The 2023-24 Nitrocross Group E season continued at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park near Phoenix Arizona last weekend with rounds Four and Five of the series, where Travis Pastrana claimed a third as well as another Top Qualifier result.
Wild Horse Pass is where VSC took its first one-two finish in the category last year, and is the first time this season that the championship had visited a venue where the all-electric Group E class had raced before. Following last year’s strong showing, expectations were high.
The weekend got off to a strong start with Pastrana out-qualifying current points leader Kevin Eriksson, and Conner Martell besting reigning champion Robin Larsson.
The strong performance continued into the semifinals, where Martell finished second. Pastrana meanwhile went one better, capitalizing on a collision between Kevin Eriksson and Bakkerud to power through to victory in his semifinal.
Pastrana was automatically through to the final as a result, while Martell had to get in via the Last Chance Qualifiers – which he duly managed after finishing second to Fraser McConnell, after resisting a hard-charging Brian Deegan early on.
In the Final, hopes of a repeat of last year’s one-two ended on the first lap when Martell collided with the bank on the outside of the corner, collecting Oliver Eriksson in the process. That left Pastrana to carry the VSC flag.
Heading into the final lap, the top five were covered by a mere 1.5 seconds, with Pastrana right in the thick of the action. After having a look up the inside of second placed driver Kevin Erikson at Turn 1, he then passed both him and race leader Larsson – who was nursing a puncture at the time – at Turn 2.
However, he made contact with both on the way past, and although he took what would end up being a comfortable victory on the road, after the finish he was penalized two finishing positions for the contact, dropping him to third. Nevertheless, it was still a podium and vital points in the championship chase.
On Saturday, the team looked to make up for the missed opportunities of the night before. Pastrana placed first in his heat, started on the pole in the qualifier, and ended up as Top Qualifier: gaining maximum championship points, the TQ belt and prime grid position for the semi finals.
It was almost a sweep of semi victories for the team: Pastrana won his round, while Martell ceded the lead late on after contending with a stuck throttle. That again earned Pastrana a ticket to the Final and Martell facing the LCQs once more. Saturday wouldn’t be as kind for Martell though: lap one contact in the Final sent him in the direction of the Turn 2 wall, ruling him out of contention.
Pastrana started from pole position in Saturday’s Final but fellow front-row starter Larsson made the better getaway. Pastrana fought back at the inside of Turn 1 and the outside of Turn 2, but couldn’t find a clean route past the robust Swede.
With Larsson controlling the race, Pastrana’s attention turned to Oliver Eriksson, who was mounting a challenge for second. The pair went door-to-door halfway through the race, with Pastrana resisting. While it looked like he would be adding to his trophy haul with another podium, he dropped back towards the end of the lap, eventually settling for fifth.
The next stop on the Nitrocross schedule is Glen Helen Raceway in Southern California, coming up on December 9-10. At just 28 days, it’s the shortest gap between events so far this season. Last season Nitrocross held four rounds at Glen Helen, with Pastrana taking victory in the penultimate one, and Martell taking his second-best result of that campaign in the same round.