Geoff Sykes just completed his second race season in the GRC Lites series with Red Bull Global Rallycross and he’s already begun preparations for 2015. Sykes never seems to slow down. When he’s not racing in the GRC Lites series, he is racing in time trials and autocross. He is also a certified precision stunt driver and has instructed for the BMW CCA, Driving Concepts High Performance Driving Center, and TRTS (Teen Road to Safety). In 2013, Sykes alternated his weekends racing in both GRC and USTCC and won the 2013 United States Touring Car GT Championship.
When he’s not behind the wheel, he’s behind a camera doing motorsports video production. He co-directed, co-produced and shot the first season of the “Life in the Foust Lane” series starring two time Global Rallycross champion and co-host of Top Gear USA , Tanner Foust.
Rallycross360 had the opportunity to chat with Geoff about his progression into rallycross, the 2014 season and preparations for next season.
RX360: How did get your start in rallycross?
GS: “Originally I had seen rallycross at XGames. I knew what rallycoss was all about but it was never an avenue I pursued as a career until I started working with Tanner Foust on the video side of things and started traveling with him to the European series and the Global rallycross when it was here in 2012. I got to really see a hands-on and up-close-and-personal view of how Tanner deals with the fans, the cars, the teams, and everything. Luckily, at the end of that year Andreas announced the GRC Lites class. It just so happened at that point I was looking at getting into the next step of racing in my career. So, it was going to be something like Pirelli World Challenge or Continental Series, which were around back then. We were looking at them, but price wise it was going to be the same as running a GRC Lites car. Seeing the whole X Games atmosphere and the fact that they had a whole series that was supporting itself and that they were creating a feeder class, it was just sort of opening the door for guys like me. Mitchell DeJong, among other guys, were looking to further their careers and basically just jumped into it with the support of Olsbergs MSE back in 2013. It was a really great avenue for me, too.”
RX360: Why the switch to privateer in 2014?
GS: “With the added races in 2014 we went from six to nine races. Essentially, the budget went way up as well. We weren’t really in a position by ourselves to run with a big team. Fortunately, we did get new support from Sony, Bendpak, and Midnight Oil. RallyPro at the FIRM (Florida International Rally & Motorsport Park) continued with us throughout 2014. We ended up essentially creating our own team because it would be cheaper and we had done it before. My dad and I ran our own team in the US Touring Car Championship against teams kind of like Red Bull where you have a full media team and you have a dozen people who would have their own task to do throughout the weekend. Normally, it would just be me and my dad showing up. We would hire a buddy of ours who worked at a BMW dealership to help wrench on the car. We’re used to running a small team and we were actually very successful in the touring car championship. We figured we’ve had most of the gear already, so why not try doing our own thing? That’s kind of how that whole thing got started. It was very similar to the US Touring Car Championship where me and my dad would trailer the car from race to race and we’d hire or bring along a mechanic. This year we had Paul Clark who we worked for in 2013. He was actually my mechanic for Charlotte and that was my podium race. We really had a good time with him and really got along with him on and off the track. He worked his butt off in 2014. I was really happy to work with him. The downside of that, however, was obviously that we didn’t have the resources. We were essentially developing our own team while still trying to work with a car that had already been raced for a season. We had a lot of catch up to do between races. Unfortunately, our downfall in 2014 was items that could have been prevented if we would have had the resources to work on them between races. For instance, we blew a CV joint in the final or we would lose a clutch or stuff like that. If we had the time, resources and money to do a full prep, then we could have avoided those. In 2013, we had zero DNF’s when we were with OlsbergsMSE and they fully prepped the car between each race. It was fun working with my dad and I really do like working on the car, but it’s tough when you come away from an event with a DNF.”
RX360: Have you started working on deals with sponsors for next season?
GS: “We have definitely begun thinking about next season. There are a couple of options right now. We have a plan A, plan B, and plan C. There are definitely options and my goal is to jump into a supercar. I really think that with the two years of GRC Lites experience and having some really good time sets and podium finishes, I’m ready to jump into a supercar. If you look at the rookies like Joni Wiman and Austin Dyne, who made almost every final of the year, they are guys that jumped from the lites class to the supercar class and have been kicking butt. You can also look at the European side at Sebastian Eriksson and Kevin Eriksson who are doing really, really well in supercars. So, I think the Lites platform is really making great drivers and I think it’s a great transition. So, that is my plan A, to jump into supercar with a strong team. Then there is plan B, which is to run the Lites car again. We own the rally car, and if we were going to do another Lites season, I think it would really make sense to get with a supercar team to work with some resources that could really give me a fighting chance.”
RX360: What are your thoughts about drivers from other race disciplines showing an interest and wanting to jump into a supercar to give rallycross a try?
GS: “With Red Bull Global Rallycross being so young at this stage as a series, I think it is tough because you do need the popular people to be in the series. But, they have a huge mix of people. You have people like Bucky [Lasek] who, people might say, is there only because of his X Games and skating history. But, you know, he goes out there and after a few years he’s on the podium most of the time. He’s proven himself. Rallycross is a proving ground and with the format of the races, the heats and the elimination, it’s a really good format because there are a lot of drivers there. On a big weekend there are a lot of people and it really comes down to fighting just to make it into the final.
