Nine Questions With Red Bull GRC Lites Driver Geoff Sykes

Photo by Red Bull GRC

Photo by Red Bull GRC

 

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.”

Geoff hanging out with mentor and friend, Tanner Foust.

Geoff hanging out with mentor and friend, Tanner Foust.

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.”

Photo by Rallycross360

Photo by Rallycross360

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.”

Photo by Motorsport.com

Photo by Motorsport.com

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.

Photo by Red Bull GRC

Photo by Red Bull GRC

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.”

Photo by Rallycross360

Photo by Rallycross360

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.”

Whether he’s in a supercar or lites, we look forward to watching Geoff race again next season.
You can follow at: http://geoff-sykes.com/
Facebook, Twitter-@GeoffreySykes, and Instagram
Header Photo by Red Bull Global Rallycross

GRC Lites Star Tyler Benson Opens Up About First Season

Photo by Red Bull GRC

Tyler Benson has had a month off from racing and is anxious to get back into the driver seat. Benson just completed his first full season racing in Red Bull GRC in the Lites series with Hyundai/Rhys Millen Racing.  In his rookie year, he earned a podium in Daytona and ended the season in fourth position overall.

Rallycross360 talked with Tyler.  We asked him his thoughts about his first full season in GRC and what it was like being part of the Rhys Millen/Hyundai team.

 

How would you sum up the season for you and the team?

“For me personally, I felt like this year we were able to prove that we definitely belong there and we consistently got better. The more time I had in the car and the more time I had working with the guys at every event we were improving and improving. In the very beginning I was always told that I had the intangibles but just needed the seat time and experience. We didn’t gain all of it but we did gain a good portion of it. I got a lot more confident in the car.  We figured out how to set up the car to my driving style as well as whatever venue we were driving at. It was a pretty consistent confidence building year with fourth over all. My first full season finishing a solid fourth.”

Were there specific techniques and skills that you were working on throughout the season?

“A little bit depending on the layout of the track, there were certain times during testing we would go out and test and do different little activities, honing on certain skills such as turning the car and getting it to rotate and doing skid pad type stuff and really getting a feel for where the edge of that grip level is in order to help me trust the car and see how far it could go. We worked on other driving techniques just putting more “tools in my tool bag”. Working with Stephen (Verdier) with stuff like left foot braking techniques and other little subtleties that helped click off the tenths”

Benson at Seattle round – Photo by Rallycross360

How was it working with two great drivers such as Stephen Verdier and Rhys Millen?

“I couldn’t ask to be with two better guys because of their knowledge and the chemistry we all had together. I grew up playing football and chemistry is so important in that sport. A great example was from the last event when I had Stephen spotting for me in that final. I had missed a corner twice in a row in the same way and Stephen got on the mic (microphone) and yelled at me like a football coach. It’s exactly what I needed at that time which was a little bit of a wake up. The next time, I nailed that corner. I couldn’t ask for more working with them, especially having him spot for me. He was a driver and he knew what info was relevant to me and what I needed to know and he was also calming at the same time. He was inspiring and helped me get faster but he would also help me keep within myself and not overdrive the car.  The amount of detail he went into, such as creating a laminated track map that was small enough to fit in my back pocket that was basically my study card. I would take it back to my hotel and just learn the track to the point where he could just shout out turn one, turn six or turn eight and I could picture a visual at that time.  He also had a bigger one that he would draw on with a whiteboard marker. He would draw and show me and Emma our lines, where we are at, where we should be and just really go to the next level and take it a lot further in depth than what I had experienced before.  His level of experience of professionalism was tremendous.  I still remember the track in Vegas. I still remember which gears in which turns, where I needed to be and what I needed to be doing.”

You completed your first year of professional racing.  Was it everything you expected it to be?

“Definitely, it was tremendously more than I thought and anticipated.  I knew the driving was going to be on a different level. That I expected, but the intensity and the perception that goes into the driving….there are so many variables and nuances of driving and some of them I just kind of taught myself and picked up naturally.  There have been so many other things I have learned along the way.  Plus, being out there on the track with six to eight other guys and you’re all going through that first corner three to four wide, sometimes your door-to-door, sometimes within a few inches.  So to just be focused on hitting those marks and doing what you need to do as a driver and being aware of what else is going on around you with all these other guys who are trying to do the same thing was definitely a wake up call.  It’s easy to do these things by yourself out in an empty parking lot and slide the car around and think, ‘Oh yeah, I know how to do a drift.’  But doing it in front of all the fans and against all these other great competitors makes it a completely different ball game.  There is a lot more to racing than I ever expected.  There’s dealing with media and travel. Things you just don’t realize that goes into just driving a car.  It’s more than I thought, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.  Going into next year, I feel like we are definitely a top contender.”

