Big changes ahead for 2014 Global Rallycross

Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross

Tanner Foust will join the newly-formed Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross (VARX) team and ride in a new Beetle (above) in the 2014 Red Bull Rallycross series.

When Red Bull announced last fall they were going to sponsor the fledgling but expanding Global Rallycross series, they hinted big changes were in store. This week, Red Bull Global Rallycross announced those changes for the upcoming season including a stop in Barbados, the addition of an Andretti Motorsports team, Tanner Foust's Volkswagon Beetle, and increased prize money, among other plans for the year.

The 2014 series will feature 10 events, including the May 18 kickoff at the Top Gear Festival at Bushy Park Circuit in Barbados and X Games Austin on June 7, at the Circuit of the Americas racing venue.

The tour will also features events in D.C., New York, Charlotte, Detroit, Daytona, Los Angeles, and Seattle, before concluding on November 5 in Las Vegas. The expanded tour, announced this week, is the first of many expected changes since Red Bull came on as GRC's new title sponsor.

"It's a testament to what we've accomplished, particularly in the last year, that we're attracting exciting new venues as well as some big new sponsors and bringing in new manufacturers like Volkswagen," Red Bull Global Rallycross CEO Colin Dyne told XGames.com.

Dyne also announced increased payouts for the 2014 tour this week, with a points fund of $500,000.

"The prizes have been relatively small in the past, so this is a big step and a reflection that rallycross is now the fastest-growing motorsport in the U.S.," Dyne said. "We have a great mix of drivers including X Games stars like Ken Block, Tanner Foust, Bucky Lasek, and Dave Mirra, as well as drivers like Scott Speed with more traditional racing backgrounds. Upping the ante to a half a million dollars is only going to make them battle harder."

This week's announcements come amidst a raft of major team shakeups throughout the GRC, including the departure of 2013 champion Topi Heikkinen, who announced in January that he's leaving GRC competition and his Ford team to focus on the new FIA World Rallycross Championship series in Europe. Heikkinen will join Marklund Motorsport behind the wheel of the new Volkswagen Polo RX Supercar. Both Heikkinen and Anton Marklund have said they plan to race at X Games Austin.

Tanner Foust -- a four-time X Games gold medalist and two-time GRC series champion -- is also leaving Ford, his longtime sponsor dating back to his X Games debut in 2006. He'll join the new Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross (VARX) team for the 2014 GRC series; on Thursday he unveiled the 560 HP Volkswagen Beetle he'll be racing later in the season and hopes to debut at X Games Austin.

"I had a tremendous run with Ford, including some Ford team X Games podium sweeps, and I wouldn't be where I am without them," he told XGames.com. "But the opportunity to partner with Andretti Autosport and the new VARX team as they're coming into the sport was too good to turn down, especially since I've been able to keep my partnerships with other long-term sponsors."

Foust said he's especially looking forward to the Barbados and X Games Austin venues because of his personal connections to each event. He is one of three co-hosts of Top Gear -- the History Channel's American version of the BBC's hit automotive series - now in its fourth season. The Barbados event is the first time the BBC has brought its Top Gear Festival tour to the Americas, after hosting previous iterations throughout Europe and in Durban, South Africa.

"These are both brand new and exciting venues for the GRC, but they're also both somewhat in my backyard in their own way," Foust said. "Hopefully those connections will come as some comfort as I embark on the biggest changes of my career."

Andretti Sports Marketing has previously promoted GRC events, but the 2014 series marks the legendary racing family's first foray into fielding a rallycross team. On Thursday Michael Andretti told Global-Rallycross.com that he sees "a ton of potential with what GRC is all about" and said his IndyCar drivers Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay, and James Hinchcliffe are "chomping at the bit" to try GRC racing, floating the possibility of a VARX "guest car" at upcoming GRC events.

"It starts with the manufacturers, and the reason the manufacturers are there is because the demographics of Global Rallycross are exactly where everybody wants to be -- with the millenials," Andretti said. "I think that's the thing that we're up against in all other types of racing: trying to go after the demographic, and Global Rallycross has it."

Scott Speed, another former Ford factory team racer, will also be joining VARX, following a rookie GRC season that included wins at X Games Foz do Iguaçu and Charlotte, N.C. Speed and Foust's new Beetles are expected to be race-ready by mid-season, if not sooner; in the meantime, both drivers will pilot modified versions of the Volkswagen Polo R World Rally Car that propelled Sébastien Ogier to the overall 2013 FIA World Rally Championship.

Ken Block, however, will stick with Ford and return with his Ford/Hoonigan Racing Division team. The Ford team, which won the GRC Manufacturers Championship in 2012 and 2013, is also bringing on some new blood in the form of Finnish driver Joni Wiman, the 2013 GRC Lites class dominator, and Swiss driver Patrik Sandell, who won silver in a Mini Cooper at the new Gymkhana Grid event at X Games Los Angeles 2013 and took Rally X bronze at X Games Foz do Iguaçu. Both drivers joined the Olsbergs MSE Ford team in January.

Travis Pastrana, who is rejoining Subaru after running out his contract with Dodge in 2013, is committing to the Rally America series in 2014 but plans to join the GRC squad for the X Games Austin round, according to a Subaru statement on Thursday. The Subaru team will include Sverre Isachsen and Bucky Lasek behind the wheels of new 2014 Subaru WRX STI Rallycross cars.

Dyne said he's embracing the changes and team shakeups as a vital step in the evolution of rallycross and the GRC series. In addition to the new venues, increased prize purse, and new manufacturers in the game, he said he's looking forward to growing the GRC Lites class, introduced in 2013.

"Developing the Lites class is an important step in growing the sport and developing a feeder series for new drivers - we've already seen that fulfilled in Joni Wiman -- and it's a step Red Bull is very much behind," he said.

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