As RallyCross thunders into action at X Games Foz do Iguaçu, three talented Brazilian drivers will hope to upset the establishment on the dirt in an effort to win a medal at home. Nelson Piquet Jr., a Formula One and NASCAR veteran; Eduardo Marques Jr., a stunt driver who has trained U.S. military; and Mauricio Neves, one of the men behind Brazil's very own rally fighter, will carry the flag for Brazil at X Games Brazil.
Motorsport fans will be quick to notice the name Nelson Piquet Jr. Son to one of Brazil's most successful F1 champions -- three-time title winner Nelson Piquet Sr. -- the younger has his own formidable résumé. Duking it out in go-karts and then open-wheel racing, Piquet Jr. was racing against the likes of Lewis Hamilton before moving on to Formula One. Forced to leave the sport after being ordered to crash in an effort to benefit his teammate, Piquet Jr. was awarded a settlement and has moved on to race in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, competing against X Games legend Travis Pastrana.
"I race with Travis every weekend, so I've talked with him a little bit here and there," Piquet said. "He said, 'Look, it's a car you're going to be in sideways all the time so there's not much fine-tuning and setup like in NASCAR.'"
The biggest challenge for Piquet is his lack of rally experience. He'll be driving a Mitsubishi Lancer prepared for rallycross, but racing on dirt and over jumps is admittedly new to Piquet, and he'll have to adapt quickly. He has yet to test the car. "I'm really looking forward to it; it's going to be a lot of fun. I'm also a little bit nervous," Piquet said. "There's a lot of rally experts over there. Hopefully I'll adapt myself well to the car and the track. The jump is going to be new for me as well.
"I think I've driven enough different kinds of cars, and have enough car control, so I think I can do well."
RallyCross tests drivers on a course that mixes dirt and tarmac. The Foz course will be 90 percent dirt, so drivers won't be able to rely on the high grip of a paved surface if they want to win a gold medal.
For Neves, who has competed in a variety of rally disciplines -- including the formidable Dakar rally -- driving on dirt is second nature. Neves has the added advantage of playing a key role in the development of the XRC Rally, a Brazilian-developed rally fighter car loosely based on a Peugeot 207, a car that dominated the World Rally Championship less than a decade ago.
Unlike the WRC cars that are limited to 300 horsepower, the XRC is fitted with a V-6 engine that puts out nearly 500 HP, mated to a sophisticated drivetrain. Neves has been instrumental in the development of the car since 2011, so it should fit him just like a fireproof driving glove.
"[A] home race is always very good," Neves said. "In this case the pressure is greater ... a race at X Games. A lot of people are ready to go watch the event. I hope to show our potential for 2014, where I pledge to fight for victory, but this year I hope to learn a lot and maybe I will qualify for the final."
Eduardo Marques Jr. might not be as well recognized in the world of motorsports, but his driving skills are sure to be among the best. Marques is the manager for and a driver in a Disney stunt car show in Orlando, Fla. With more than 500 performances a year, Marques needs to ensure that he and his team perfectly re-create their actions every time. It's the same precision that has him in demand as a stunt driver, having worked on a new "Mad Max" movie. RallyCross fans will note that the supremely successful Tanner Foust got his start as a stunt driver as well.
How Marques will face off against drivers who are working against him rather than with him will be critical to his performance. His work training Navy SEALs, Special Forces and Army Rangers in combat-driving techniques should mean that any bump-and-runs tried by other drivers won't have much effect.
"I think after being able to drive and understand what it is all about, there is a big connection to the car," Marques said. "The feelings created when you drive, the sound, the g-forces, everything that comes with the joy of driving a loud, fast car as hard as you can [make it special]. I was never able to give up [on driving] or think about anything more satisfying to do in life."