Vermont SportsCar (VSC) returned to Glen Helen Raceway to wrap up the inaugural Nitro Rallycross Group E season with an intense triple-header event that condensed three full championship rounds into just three days.
The event was a positive one overall for the team, with Travis Pastrana qualifying in the top two all weekend and winning on Saturday night to help VSC lockup third in the Team Championship standings.
Friday’s round began with a perfect one-two finish in the opening heats, with Pastrana moving straight into the final with the victory. Conner Martell meanwhile had to advance to the main via the Last Chance Qualifier after a spin in his semifinal.
In the final, Pastrana was beaten off the start by Andreas Bakkerud, but kept the Norwegian honest in the opening laps. After jokering on lap three followed by a blistering lap time, Pastrana retook the lead once Bakkerud took the longer route a lap later.
However, a puncture – a recurring theme on the rock-filled track – quickly ended his strong hopes for a third win on the season. It was a similar story for Martell who also suffered a puncture in the second half of the race. They came home sixth and seventh respectively.
Saturday was a much better affair. Pastrana took another heat win after setting the fastest time in qualifying, while Martell took third in his opening race. Martell had a painfully unlucky moment in the Semi Final when his car powered off after the safety switch was accidentally engaged when an errant rock hit the windshield, meaning that once again he had to progress through the LCQ.
Pastrana dominated the Final, pulling away from the field to take his third win of the season. Meanwhile, Martell was on course to join him on the podium for a second time until last gasp passes from the RX Cartel duo of Bakkerud and Robin Larsson found a way past the resolute youngster.
With Pastrana’s win, VSC secured a victory in two different race series in two locations on the same night, with the VSC run SMSUSA team earning victory at the Rally at the 100 Acre Wood, with Brandon Semenuk driving.
“It’s a heck of a day for Vermont SportsCar, and a heck of a day for Subaru…and we got Ken Block on the top of the podium” said Pastrana, referring to the tribute livery on his Group E car. “It feels awesome to get a win out here. Let’s go 1 – 2 tomorrow – Conner and I had the fastest times today, I know we can do it!”
On Sunday, however, the rain began, and Pastrana’s run of heat victories came to an end. He was on course for a third-straight win, but for a last lap pass from Kevin Eriksson who’d made the most of an early joker. Hard contact with Oliver Bennett robbed Martell of a strong finish in the early race too, but with only the winner advancing and both drivers in the same heat, the team was prepared for at least one of the cars needing a longer route to the final.
Both would advance at the next stage with second place results in their respective Semis. Martell finished third on the road but contact from an over-aggressive pass from Timo Scheider saw him penalised, thus giving the position back to Martell. Pastrana was subject to a similar impact from Larsson, but remained in second with stewards taking no further action after reviewing the incident. Nevertheless, it was enough to secure a third straight two-car final appearance for VSC.
There was work to do though, with both starting in the back half of the grid by virtue of their semi results. Martell had the better start, sweeping by both Pastrana and Friday winner Bakkerud to join the podium battle.
With Bakkerud jokering early, both VSC drivers had each other to fight in what was arguably the most hotly-contested final of the year. A late race tire puncture for Martell dropped him out of podium contention and the duo had to settle for sixth and seventh. Martell comfortably took the fastest lap in the final race of the season, being the only driver to dip below 46 seconds.
“Overall it was a great season,” said Martell. “I definitely had some good races, and some bad luck too, but the team always got me through so I’m looking forward to next year.”
With all 10 rounds now in the books, Pastrana ends the campaign fourth with Martell in sixth. Attention now turns to the 2023-24 season, which will kick off in Oklahoma on June 16-17.
The VSC team is also working to expand to four entries next season, with the team recently acquiring two more FC1-X race cars.