At age 14, Joni Wiman (“WEE-man”) won the European Karting championship then went on to be runner-up in the Formula Renault 2.0 UK Winter Series. Formula One was his next step. Despite his obvious skills, however, a lack of funding left him out of the driver’s seat. Then he found Red Bull Global Rallycross (GRC), a race league of 600-horsepower cars that hit 60 mph just as fast as F-1 cars, yet are able to withstand 70-foot jumps and car-to-car contact while drifting. After sweeping all six rounds in the GRC Lites championship (essentially the feeder league for GRC), Wiman’s finally found a home. “I’m just happy to be doing something I love”, he said. “Formula One is not the only place to race.”
Though you’ve probably never heard about it, Red Bull Global Rallycross is arguably motorsports’ best kept secret, and its most promising up-and-comer. Mainstays like NASCAR and Formula One, with their long races, complicated rules, expensive tickets and slim access for drivers, have in recent years failed to attract new, younger audiences. GRC, on the other hand — with its short, easy-to-understand races; colorful drivers like Tanner Foust , Ken Block and Nelson Piquet Jr.; insanely powerful cars; and racetracks made up of dirt, asphalt and even water — is quickly building a fan base, and it’s easy to see why.
Ticket prices are well within most people’s budget. General admission for two days of racing goes for between $35 and $65, depending on the venue, and buys you open seating (anywhere you want) and access to the paddock. All attendees can wander around to the various teams’ trucks and tents, watch engineers work on cars, and meet all the drivers — a VIP privilege at NASCAR and F1 events.
It’s easy to see why the GRC — with its short, simple races, colorful drivers, insanely powerful cars, and racetracks made of dirt, asphalt and even water — is quickly building a fan base.
Perhaps more importantly, the races are short and easy to follow. An average NASCAR race lasts anywhere between two and five hours, with qualifying the day before; GRC races average 10 minutes with qualifying on the same day. And unlike the time trial qualifying in other series, GRC teams qualify by racing beating competitors in four-car races of six laps. The top two of each qualifying heat, along with a few from the last-chance qualifier race, make up the 10-car field that compete in the final race.
Because GRC tracks run from a mile to a mile and a half, the 10-race season can take place almost anywhere on any surface, from the asphalt of Barbados’ Bushy Park Circuit (where Ken Block recently rolled), to the dirt track at Charlotte Motor Speedway, to a mix of both at Austin’s Circuit of the Americas. And because the tracks are so short, they’re almost entirely visible from pretty much every seat (whereas F-1 fans must pick a corner and hope something exciting happens in front of them).
In addition to being more exciting in the traditional sense, GRC also features distinctly nontraditional elements. F-1 begins races with the typical sequence of red, yellow and green lights, and NASCAR with a simple green flag; in lieu of a consistent routine, GRC drivers get a 30-second warning light, and then another light signaling that the green could cue at any point over the next 10 seconds, keeping drivers and spectators on edge. And in penalizing on-track infractions, GRC takes a cue from hockey: in the event of a false start or rough driving, the driver must pull into the Penalty Box to be held until a track official releases them, while the other drivers continue racing. Lastly, there’s the Joker Lap, which is essentially a shortcut lane that skips a corner. Each driver is required to take this path once during the race — and only once. Take it too early and you might blow your chance at a last-minute pass; wait until the end and you might have missed your opportunity already.
As brands and race organizers in the major series scramble to attract younger viewers, GRC is already swarming with them, with a strong 27,000 followers on Twitter, an increasingly popular YouTube channel (which features recaps and extra content) and live coverage on NBC and NBC Sports. This event built around energy drinks and GoPro cameras draws manufacturers like VW, Chevrolet, Ford, Hyundai and Subaru — and most importantly, hungry new talents like Joni Wiman, who wouldn’t have gotten his start otherwise. And with the Red Bull name attached you know it’s gonna be bro-tastic entertainment, full of loud engines and excitement, perfect for our waning attention spans. Heads up, big leagues: the young guns are coming for you and your fans.