Battle On the Ice: Nitro RX Trois-Rivières Recap

The 2022-23 Nitro Rallycross season continued with a trip north of the border to Trois-Rivières in Quebec for the series’ first-ever snow and ice event, with Vermont SportsCar’s (VSC) Travis Pastrana and Conner Martell looking to build upon their recent one-two finish under the lights in Phoenix in the all-electric Group E category.

VSC has had quite the history at the venue, making its sole World Rallycross appearance there in 2014 with the Subaru Supercar operation, and Scott Speed taking a podium finish at the track in Americas Rallycross in 2019.

The track layout was different this time around, taking into account the conditions, making extensive use of the previous layout’s infield and incorporating big sweeping banked bends. Coupled with the sub-zero conditions and the introduction of new studded Yokohama ice tires that feature 325 spikes each, the whole weekend provided a unique new challenge for the Group E field.

Once again the VSC team was rapid out of the box, with Pastrana topping the opening practice session, but the track’s tight nature proved to be problematic during the head-to-head Battle Brackets.

Facing off against Oliver Bennett in his first round qualifying battle, Martell was more than a match for the Brit, posting quicker sector times for much of the race. Bennett’s stronger start however meant that Martell had to contend with the poor visibility as he followed in Bennett’s wake. It was a similar story for Pastrana, who went-toe-to-toe with eventual event winner Oliver Eriksson in the Quarter Final battle. After leading early on, a small mistake sucked Pastrana’s Group E machine into a snowbank which forced him to concede the race.

The team’s luck appeared to have turned on Saturday, with Pastrana rocketing from the second row of the grid in heat two to take a dominant early lead. However, contact with Oliver Eriksson in that initial charge eventually resulted in a de-beaded tire. Pastrana’s lead in the race slowly evaporated as he wrestled his now three-wheeled car around the course, settling for a third place finish. He bounced back with a comfortable victory in the first semifinal after making a great start and resisting a charge from championship leader Robin Larsson, before enjoying a clean run to the checkered flag. 

For Martell, early driveshaft issues meant that he had to qualify for the final via the Last Chance Qualifier, which he won.

In the final, Pastrana was once again strong off the start and quickly asserted himself as the main challenger to the leading Olsbergs MSE duo. He ran in third early on, but lost a position after brushing a snowbank. He was caught out once again later in the race, leading to his car becoming high-centered in the snow. Pastrana eventually crossed the line fifth, but was later penalized for an unsafe reentry onto the track after backing out of the snowbank into the path of Andreas Bakkerud.

“It was a difficult weekend,” said Pastrana. “We were among the fastest here, and had lots of confidence early with fastest in practice then a win in the semi, which set us up nicely for the final.

“But I made a few mistakes while pushing for the podium, just overdrove it in a few spots and got sucked into snowbanks. I let a podium slip away.”

For Martell, a lack of power owing to the delay in the LCQ and subsequent tight turnaround between that race and the final left him on the back foot in the final where he had to settle for a sixth place finish.

“We really struggled with car issues here and didn’t have many clean runs, it was just something every race,” he said. “We were quick when things were working. I was hoping to make up some ground in the final but we ran into maybe a battery power issue and had to limp around for half the race. 

“We need to put this event behind us and focus on Calgary.”

The Nitro Rallycross season continues in just under two weeks time with another Snow and Ice event at  Stampede Park in Calgary.

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