It’s October 2017, and I’m in my hotel room watching the sunrise over the Port of LA. That year’s Global Rallycross series had just concluded and, as was so often the case back then, mutterings about the future of the series were doing the rounds.
As history now tells us, this time those rumors were right and GRC would go on to die a rather messy death that winter. But there was another whisper doing the rounds that weekend. Nitro Circus, the television and live event juggernaut helmed by some-time GRC racer Travis Pastrana, was looking at starting its own rallycross series.
A one-off event would make its bow in 2018 while the US national championship continued on life support under the guidance of world championship promoter IMG. But it wasn’t until 2020, with IMG’s Americas Rallycross series also now fallen by the wayside, that the Nitro Rallycross championship would finally become a reality.
Of course, 2020 ended up being, well, you know… so we’ve had to wait a little longer to finally be able to say ‘it’s race week!’. Not that that’s really been an issue – NRX bosses will tell you that the halt to proceedings didn’t really affect their plans, and the extra lead time has provided everyone with more time to make sure things go right this time anyway.
So, now we’re here, will it be third time lucky for top-level rallycross in the US, or is NRX destined to go the same way as those that came before it? Personally, I think we’ve finally got a series that can do the business – literally and figuratively.
In following two doomed series, NRX bosses have the advantage of hindsight. They’ve seen what’s worked, what hasn’t, and have been “listening and hearing demand from industry stakeholders” according to Joe Carr, the CEO of series parent Thrill One Sports & Entertainment.
Subsequently, those lessons have been put into practice during its long run up to this first full season. That’s already a plus point.
What’s more, while predecessing series hemorrhaged manufacturers, for various reasons that were not all automotive related, NRX arrives at a time where that landscape is changing. Automakers want to go electric (NRX will introduce an electric class next year) and want to once again attract a younger market. Two more boxes checked.
Then there’s the racing product itself. Gone are the uninspiring parking lot courses of yesteryear, replaced with dramatic, videogame-like tracks that have, so far, turned even those not remotely interested in motorsport wide-eyed. Those two standalone races in 2018 and ’19 have provided the perfect appetizer in terms of visual appeal. Now there are four other tracks that promise to be equally as inspiring.
It’s taken a while, but the tired old clichés might finally be about to mean something
And let’s not forget the format. The World RX format used by ARX was fine – even if the tiny grids mean that it was somewhat flawed in terms of elimination. Overall though it was tried, tested, and has been perfect in Europe for a number of years.
The NRX format takes that, and enhances it. We still have a heat stage, we still have semifinals, and the winner of the final will go down in the record books as the ‘race’ winner. But we get all of that with a bit more thrown in; something that ought to satisfy purists and those with a more open mind as well.
At the end of the day, while NRX is still fundamentally a sporting competition it’s also about entertainment. And this format maximizes not only track time for the series, but the variety of scenarios in which we’ll see these cars and drivers do battle as well.
One-lap qualifying might sound boring on paper, but seeing a driver push to the absolute limits with fewer external distractions as they look to set their weekend off perfectly will be enjoyable in its own right, while the head-to-head battles provide the perfect opportunity to develop some real rivalries over the course of the season.
When it comes to the 10-car final, in Global Rallycross I wasn’t a fan. With 10-car fields and 10 laps, those races became stale rather quickly. This time though, each stage of the competition up to that point features an element of elimination.
There’s peril beforehand, so everyone in that final will have earned their place there, and everything that happens before it actually means something whereas in the past it largely didn’t.
Not only that, but with the winners of the early heats getting a pass into the final, you have the interesting juxtaposition of fresh drivers in unscathed cars going up against those that may be weary, but have the added benefit of much more track time to gain experience. Seeing which side is better in that duel will be intriguing to say the least.
So what do we have? Strong foundations, visual appeal, an enhanced and exciting format, global interest, and bucketloads of optimism to boot.
For years we’ve been told that rallycross is the perfect motorsport for America, and that it’s ‘the future’. It’s taken a while, but those tired old clichés might finally be about to mean something.
I can’t wait.