As rallycross begins its resurgence on US shores, Americans need a new home hero to cheer on. They’re likely to find that next shining star in the shape of George Megennis.
Megennis is new to rallycross, having only competed in one event in Sweden recently, but the 16-year-old is already looking like a seasoned veteran thanks to a heat win in his first ever race – his first time driving a SuperCar Lites car in the wet, too.
But how did this youngster catch the rallycross bug in the first place? Brother to Indy Lights racer Robert, one would expect him to follow in his older sibling’s open wheel footsteps. But an online video and a visit to an Americas Rallycross event at Mid-Ohio planted a different seed.
“I first learned about what rallycross was and I first saw a rallycross car back in 2019, funnily enough, on YouTube – the video Steve Arpin did on how fast you can launch a supercar on soap,” he tells DirtFish in his very first interview.
“That was literally the first time I ever saw a rallycross car. And then later on that year, I got picked by DirtFish to test their ARX2 at the combine test at Mid-Ohio.”
The combine test put a bunch of young drivers behind the wheel of a 310bhp Lites car and for a then 14-year-old Megennis, it was the first car he had driven since graduating from karting.
“It was super fun to drive,” he recalls, “[a] sequential gearbox just feels absolutely bad-ass to use. It was such a fun car to drive.”
And so began the journey towards being the first driver confirmed for NRX NEXT – Nitro Rallycross’ support category – little under two years later. But despite being the second youngster in his family to embark on a motorsport career, racing doesn’t run in the Megennis family’s blood.
George’s father, Gary, tells DirtFish: “I was a soccer player, I played for Newcastle United in the early 80s, so I tried really hard to get Robert and George to play football [soccer] and they were both terrible. So we just fell into motorsport accidentally when Robert [my eldest son] was 10.
“I did my 40th birthday party at a go kart track, Robert came and they let him drive. And then it’s just being kind of a year at a time.
“Robert started karting at 10 and George says, ‘well, if Robert’s karting I want to kart too’, and there’s a five year gap, so then George starts karting at five.
“We weren’t a motorsport family, we don’t have the resources to pay for this, so we had to get really creative and work hard to come up with funding.”
We've basically relied on the best, smart people that aren't going to take advantage of usGary Megennis
The Megennis family therefore went about finding the best in each field to work with, be it the likes of Juncos Racing and Andretti Autosport for Robert on the Road To Indy, or the legendary Hansen family to help guide George in rallycross.
“With George, we put him in an F4 car for a day, and we put him in a [Mazda] MX-5 for a day and he just refused, [he] just kept coming back to rallycross. So we’re figuring it out again,” Gary adds.
“I kind of feel like going to Nate Tennis and DirtFish, and then Chris Duplessis and then the Hansens, we’ve basically relied on the best, smart people and people that are nice; people that aren’t going to take advantage of us and are going to help us.
“That’s gotten Robert along the way, and it seems to be working for George in rallycross.”
Before he joined the Hansens’ YellowSquad team in Sweden, Megennis spent time at DirtFish rally school in Snoqualmie, Washington, to nail the basics.
“It was definitely very important before I went over to Sweden to feel comfortable and in control of the car at all times because before that, I’d only done one day in the car at Mid-Ohio, that was maybe a total of 20 laps,” George says of his time at DirtFish.
“It was very important when I got to DirtFish to learn how to properly drive this car in the gravel, how to drive it on the Tarmac, all the weight transfer and how to pivot the car on the handbrake, and just how to be fast and in control in this car, which definitely came into play when I went to Sweden.
“I had a little bit more of a headstart on being in control. So at least I had that going into my first test. I knew how to drive the car. I knew what it felt like to push, what it’d feel like to be on the limit. I know how to be in control, and that was mainly the biggest reason why we went to DirtFish.”
As well as testing at DirtFish rally school and having some cross kart running with multiple US rally winner Duplessis, part of Megennis’ rallycross apprenticeship involved him heading over to Europe to sample a race in RallyX Nordic’s Lites championship – becoming one of only a handful of American racers who’ve sampled rallycross in Europe.
“We went over to Europe, not even to get a head start on the field, but just to see where I was compared to everyone else and to just get a practice race done, just so I can have some experience racing the car before the proper championship starts,” he explains.
Practice race or not though, Megennis made an instant impact.
“Not only was that my first race in the Lites car, it was my first race in a car, and it was my first race for, I think it was 11 months, period. Practice started on Friday and I think it was the first session, I came back in and I was like, ‘you know, that felt, OK’.