IMG_6900

Benson at Vegas round – Photo by Rallycross360

What are your thoughts on the growing popularity of Rallycross and the fact that well known drivers from other disciplines are now showing interest and wanting to give rallycross a try?

“I’m not against it because ultimately its good for the sport.  The only thing I tend to get a little frustrated about sometimes is when they pull in a ringer who drives European supercars and throw him in a Lites car for the weekend.   Or, at the beginning of the season when Nelson announced he would be driving both cars (supercar and lites) and I thought, ‘Wait, isn’t this the development spec series?’.”

“The good thing is that the sport does seem to be growing and catching more interest, which I suspected it would in this country. It’s perfect for this country because it has a lot of action we want to see, it’s not 500 hundred laps, and it’s quick, action packed on asphalt, dirt and jumping with cars bumping into each other.  It’s like when people say that the best part of a NASCAR race is when there’s a wreck.  Watch one of our races and you will definitely enjoy it because we have that kind of action all the time and most of the time we don’t stop, we just keep on going.”

Which was your favorite track during the season?

“I would say by far my favorite was DirtFish [Seattle].  It was so much gravel and dirt and going through that building was awesome.  To be in a place that had more dirt than tarmac didn’t make me feel like we were in a parking lot racing somewhere.  Daytona was awesome because I took the podium there.  That track was cool because it was totally different from what we normally race because it had that long straightaway, tight middle section and was just a totally different type track.  It may have been the most difficult for me.  Up until the final I was struggling and just couldn’t figure it out and then somehow in the final we just put it together.  Something clicked and we got it done.”

How will you train and prepare for the next season?

“I will do some mountain biking and some carving out here around home.  I spoke with Rhys and Stephan about training in the off season in my car out there in California.”

 

Tyler has worked hard this past season and has learned a lot about both racing rallycross and the business of rallycross.  This coming season will be even better yet and Rallycross360 can’t wait to see Tyler back out on the track.

You can follow Tyler on Twitter at @TBensonRacing, Facebook at Tyler Benson10446719_4307537303511_1171751377759725757_n, and Instagram at tbensonracing.

 

Header photo by Red Bull Global Rallycross

Mitchell DeJong: Up and Coming GRC Star

Photo by Red Bull GRC

Photo by Red Bull GRC

 

At the ripe old age of seventeen, Mitchell DeJong has managed to earn not one, not two, but ten championship titles in his career which include the 2012 TORC Pro Buggy title and now GRC Lites Champion title.  He began racing at the age of five and has been going strong ever since.  He’s raced everything from go-karts to off-road modified trucks to Legend cars and now rallycross.

DeJong has had a stellar season.  Out of nine starts, he stood on the podium nine times and had seven wins, giving him the honor of becoming the youngest driver in GRC history to win a championship.  The final GRC Lites round took place in Las Vegas at the beginning of November. However, because of his points lead, DeJong had already earned the title at the penultimate round in Seattle back in September.  “​I think it’s finally sunk in and I’m feeling pretty exhilarated from it​!” said DeJong about his championship win.

Rallycross360 asked Mitchell about his season, what we can expect from him in 2015, and his thoughts on the growing popularity of rallycross.

GRC Lites Champ, Mitchell DeJong; Photo by L.Olsen

GRC Lites Champ, Mitchell DeJong; Photo by L.Olsen

 

What was your biggest challenge throughout the season?

​”The biggest challenge we faced was keeping the car​ ​together so we could finish races.” ​

Will we see you in a Supercar next season?

“​A Supercar for next season is the goal and we’re diligently working on the details but I don’t have anything to announce at this point.”

You won the RX Lites race at Lydden Hill earlier this season. Would you like to do more racing outside the U.S next season?

​”I would absolutely love to race at Lydden Hill again and other venues outside the U.S.A. as well.” ​

What are your thoughts on the growing popularity of rallycross, especially in the U.S.?

​”I think it’s so awesome that rallycross is finally getting the proper attention in the U.S. I’ve been watching stage rally and rallycross for years and I’m just so grateful to be given the opportunity to actually race in it. I think that the Red Bull Global Rallycross Series is just what the U.S. needed to capture the attention of the younger fans as well as bring something new and exciting to veteran racing fans. The tracks are purpose built at each venue and combine asphalt, dirt, gravel, water, sand, jumps, tight turns, high speed straight-a-ways and on top of that, there are high horsepower vehicles, all charging in to the first corner, then add in a joker lap and competitive drivers which makes for extremely exciting racing.”

Many well known veteran drivers from various disciplines are starting to notice rallycross and have expressed an interest in jumping into the drivers seat. Do you welcome the growth and challenge?

