6:23 p.m. PST: Friday saw an end to practice and the start of times around the X Games Rally course at HDC that actually count for something. Kenny Brack turned in the fastest qualifying time (57.00) in today's seeding round, but it's hard to take too many lessons from what we saw. Clearly the trio of Subarus- Ken Block, Dave Mirra, and Travis Somethingorother- already locked into a top four seeding based on their results last year, weren't going full bore. Mostly, they wanted drivers to avoid hitting anything (all but Mirra obliged, and the damage he sustained to the right side of his front fender was fairly superficial). Plus, Pastrana had to think about Friday night's Moto X Best Trick comp at Staples. Given the completely sick trick he's hoping to pull, I can understand why sucking out a few extra tenths of a second on the tarmac weren't a major priority. Meanwhile, as I mentioned earlier in the day, the Ford Fiesta crew of Brack, Tanner Foust, and Brian Deegan all ran well, a reflection of how factory teams basically owned the day. Moreover, there's still the question of dirt. Nobody gets to see it until Sunday's practice run ahead of the Final, which again favors the factory teams, particularly Subaru. As a member of Ken Block's crew told me Friday afternoon, they've got a few years of X Games experience and data at their disposal that'll help remove a lot of the guesswork when it comes to tuning the car for the big 70 foot jump inside the HDC. For many others in the field, including the Fords, it's still a huge wild card. Among the other drivers, expect Andrew Comrie-Picard to run well Sunday. He's been smooth all week, and after rolling forward over the jump in '08 has a lot to prove. Saturday is a day off for the rally field, but I'll still be posting news and notes as they come in. There's always something going on.
5:57 p.m. PST: We've got pairings for the first round of elimination come Sunday. Remember, the four medalists from last year (Pastrana, Block, Foust, Mirra) get a first round bye:
Key: Name (seed, car make)
Kenny Brack (5, Ford) vs. Jimmy Keeney (12, Subaru)
Brian Deegan (6, Ford) vs. Matthew Johnson (11, Subaru)
Andrew Comrie-Picard (7, Mitsubishi) vs. Art Gruszka (10, Mitsubishi)
Andi Mancin (8, Mitsubishi) vs. Piotr Wiktorcyk (9, Subaru)
3:57 p.m. PST: X Games may be a pricey endeavor, but there are some perks for the team crews (at least until they test the jump Sunday). As one member of Ken Block's pit at Camp Subaru pointed out, because all the practice and seeding runs are done on tarmac, the guys working under the car get to do it without mud, dirt, snow, ice, branches, and any other variety of God's green falling on them in the process.
3:23 p.m. PST: Dave Mirra brushed the wall in today's seeding run, but came out basically unscathed. The same, as the pictures show, cannot be said of Matt Johnson. His hard slam did some serious damage to the front end of his car, as indicated by the whole "needs a forklift to get off the track then a team of passerbys to push the thing into his pit" pics you see here.
Among the carnage: a sheared strut on the left side of the car, and a motor that smacked into the frame rail, doing some rather impressive damage. I'm no mechanic, but judging by the faces of his crew, there's a lot more to fix between now and Sunday's Final (he's also scheduled to test Saturday morning). Given that Johnson had to put his car up on eBay to raise the cash to fund the car for X Games, he might now need to organize a telethon to pay for parts.
3:07 p.m. PST: Another reason cash matters in this year's comp: The larger factory teams not only have the benefit of important sponsorship and support financially allowing them access to the best equipment, but also an increase in technical know-how once things get rolling. Three cars (as the Ford and Subaru teams have) all lined up next to each other in the pits means three times the information coming in on setups, three times the brainpower working to tweak the cars, and so on. One of the Ford crew members told me there's plenty of information passed back and forth between the mechanics, and the drivers talk as well. Every little bit helps.
3:02 p.m. PST: It wasn't just Kenny Brack, who turned in the fastest qualifying time of the day (57.00 seconds). Three of the four best times were turned in by the trio of Ford Fiestas in the field, the other two being Tanner Foust and Brian Deegan. Some of that could be a reflection of how hard the cars are being pushed. Team Subaru (Block, Pastrana, and Mirra) have all had far more time in their cars, know the adjustments, and don't need to find the limit. The Ford guys, meanwhile, only recently had a chance to get behind the wheel of the Fiesta. Foust told me yesterday it's a powerful car with tons of speed, but is tricky to drive. That all three drivers are turning in good times indicates they're getting the hang of it fast. This could set up a good factory battle on Sunday between the Ford and Subaru squads.
3:02 p.m. PST: You may have heard about this whole recession thing? It's a killer for motorsports and even more so for rally, which has had trouble drawing sponsorship dollars domestically even in good times. With times being lean, the difference between the haves and have nots becomes even larger as the smaller fish scramble for the funds to compete (Matt Johnson, for example, put his car up on eBay to find the scratch).
A few figures:
A top end rally car can cost in the neighborhood of $250-300,000, easy.
Transportation costs are substantial. Andrew Comrie-Picard, who is based in Toronto, told me they'll shell out about six grand just to tow the cars back and forth from there to LA.
X Games is the most expensive event of the year for most of these guys. Starting with the hotels and food, far more expensive here than in your random backwoods rally location, the week can run teams around $30,000 or more. That's anywhere from 25 to 50% more than the average rally.
