The one-off Nitro Rallycross event, part of the Nitro World Games action sports festival at Utah Motorsports Campus, kicked off on Friday afternoon with practice and head-to-head qualifying heats on the iconic and challenging Nitro track. Friday’s schedule would determine the seed order for Saturday’s semi-final challenger races and give the two fastest qualifiers an automatic seed in the final. Subaru Motorsports USA arrived with a loaded four-car lineup including all three of their factory Americas Rallycross (ARX) drivers, plus Nitro Circus mastermind and NRX track designer Travis Pastrana, against a field featuring the remainder of the 2019 ARX field plus a pair of World RX entrants.
Patrik Sandell looked strong in practice and had the fastest overall time in the first head-to-head session, setting himself up well for the second round of heats, while Pastrana sat mid-pack in his first rallycross outing of the year. Chris Atkinson’s engine suffered an issue that reduced power, necessitating an engine change that would force the Australian to sit out the second Friday session.
The most painful blow of the event, however, occurred in Scott Speed’s heat. The four-time champion and current ARX championship points leader was on pace for a fast time when his car overshot the landing area on the last jump of the final lap – coming down hard on a flat section of track. Speed was able to cross the finish line but immediately exited the car in serious pain and was treated at trackside by medical personnel. After being transported to a local hospital for evaluation, Speed was found to have broken three vertebrae in his back. Fortunately, he was able to move his arms and legs and is expected to make a full recovery, although his status for the remainder of the rallycross season remains unclear.
While the Subaru team’s thoughts were with their injured teammate, the nature of racing demands that a team press on. There was still another round of Friday qualifying heats, plus Saturday’s semi-final races, Last Chance Qualifier and final race left to go. Patrik Sandell would finish well enough in the second qualifying round to earn pole position for the final, while Pastrana locked up third position and would start one of the two semi-final races on pole as well. The action sports legend would win his semi from that position, earning himself the inside spot on the second row of the final grid behind Sandell. Atkinson, starting from the back of the Last Chance Qualifier grid due to the missed semifinal heat, pushed as hard as he could through the five-car field and ran as high as third, but couldn’t catch the second-place car before the line. With the top two LCQ finishers earning the last slots in the final, Atkinson was eliminated by a single place.
In the final race, Sandell was pitted against World RX driver Kevin Hansen in a works Peugeot on the front row, with Pastrana next to defending Nitro champion Timmy Hansen in row two. Both Hansen brothers would launch well, with Kevin Hansen getting around Sandell for the lead into the first corner. The final provided plenty of thrills thanks to a revised format that required every driver to take all three of the different lines through the main jump/tunnel complex – 90-foot gap jump, tabletop jump, and tunnel joker lap – at least once over the course of six laps. With Kevin Hansen waiting until the last lap to take the tunnel joker, the crowd was treated to a massive effort by Sandell to catch the leader and a dramatic moment as their separate lines merged and Hansen barely retained his lead. Sandell would finish a half-second back in second place, with Pastrana in fifth behind Timmy Hansen and Tanner Foust but ahead of his rival Ken Block.
Travis Pastrana returns to his #199 rally car alongside American Rally Association championship leader David Higgins at Minnesota’s Ojibwe Forests Rally, August 22-24. Chris Atkinson and Patrik Sandell will return to rallycross on September 28 at Circuit of the Americas, with Scott Speed’s status yet to be determined.