Nitrocross returned to Glen Helen Raceway for the final event of the calendar year, and it was a notable one for Vermont SportsCar: Conner Martell scored his first podium finish of the year while Lia Block made her Group E debut with the team on Sunday.
Glen Helen is the site of VSC’s greatest rallycross event to date, when the team secured Nitrocross’ first-ever 1-2-3 result back in 2021. And in four championship rounds held there last season, the team took a single victory with Pastrana grabbing top spot in the penultimate round of the campaign.
This time around the team faced challenging conditions all weekend as low temperatures and strong winds battered the Southern California venue.
Martell went into the weekend with a spring in his step and a point to prove. His run to the breakthrough result started with a qualifying race win, while Travis Pastrana – racing only on Saturday – spun out of his opening battle with newcomer Viktor Vrankcx and Andreas Bakkerud. Martell backed that win up with second in his semifinal and a faultless win in his Last Chance Qualifier to lock in a second row spot for the main event. Pastrana meanwhile followed home in second in the same LCQ after powering through the field from the last starting spot.
In the final, Martell took advantage of an early scuffle between Andreas Bakkerud and Kevin Eriksson to move forward. There he pressured Oliver Eriksson right until the end of the race, coming close to snatching the lead in the final corner on the last lap, before finishing 2nd overall. Pastrana, meanwhile, finished seventh after a quiet run in the final.
On Sunday, Pastrana ceded his car to 17-year old Lia Block who made her Group E debut and became the first female to race in Nitrocross’ top category. Lia had limited practice in the 1000hp Group E machine prior to race day and began Sunday consistently improving her lap times. She was paired with Martell and Brian Deegan in her first qualifying race, briefly challenging the latter while Martell took victory.
In the semifinals, Block’s strategic racing skills came to the forefront, as she dropped a position en route to fourth, ensuring she would be in the second LCQ and therefore guaranteed a spot in the final. Martell meanwhile finished behind Block after a spin caused by a differential issue which was quickly rectified.
Ahead of the final, Martell once again won his LCQ, while Block was left wondering what might have been after a loss of power over the gap jump brought her day to an early end. A motor failure was later determined to be the cause, something that couldn’t be sorted before the final, leaving her on the sidelines. Nevertheless, she did qualify for the final on her maiden appearance in the class, a stellar achievement.
That left Martell to carry the VSC flag alone in the final but unfortunately he wasn’t able to repeat his Saturday performance.
After running wide on the exit of the first turn, he made light contact with the wall and was subsequently collected by Deegan. Further wall contact followed as a result, ending all hopes of another podium finish.
Nitrocross now pauses for a brief break over the holidays before heading north of the border for the only snow and ice round at the Calgary Stampede on February 2-3.