Last month, it was announced that Andretti Autosport will team up with United Autosports for its foray into Extreme E. But of course, that won’t be the IndyCar giant’s first venture in off-road racing.
In fact, it won’t be the first time it’s teamed up with another leading name to get dirty, either. We’ve covered the Volkswagen/Andretti marriage before, but here is the story of VARX’s dream debut.
The 2014 Global Rallycross season began in Barbados. Fresh from globe-trotting adventures in 2013, when the series visited Brazil, Spain, and Germany in addition to the US, the 2014 campaign remained mostly domestic besides its brief stop in the Carribean.
As well as playing host to the season opener, the Bushy Park Circuit was also the site of Andretti’s first rallycross event.
While Volkwagen offshoot Seat Sport was hard at work building the very first incarnation of the Beetle GRC over in Europe – a car that would later become the most dominant of modern rallycross cars – Andretti campaigned a pair of Marklund Motorsport-built Polos, rebadged as ‘Volkswagen GTIs’ for the Polo-less US market.
The history books of course tell us that the Andretti team ended the weekend sipping champagne, but it wasn’t exactly an ideal start for the team in rallycross.
Tanner Foust collected wins in the opening two heats, but a crash on the tabletop jump in the third round caused severe damage to his Rockstar Energy-backed car.
Although the then-two time US champion had the last chance qualifier in which to redeem himself, Foust made an uncharacteristic error by taking the joker (a shortcut at this particular track) twice. A 10-second penalty was handed down post-race, and a final on the sidelines followed for the driver who had gone without a win the previous year.
Speed won in his final heat, making up for technical troubles in the second round. In the 10-lap final, early weekend pacesetter Ken Block bettered Speed early on, but a spectacular roll for the Hoonigan star took him out of the race. He would again roll out in Barbados a year later in remarkably similar fashion, but that’s another story…
On the restart, it was eventual champion Joni Wiman who had the upper hand, but after he too took the joker twice, the Finn was parked in the penalty box. Speed, inch-perfect on the mostly-asphalt track, was easily able to get by the parked Olsbergs MSE driver and went on to win ahead of Steve Arpin – who collected his maiden podium – and Brian Deegan.
The win, a dream maiden triumph for Andretti, marked the second time in as many years that Speed – still a relatively inexperienced rallycross driver, embarking on his second full season in the discipline at the time – had begun the season with a victory.
The ex-Formula 1 and NASCAR driver went back-to-back, winning at the second round of the season at X Games Austin, while Foust snapped his victory drought by triumphing in New York to give VARX three wins from the opening four rounds of the season. Ironically, the only event in which it didn’t claim a final win during that time was at Volkswagen of America’s home race in Washington DC.
The Polos – or Volkswagen GTIs – were phased out over the second half of the season, with Foust debuting the team’s Beetle at the Los Angeles double-header. Speed, by then driving Foust’s chassis, won the first LA race, and then joined Foust in a Beetle at the season finale in Las Vegas.
There he had a shot at a first title, but ultimately took fourth on the road and third in the points.
The Polos were fully gone by 2015, as were the 1.6-liter engines that the Beetles ran in the tail end of ‘14. With their new 2.0-liter engines, the Beetle had some teething troubles in the first half of ‘15, but upon GRC’s return to Los Angeles, so began a dominant run that culminated in Speed’s and VARX’s first title.
The rest, as they say, is history.