It would be really nice to see some more teams from NASCAR and Indy Car like SH Racing and Andretti Autosport. It would be really cool to see some more big teams come in because it would be nice to have a mixture of true racers from different backgrounds that are still trying to become popular and to make a name for themselves. Another benefit is getting to race against guys like Dave Mirra and Bucky Lasek and all these other guys that don’t necessarily have a professional racing background before rallycross. That’s one thing that I really look forward to if I make it into supercar. There’s definitely a lot of respect and a lot of admiration that I have for these drivers.”
RX360: How does it feel being in the paddock with some of these big names?
GS: “There are definitely some big names that stick out such as Scott Speed. I didn’t necessarily get to watch him race in F1, but I remember him being one of the last Americans to drive in F1 and he’s always been one of my idols. Of course Tanner Foust, Ken Block, Bucky and Travis Pastrana, all those guys are guys that I watched on TV and X Games. I always thought it would be awesome to compete against them one day. Now I’m on that road. I haven’t actually got to race against them yet, but that is one of my goals.”
RX360: Coming from road racing to GRC, what skills, techniques or habits did you have to change or work on?
GS: “[GRC] really made me focus a lot more on my racing technique, being more defensive in a way. In the touring car racing that I come from, there is not really any contact involved, and if there is there are penalties involved. Jumping into rallycross it’s pretty much door-to-door and bumper-to-bumper. In my first year of racing in 2013, if a guy was coming up to me, I’d kind of back off and give him more space. I had to learn real quick to hold my line and be more assertive in my driving. That is what I worked on last year. This year, now that I’ve gotten more seat time in the car, I’ve been able to focus more on what the car can do and the threshold of the car. I just worked on being consistent. I would start out the race weekend second fastest to Mitchell in qualifying and then toward the end of the race weekend we would start to have little mechanical failures. So, just being consistent with my running and trying to really protect the car.
Being a car/team co-owner this year made me really think a lot more about the car, which was something that I didn’t have to do in 2013. It took a little bit of my focus away from me focusing on the racing line, which is why I want to get onto a competitive team and really focus on winning. Once you’re on the track you really don’t think about it. It’s between the heats and races. I’ve known this car for two years and I know that there are little mechanical failures that it might do, that’s in the back of my head. I just have to think about certain things such as making sure that I’m landing flat on a jump or other little techniques. It’s between heats when I really should be focusing on my race craft and watching video.”
RX360: How do you prepare for a race?
GS: “I got to walk the tracks about 75% of the time because some just took a little long to get built and were always changing. The track walk is very important because, in a sport like rallycross, there is different terrain and sometimes different types of dirt in different sections. Not only do you have pavement and dirt, but there may be pavement, dirt and maybe sand in a corner. It’s really important to be able find little tricks, things you can kind of find limits to and get away with. Like maybe you can ride this bumper here or maybe the exit of that corner is a little slippery a foot from the wall so you need to stay tight. It’s the little things that you need to know like feeling with your feet the grip of the pavement, asphalt, concrete, or whatever the surface might be. There are also the transitions. In the car you don’t see the little bumps but there might be a four to six inch drop to the pavement, and if you’re turning, that will upset the car. So, if you walk the track and get these things in your head then you’re not going to get in the car for the first five laps in practice wondering, ‘Oh, was that a bump right there?’, or, ‘Maybe I hit it a little hard.’ Any knowledge ahead of time is going to be valuable.
Between sessions the other most valuable thing for me is the video footage. In the session you are focused on so many things. If it’s qualifying you want to get a fast lap, be consistent, and learn at the same time. Time in the car is very short, so to be able take that footage and watch it allows me to extend my practice. The partnership with Sony Action Cam, of course, has been a great.”
RX360: Which track was your most challenging or favorite?
GS: “It’s hard to pick just one. But I do have it down to my three favorite tracks. They are all very different. I would have to say Daytona was my favorite track, but my top three would be Daytona, Charlotte and Seattle. They were all very different from each other. Daytona was very wide open with a lot of asphalt and really tailored to my touring car racing. I was very fast there. Charlotte kind of had a special place in my heart because of 2013. The layout of it, jumping into the dirt track from the outside, it just had some really cool features. And then, I got to say, I love Seattle. To be able to drive through the DirtFish building and the consistency of the rocky dirt terrain, it was very different from anything that we have ever run on before. A lot of the other tracks were kind of like autocross in a way because they had to set up a track basically in a parking lot. So, when you have places like Charlotte and Seattle as a canvas, you can create a lot with them.”
RX360: How do you train during the off season?
GS: “I take any opportunity I can. There are track days with clubs where I can go out in my street car, a BMW 335. I can take that on the track and run it for the day on a large track to keep my skills sharp. I really like working on reaction training because that’s one of the biggest skills you can have in rallycross. Quick reactions to things like surfaces, start lights, mistakes and mechanical issues with the car. I think that is one of the most valuable assets to have in this rallycross series right now. Anything that works with your reactions and keeps you physical such as go-karts, video games, ball sports, are good. I’m also working with Simon at Performance Physics. They have been providing me with training programs via email. I do resistance training to work on my body and performance abilities. There is a lot going on in the off-season, from race training to the personal training and even going through all the video. Also, one of my goals during the off-season is to get out to Patrik Sandell’s ice driving school, Flat Out Sweden. He’s using the GRC Lites cars on studded tires in the snow. So, I hope to get out there in January or February.”