​”Absolutely, it would be great for the series, and​ ​I love the competition.”

Do you think drivers like that can walk into GRC and be successful?

“​Rallycross is very different from any other form of racing so I think the drivers with diverse racing backgrounds might have an advantage. I do think that in time a driver can be successful.” ​

What will you be doing in the off-season?

“During the off-season, I’ll be busy​ with school and physical training​ with Charles Dao of Icon Performance. I’m
​also​ hoping to get some Supercar testing in​.​”

 

Photo by Red Bull GRC

Photo by Red Bull GRC

 

In the paddock, he is known as one of the nicest drivers you could have the pleasure of meeting.  Out on the track, Mitchell is very focused, very competitive and knows that in a race there are no friends, only competition.  Assuming he gets a supercar ride next season, we think it’s safe to say that current Red Bull GRC Supercar drivers should be put on notice that Mitchell DeJong will be a tough opponent to beat next season.

 

 

FAN POV: The Big Finale in Las Vegas

Photo by Audrey Guistiniani

Photo by Audrey Guistiniani

By Audrey Guistiniani

The big finale for Redbull Global Rallycross at Las Vegas was one of the most exciting races of the season. This year the track was located at The LINQ, a dining, shopping and entertainment district right in the heart of the Vegas Strip. The track was right at the foot of the 550-foot ferris wheel called the High Roller. The wide track was excellent. It had high speed corners, long straights, interesting hairpins and the joker turn, which made for lots of surprises. It was around 38% dirt. The atmosphere was amazing.  As soon as I walked in I could feel the excitement.  Kids and adults wandered around the open paddock talking with the drivers about their techniques or just congratulating them for their performance.  It’s always nice to see how the drivers are available to the growing number of fans attending the races.  I was able to see how everyone works together to make a victory happen.

Photo by Audrey Guistiniani

Photo by Audrey Guistiniani

Both days were interesting as I watched the drivers try to figure out how to take the corner before the jump. That particular corner was very dusty and deep on the first day, but was quickly fixed by the second day. The beetles especially had big success. This was the first time I able to see them perform. It was very impressive.  I knew that VW is doing very well in rally, and now I get to watch them in rallycross.

The first start during the final began with a hit between Speed and Lasek in the first corner. Fortunately, both could line up for the restart and continue racing.  Specifically, it was great for Bucky Lasek who took third on the podium that evening.

It was a big win for both Ken Block and for Joni Wiman.  Block won the event and Wiman took second in the round, giving him enough points to win the championship. Emma Gilmour, who did a great job all season, made history as the first female in GRC to race in the final. I was also able to witness a big victory for Mitchell Dejong in the Lites series.  DeJong won both the race and championship.

Photo by Audrey Guistiniani

Photo by Audrey Guistiniani

This season is over now, but GRC continues to grow and is getting more and more popular. GRC is the series to enjoy racing with simplicity and fun.

 

Photos by Audrey Guistiniani

That’s a Wrap!

Photo by Red Bull Media/Red Bull Global Rallycross

Photo by Red Bull Media/Red Bull Global Rallycross

For Red Bull Global Rallycross, the race season is officially over. It was a season of unpredictability all the way to the end. In the final round, fans watched Ken Block win the race but saw “the rookie”, Joni Wiman, take the championship. Block and Wiman were only 12 points apart at the start of the two-day event in Las Vegas. When the final checkered flag was waved, Block had won the last race of the season with Wiman coming in runner-up. The two drivers finished the season with just a five point difference.

In the GRC Lites series, Mitchell DeJong dominated not only the final round but the entire season.  Throughout the season Mitchell has had nine podiums and seven wins.  We suspect that Mitchell will be in a Supercar next year and he will definitely be one to watch.

GRC Lites Champ, Mitchell DeJong.

GRC Lites Champ, Mitchell DeJong.

The location and setting for the final event was fantastic. It was located at the foot of the High Roller Wheel at The LINQ in the center of Las Vegas with plenty of room for fans to hang out and plenty of seating around the perimeter of the track.  The setup of the paddock made it easy for fans to interact with their favorite driver(s) and watch as the cars were being worked on. Fans and media from around the globe were in attendance. Some of the spectators attended the event simply because they were in Vegas and had heard about the event or heard the cars during practice. Loud shrieking engines piqued the curiosity of many. It was the perfect setting for current rallycross fans and for creating new ones. Red Bull GRC organizers pulled out all the stops for this final. Each year has gotten bigger and better.  So, if you are planning to attend a Red Bull Global Rallycross event next season, but aren’t quite sure which one, we highly recommend the Vegas round. It is like no other event on the calendar.

Photo by Red Bull Media/Red Bull Global Rallycross

Photo by Red Bull Media/Red Bull Global Rallycross

 

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