New Hampshire, and Texas among the speedways to host rallycross events in the discipline’s early days in the US. Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Dirt Track featured on the 2014 schedule, as did Daytona with a purpose-built temporary course on the superspeedway’s road course.
The 2014 season was a big one for rallycross Stateside. The national series continued to have an international presence with an event in Barbados, while the arrivals of Andretti Autosport as a competitor and Red Bull as a series sponsor helped the series continue its growth.
GRC’s trip to Daytona in August marked the beginning of the second half of the season. Nelson Piquet Jr arrived at the track the series points leader, although he’d yet to win an event, while Scott Speed had won the opening two rounds of the season, but followed that with a three-round podium drought.
Rhys Millen meanwhile had yet to taste victory in GRC at all. The New Zealander was easily one of GRC’s biggest stars but despite being involved since day one, he’d yet to clinch an overall event win. Ahead of the Daytona event Millen and his factory-backed Hyundai team had been testing and working on improvements, improvements that would prove to be a turning point for it.
Millen was on the pace right away at Daytona, winning his opening heat, but a spectacular engine failure on the Friday evening of the event left the Hyundai team with plenty of work to do going into Saturday.
With the engine changed, Millen returned to form by winning his semi-final. He followed that up by taking a dominant win in the final, beating Ken Block – who’d won the previous round at Charlotte – by 1.8 seconds, making him the series’ fifth winner in six rounds. He again blew his car’s engine just after crossing the finishing line, but he’d done enough to claim that elusive maiden win, and bring silverware back to a Hyundai team that had so often struggled to match its rivals.
“It’s fantastic to come to a venue like this that has such a rich history in US motorsport.” Millen said after the final. “To achieve what we did today, I wouldn’t have thought possible three or four races ago and to do it on the sacred ground, what a phenomenal opportunity to go down in the record books as a winner here.”
“[I] blew the engine on the last lap again. I think we were just revving it a little too hard down the front straight-away but it lasted as long as it needed to.”
Unfortunately, in the hours after the checkered flag dropped, the Hyundai Velosters of Millen and team-mate Emma Gilmour were judged to be in breach of technical regulations.
Both cars were found to be carrying illegal sensors that had been used during testing earlier in the week, and although all of the offending items were neither connected nor functional during the race weekend, their presence in the cars was enough to warrant a hefty penalty.
Millen was hit with a fine and a 50-point deduction, but was allowed to keep the victory by virtue of the infraction bringing no performance advantage.
At the following event at Los Angeles, a double header, Millen continued his fine form with a fourth-place finish and a second win.
GRC returned to Daytona in 2015 and 2016, with both events moving earlier in the year to avoid the sweltering conditions faced in 2014 – conditions that led to some drivers jumping from their car straight into pools of cold water, and Block saying in the post-race press conference “I would love to come back as long as it’s not August again! Please!”
Both events became double-headers with Sebastian Eriksson and Tanner Foust winning in 2015 – a first victory for Eriksson and a first points-paying win for the legendary Volkswagen Beetle with Foust – and Foust winning again a year later, one day after Steve Arpin claimed his long-awaited first rallycross event win.