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A history of open-wheel stars in US rallycross

ARX

07 Jun 2019

Credit: Chris Jones/IndyCar Media

Sage Karam and JR Hildebrand will make their Americas Rallycross debuts in the ARX2 class this weekend, making them the latest drivers to transition from IndyCar to rallycross.

Both drivers will line up for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, a team that’s no stranger to the world of American open-wheel racing. Andretti Autosport, Bryan Herta Autosport, and Chip Ganassi Racing have also been involved in US rallycross over the years, with varying levels of success.

But it’s not just teams. A whole host of drivers have transitioned from IndyCar, its ‘Road to Indy’ development ladder, and other single seater series to North America’s top level of rallycross competition.

 

Credit: Instagram/Jenson Button

Testing the waters

While not making race starts, a number of big names from the world of open-wheel racing have got seat time in rallycross machinery.

When professional rallycross was in its infancy in the US, former Champ Car frontrunner AJ Allmendinger got to test an Olsbergs MSE Fiesta Supercar.

While his links to the world of open-wheel world are tenuous at best, 2014 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of The Year Kurt Busch tested a rallycross Supercar at the Charlotte dirt track back in 2013 – a year before his impressive IndyCar debut.

Three years later Conor Daly sampled the Honda Civic Coupe Supercar in Los Angeles, and said at the time that he would “definitely take an opportunity” to race in rallycross, but so far he’s stuck to IndyCar where he has appeared on-and-off since.

The same car was tested by a certain Jenson Button a few months after Daly’s run, but despite being linked with a move to rallycross in the US for several years, Button’s post-Formula 1 career has mainly consisted of sports car racing and television broadcasting.

 

Indy Lights race winner Logan Gomez in action in 2015 – Credit: Matt Kalish

Wildcard one-offs

A handful of former-open-wheel drivers have come in for the odd race in US rallycross, most recently Jacques Villeneuve who competed in the World Rallycross of Canada-supporting round at Circuit Trois-Rivières in Canada. The IndyCar and F1 champion finished eighth in his one-off outing for the Subaru factory team.

Prior to Villeneuve, former IndyCar regular Sebastian Saavedra, and some-time Indy Lights drivers Logan Gomez and Gustavo Yacaman have also made fleeting appearances in the top-two divisions of North American rallycross.

 

Credit: Matt Stryker/Subaru Motorsports USA

Established regulars

Scott Speed, who has been a dominant force in US rallycross for much of the discipline’s existence across the pond, is perhaps the most famous single seater-to-rallycross convert. The American competed in F1 between 2006-07, and attempted to qualify for the 2011 Indy 500, but he’s not the only driver to make a steady career out of switching codes.

The driver taking his place at Andretti Autosport this year, Cabot Bigham, began his career climbing America’s single seater ladder. It’s a similar story for Bigham’s former GRC Lites and ARX2 rival Scott Anderson who was a podium finisher in Indy Lights in 2015 before he made the move to rallycross where he spent three seasons in the second-tier championship.

Joni Wiman, who won the 2013 GRC Lites and 2014 GRC Supercars titles, raced in Formula Renault before moving over the rallycross, where he has become an established star on both sides of the Atlantic since.

Another former fixture in the US rallycross scene, Nelson Piquet Jr., began his career as an open wheel regular, climbing up the ranks to F1 before moving to NASCAR, sports car, and of course, rallycross. While racing in Global Rallycross in the US, he also competed in Formula E where he won the all-electric series’ first championship.

This year he will return to rallycross for the first time since 2016, but it won’t be in the US, but rather Europe’s TitansRX series.

Sage Karam (l) and JR Hildebrand will team up in ARX2 – Credit: Twitter/Dreyer & Reinbold Racing