“Then they come to me like ‘you’re seventh overall out of the entire field, not just the section.’ Then I think when it first hit the entire team, as well as me, that holy s***, we might actually be competitive here!”
It was definitely a fantastic experience. I learned so much actually properly racing a car, it's very, very different from kartingGeorge Megennis
Rain before Megennis’ first heat race however could’ve put a (quite literal) dampener on proceedings, but luckily, as part of his perfectly-chosen training regime, Megennis had also been doing his homework.
“We went out and it was intermediate conditions. It was dry on the Tarmac, but there was still very, very little grip on all the gravel sections and the bottom of the hill, which is kind of gravel, kind of Tarmac.
“I just went out there and I went with the approach. OK, [I’m] not going to slide, I’m just going to drive in a straight line the entire time, we’re not going to spin, we’re just going to make zero mistakes and drive very slowly in a straight line.
“I know from watching lots of video, watching lots of other races of Lites cars in the rain that that’s literally how you have to drive them fast in the rain. Just planted 100%. No big slides, nothing, just calm, slow inputs. I just tiptoed around and was second fastest overall.
“It was interesting to take that learning from videos and no experience in actually driving the car in the wet, but use all the theory that I’ve learned from watching video and just apply that in for it to work so well.”
As the weekend developed Megennis continued to impress – fifth overall in Q2 despite driving with a puncture; an eventual qualifying result of sixth overall, a second in his semifinal, and an eventual end result of fifth which might’ve been higher if it wasn’t for heavy contact on the opening lap of the final. It represented a fantastic return for the rookie.
“It was definitely a fantastic experience,” he says. “I learned so much [by] actually properly racing a car [and] it’s very, very different from karting.
“The actual racing itself on the Tarmac, at least all the same principles apply so that I felt very confident with, especially with defending and the passing on the Tarmac is very similar. The main thing I did learn is you don’t get a lot of dive bombs in rallycross. Almost every pass is on the exit of a corner.
“So you don’t want to make a mistake and go wide, you’ll have a gap… but that was very interesting. I never expected that to be the case.”
Now attention turns home, and the inaugural NRX NEXT season.
“So far after the one race in Arvika, I’m very confident that we’re going to be competitive,” says Megennis. “Going into that week, I never thought was possible for at least a year.”
For his Nitro Rallycross foray, Megennis will continue to benefit from the expertise of the Hansen family as well, with him running for 2019 NRX champion Kevin Hansen’s YellowSquad team with help from 2018 NRX and 2019 World Rallycross Champion Timmy Hansen – and their multiple European championship-winning parents Kenneth and Susann – as well as past European RX racer Eric Färén who “does pretty much a little bit of everything” including acting as Megennis’ spotter.
Susann came up, gave me a hug and was like, ‘if you ever need anything, I'm going to treat you like one of my own sons’George Megennis
“They’re the nicest people you’ll ever meet,” Megennis enthuses. “As soon as I got there, Susann came up, gave me a hug and was like, ‘if you ever need anything, I’m going to treat you like one of my own sons’. And then Timmy came over and we did, I think it was four or five hours with a whiteboard just going over different race theory.
“Kenneth, of course, is just such a legend that any time I’m standing around him, he’s gonna be teaching me something extremely important. And Kevin is super nice, he’s a really good driver, he’s really good at doing data, and that was a big help, especially in testing.
“It was really helpful, looking over video and data which I think definitely helped in Arvika, having that experience, learning tracks and doing data with them.
“I think when everything shifts over here [in the US] we’ll be able to adapt very quickly, especially because no one else has driven a lites car at these Nitro tracks. I think we’ll definitely be upfront with the development of the car.”
Megennis then has all the tools – and quite clearly the talent – to succeed, but as he gears up for his first full season with a roof over his head, he is keeping his own expectations somewhat in check.
“You never know what’s going to happen, but it is my first year racing cars,” he says. “My goal is just to get through the year and not be last, finish every race, [and] do all the laps.
“But if I’m in championship contention at the end of the year, I’m certainly going to go for it and not be pushed around as much.
“Right now I have no expectations, still, going into the first round,” he adds. “I’ve never driven that track. I’ve never driven the Lites car on that track. No one else has, but they also have more experience than me in the car, so there’s gotta be some similarities there.
“So I really have no expectations going into this first race, we’ll just have to see how the season goes and if I win the championship? Fantastic. That’s literally the best case scenario. I’m just not expecting that to happen in the first year, [it’d] be fantastic if it did, I’m going to try my absolute hardest to make that happen but we’ll have to see.”