Put it together, and the teams with substantial factory backing enjoy a serious advantage.
2:59 p.m. PST: Kenny Brack and his Ford Fiesta had the fastest time in today's seeding lap (57.00, meaning he'll be the highest seed in "Group 1, which includes all drivers not grandfathered into the top four by virtue of a medal in '08). I asked a member of his crew if they'd made any major adjustments that might help explain Brack's increased speed.
"He switched on his ALS this time," he said.
Meaning Brack utilized his anti-lag system, which is designed to minimize turbo lag time (something with which, as an owner of a late 90's Saab, I'm very familiar). Nothing like taking advantage of all your available toys to shave time.
1:39 p.m. PST: For a guy who ran into a wall during seeding, Matt Johnson was surprisingly upbeat. Adjustments, particularly to the alignment, had the car running better than it had all week. He told me he was 10 mph faster in the straightaway than he had been previously. As for the crash, his engine cut out briefly, and in the time it took for him to glance down at his instruments, he passed his braking zone.
While it'll be tough for Team Johnson to get the car tuned perfectly for Sunday because of the wreck, he told me if they can get it back to where it was for the qualifying run he thinks he can win. Unoficially, it looks like he'll face Deegan in the first round of eliminations on Sunday.
1:32 p.m. PST: Times for the seeding runs:
Group 1 (Drivers ranked 5-12 coming in, because the top four racers from last year are automatically pushed through the first round):
Johnson: 250.00 (hit the wall)
Remember, for a lot of guys, especially those already in the top four, a primary goal was a clean run to help preserve the car for Sunday. The times matter, but don't read too much into them.
1:18 p.m. PST: More news on seeding:
-Kenny Brack now has the fastest time of the day, at 57 seconds flat. Tanner Foust is next at 57.59, followed by Travis Pastrana (58.05) and Brian Deegan (58.11).
One thing to remember: Last year's four medalists (Foust, Pastrana, Ken Block, Dave Mirra) are in a separate seeding group and recieve a first round bye in the head to head format for Sunday. The remaining eight drivers will race against each other first before getting to last year's big four.
1:04 p.m. PST: Sorry folks. That was Matt Johnson who crashed, not Jimmy Keeney. My apologies. So add a little repair work to MJ's extensive-and-growing to do list.
12:58 p.m. PST: There are a lot of big names still to run, but the early surprise is Brian Deegan, who has the fastest run thus far, at 58.112 seconds. That puts him ahead of Andrew Comrie-Picard, who posted Thursday's fastest times in practice, and Andi Mancin, who was also very fast yesterday.
12:46 p.m. PST: Big delay in the qualifying runs, as the last crash popped out a piece of the safety wall that had to be put back into place. Drivers with 1:30 lunch reservations might be disappointed.
12:25 p.m. PST: Watching the venue feed from my production tent, and I just saw what I believe is Jimmy Keeney's Subaru roll by on the wrong end of a forklift. That can't be good.
12:09 p.m PST: Ran into Matt Johnson after the practice run, and asked him how it went. He said he likes to compare his driving to a tool boxthe deeper you have to reach in, the harder you're working to drive.
So far? "All my tools are out and spread on the table." Meaning he's working too hard, and the car isn't where he wants it to be. Johnson will be testing off site Saturday ahead of Sunday's Final, and fair to say he's got a lot on his plate.
11:58 a.m. PST: Cars are back in the pits for (I believe) 20 minutes before heading back out for the seeding lap. FYI, the order they'll run for that is random, based on a drawing this morning.
11:51 a.m. PST: Okay.... I'm standing at the big sweeping turn near the turnaround and it was interesting to see pastrsna and mirra run through. Both went wide, but where mirra had to adjust his steering to come out of the turn, travis blew through it without having to come off the throttle, it seemed. Super, super clean. As teammates it wouldn't shock if they had talked about using similar lines, but if that's the case travis has it dialed in far more.
11:39 a.m. PST: Brian deegan just clipped his front fender off a corner in practice. That'll give his guys something to do before seeding.
11:32 a.m. PST: One potentially cool thing to look for on the tv broadcast... Those hockey puck looking things you might see mounted on the car's roof are, i've been told, 360 degree cameras. Very high tech stuff so they say. Like robots.
11:08 a.m. PST: Traffic jam, but really no worse than trying to get to the HDC on the 110 South.
10:57 a.m. PST:Down in the pits cars are moving to line up for today's session. An hour of practice before seeding runs start at noon.
10:41 a.m. PST: On my way out of thr HDC last night, I passed Matt Johnson's crew working on their car long after everyone else was gone. They didn't run well in Thursday's practice and had a lot to adjust all over the car. One big problem-- a bit of car shrapnel rattling around the gas tank that was leaving them "starving for fuel" and slowing the car in a big way We'll find out how well they fixed the problem once practice and seeding start. Either way, jonhson plans on testing off site tomorrow, as well as re-wrapping the car to make it all pretty-like.
10:33 a.m. PST: Just walked past a plain-clothesed kenny brack in the pits. Lucky Brand Jeans t-shirt, fairly thick chunky eyeglasses. This isn't someone you'd assume races cars for a living. Follow me all day on here. I will be live blogging live from X Games 15. BK