In a thrilling showdown between Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross teammates, Scott Speed walked away with his second Red Bull Global Rallycross Driver’s Championship in LA Sunday, narrowly beating teammate and fellow two-time Red Bull GRC Champion Tanner Foust to the title. Speed’s crown marks the second championship of Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross’s season, after the team secured the Red Bull GRC Manufacturer’s Championship Award for VW in Seattle last month. The season-ending honors denote an unparalleled run of success for the team, which took eight victories in eleven races this year and locked up the top two positions in the Driver’s Championship even before the final race of 2016 on Sunday.
Speed entered the LA doubleheader weekend 13 points behind Foust who had led the Championship for most of the year. On Saturday, he made quick work to close the gap, setting the fastest time in qualifying before winning each of his Heat and Semifinal races. Foust faced more difficulties, qualifying fourth before finishing second in both Heats and earning a victory in his Semifinal, allowing the driver of the No. 34 Rockstar Energy Drink Beetle GRC to start the Final alongside his teammate. Foust’s Heat race defeats marked the first time since the season-opener in Phoenix where the two-time series champion did not claim a preliminary race win. Foust’s streak of 25 Heat and Semifinal race wins far eclipses the previous series record and demonstrates the achievements of the 43-year-old driver in his third year with the Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross team.
Speed and Foust made clean starts in Saturday’s Final, quickly separating themselves from the rest of the field. Speed nursed a small cushion to his teammate, crossing the line just over one second clear of the No. 34 driver. The gap between the two before Sunday’s final race was just six markers, but both had earned enough points to clinch first and second in the championship standings. It would be a Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross sweep and Sunday’s racing would determine the order.
Speed’s pursuit of Foust did not go so smoothly on Sunday morning. Foust qualified second, while Speed turned the session’s fourth fastest lap, setting up a head-to-head Heat between the championship rivals. Foust managed to best his teammate and the drivers went on to compete in separate Semifinal races.
Speed made a last-lap pass to eke out a victory in Semifinal A, giving him the best chance of a strong starting position in the Final. Foust’s Semifinal was marked by rough driving and chaos that saw the No. 34 driver fall as far as fifth place before recovering to third position by the checkered flag. Foust was given a penalty after the race for contact with another driver and relegated to fourth place, forcing him to start in the Last Chance Qualifier.
The Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross crew worked feverishly to get Foust’s battered car ready for the LCQ, and Foust managed an easy win, securing himself a starting position in the Final. Heading into the race, Speed was four points behind Foust’s tally, meaning that whichever driver crossed the line first would walk away with Championship honors.
With Speed on pole and Foust on the third row of the grid, it looked like the title was all but decided, but Foust made a dynamite start, passing nearly half the field on the outside of Turns 1 and 2. He settled into third place behind his teammate, who lost position to another car at the start. The two Championship contenders were nose to tail for much of the race, as Speed lost time behind the slower car which had grabbed the lead at the start. Foust looked for an opportunity to pass, but raced cleanly, keeping his bumper mere inches away of his teammate. Speed made a move for the lead as the fourth place driver took a late-race Joker Lap, leapfrogging the three cars ahead of him. With a car between the two, Speed felt confident in his victory and gladly accepted the second place race finish needed to claim his second consecutive championship victory.
“Today was the most emotional day of racing in my entire career,” said Speed after the podium ceremony. “I expected to come out and run at the front without problems today, but had some troubles in qualifying. After racing in the same Heat with Tanner, with him winning, I thought our chances were done, but then he ran into his own issues, so the championship was in our hands going into the final. This is the culmination of so much hard work from everyone on the team this year and I couldn’t be prouder to stand on the podium with everyone.”
For his part, Foust was disappointed in a second place finish in the season standings after coming so close to adding to his two previous Red Bull GRC titles.
“I’m gutted for my side of the garage with this result,” said the driver of the No. 34 Rockstar Energy Drink Beetle GRC. “We started the day leading the points, but events outside our control put us in a hole. I put everything I had into that Final and we came up just one or two points shy. Everyone’s worked so hard this year: I’m very proud of the team, but wanted to get my guys to the top step of the podium today. Congratulations to Scott and everyone at Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross for the amazing result. We couldn’t have done much better this season, so this is something to really be proud of.”
By the numbers, Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross dominated the season. The team earned victories in eight out of eleven races and scored six additional podium finishes. Saturday’s 1-2 sweep in LA was the team’s fourth double-podium of the year and its third 1-2 finish. Foust’s almost perfect record in Heat and Semifinal races was record-setting, and Speed joined his teammate as only the second driver to score two Red Bull GRC Driver’s Championships.
“The Volkswagen Andretti guys are the best in the paddock,” exclaimed Speed after accepting his championship trophy. “It’s an honor to work with everyone on the team and I’m lucky to have such a great teammate in Tanner. I’m so happy to share this moment with everyone right now and I can’t wait to get back to work next year.”