Looking every bit the champions that they are, Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross returned to the season-opening round of the 2017 Red Bull Global Rallycross championship in fine form, claiming a 1-2 finish in Saturday’s Final at Memphis International Raceway. Scott Speed led teammate Tanner Foust across the line, earning his 13th career win to take the early lead in the 2017 championship battle and granting him title of winningest driver in Global Rallycross history.
The Beetle GRCs picked up where they left off last season, setting the top two times in the 2017’s opening practice session. After a second practice of adjustments and experimentation saw the cars set times at the end of the field, the Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross team returned in strong form for qualifying. Speed led the crew with a commanding performance in the session, putting his Beetle GRC on pole position. Foust was closest in being able to match his teammate, but aborted his final run after a brief mistake in the dirt section of the track.
With a new race format for 2017, the fastest qualifiers faced one another in the first round of Heats. Speed led his teammate from the line, taking first blood in the 2017 season’s inaugural points-paying race. A victim of the revised format, Foust was made to start from third in Heat 2B, but found his way to another second place finish behind Speed.
The only hiccup of reigning champion Speed’s weekend came in Heat 3B, when an uncharacteristically slow start forced the driver of the No. 41 Oberto Circle K Beetle GRC to the midpack, resulting in a third-place finish. Speed’s loss was Foust’s gain, however, as the No. 34 Rockstar Energy Drink Beetle GRC driver put his car in the lead and never looked back, earning his first Heat win of the season.
Heading into Semifinals, both Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross teammates were tied on points. Speed held the tie-breaking, fast qualifying time and led his Semifinal A to the grid, while Foust took a similar position for Semifinal B. Both drivers made easy work of their competition, earning Semifinal wins, and top starting positions for Saturday afternoon’s Final.
Speed made a good start in the Final, but Foust’s was spectacular. The teammates ran side-by-side through the first, banked corner of the 1.18-mile Memphis International Raceway track, but Foust slotted in behind Speed for the tight left-hander into the circuit’s infield section. Just before the completion of the first lap, the race was red flagged for a car stopped on circuit. Drivers and teams, cars and tires, would have to endure the stress of a race restart.
Speed made a better launch the second time, and held a more comfortable lead over Foust in the first corners. From then, the Beetle GRCs set off on a blistering pace, using fresh tires to set some of the quickest lap times of the weekend.
Speed took the Joker Lap shortcut at the first opportunity on Lap 2, while Foust kept it in reserve to try and overtake his teammate later in the race. He wasn’t able to close the gap by enough, however, and both cars made it to the checkered flag in the order that they started—the same order in which they finished last year’s championship—Speed and Foust atop the field.
“Having an almost perfect weekend like this is obviously a great way to start the season,” said Speed after the race. “Our whole time here was really smooth, and that doesn’t just happen by accident. Lots of hard work made this possible, so I’ve got to give a shoutout to everyone at Andretti and Volkswagen who made this result possible.”
Foust was similarly grateful for the strong team effort and also acknowledged the success of a teammate who may once again prove his biggest championship rival in 2017.
“I’m super excited for the whole team with a result like this,” said Foust. “After qualifying in second, and with Scott putting in some amazing Heats, you just have to grab onto those heels and hang on. Overall, this was a great performance on a tricky track, so I’m very proud of this team and the hard work that’s paid off today.”
The reigning champions leave Memphis with the points lead, giving the Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross drivers a foot up on their rivals for the rest of the 2017 season. Hard work from the team during the offseason bore fruit in Memphis and Speed is hoping to enjoy a similar advantage for the rest of the year.
“The whole team just worked this offseason. We put in the work, and when we wanted to stop we worked some more,” he said. “When you show up to the first race and you put this kind of performance down, it just makes all that work worthwhile.”