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Pastrana wins first Nitro Rallycross championship on tiebreaker at North Florida.
Chase Elliott, the 2020 NASCAR Champion, began the day Sunday by flying an airplane so rally ace and professional daredevil Travis Pastrana could parachute out.
Elliott ended the day finishing eighth and last in the Nitro Rallycross feature at the Florida International Rally & Motorsports Par in Starke, Florida. But Elliott's showing was better than it sounds—seven full-time Nitro Rallycross competitors sat out the race, since only the eight top finishers in preliminary events are eligible. Elliott finished the feature less than 10 seconds behind winner Timmy Hansen.
It was Elliott’s first attempt at Rallycross, and he quickly adapted to the always-sideways type of racing, to the 100-foot dirt ramp-to-ramp jump; the gravel, sand and asphalt track and to the fender-meets-fender style of full-contact competition. In fact, he was penalized for too much contact when he and Rallycross veteran Tanner Foust came together as Elliott made it to the finish line first in qualifying, only to be assessed a five-second penalty for avoidable contact.
Elliott was driving a guest car for Subaru fielded by Vermont Sports Cars, giving up participation in an event he won in 2011 and 2015, the prestigious late model Snowball Derby at 5 Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida. Instead, Elliott was 337 miles east in Starke, Florida, home of the Florida International Rally and Motorsports Park, called the FIRM, built adjacent to the Keystone Heights Airport.
Which is where Elliott took off from Sunday, as Pastrana made good on a deal he made with the NASCAR champ: Come race with us and I’ll jump out of an airplane. Elliott showed up at Keystone Heights flying his private jet, but it was in a borrowed Cessna with the passenger-side door removed that he used to give Pastrana a lift. “I’m a man of my word,” said Pastrana, after landing in the grass next to the track. It was less risky than a previous jump Pastrana made: In 2011, he jumped with no parachute, meeting up with other skydivers who did have parachutes on the way down. This was the fifth and final Nitro Rallycross event of 2021, the end of a COVID-condensed season that began September 25 at the Utah Motorsports Campus near Salt Lake City and ended less than two-and-a-half months later at The FIRM, located east of Gainesville. In 2022, series founder and competitor Pastrana plans as many as nine events, with possibly four in the U.S., four in Europe and one in the Middle East.
NASCAR’s Kyle Busch competed in the guest car in the last event, and reportedly next season fellow NASCAR stars Kyle Larson and Joey Logano are on the short list of possibilities. It’s all part of Pastrana’s vision “to make this not so much a race, but an event.” Nitro Rallycross technically began in 2018 at the Utah campus, but 2021 was the first time Pastrana took the show on the road.
For Elliott, who cut the deal earlier in the NASCAR season during Pastrana’s visit to Martinsville Speedway, just knowing Pastrana was the architect of the series made it an appealing prospect. “This was about what I expected, but that doesn’t mean it’s been easy,” as the 26-year-old has had to learn on the fly how to manage a 600-hrsepower all-wheel-drive car that you turn using the handbrake. “But it’s been fun, and I’ve enjoyed the challenge of trying to get up to speed.”
Elliott has been doing some midget and sprint car racing on the West Coast, and he’s planning a Chili Bowl entry in January, “but mostly I’m looking forward to some downtime.”
First, he’ll be trying to get a handle on the all-new car NASCAR will introduce next year in the Cup series. “I think the learning curve is going to be massive. Right now I think there’s more questions than answers. For me at least, one reason being I just haven’t had much time in the car,” he told Autoweek. “We have a couple tests scheduled in the next few weeks so I’ll be in the car a good bit and see where we go from there.”
As for the Nitro Rallycross event, the battle went to the Hanson brothers, and the war went to Pastrana and Scott Speed. In a nail-biting feature, Swedish Peugeot-driving brothers Timmy and Kevin Hanson finished first and second, followed by Subaru racers Speed and Pastrana. Timmy Hanson, the 2019 FIA World Rallycross champion, had a shot at the title along with Speed and Pastrana, who started the day with a narrow lead over the other two.
As it shook out, Pastrana and Speed ended up tied with 219 points, with Timmy Hansen in third with 218. As Pastrana had two wins to Speed’s one, Pastrana was declared the 2021 champion, his first Rallycross title.
Lance Smith, owner of Vermont Sports Cars, brought Subaru its first Rallycross championship in 11 years of trying. “It’s a little surreal, because learning Rallycross was so difficult,” said Smith, whose background was in Pro Rally. “It didn’t look all that difficult. We started the sport with steel-bodied cars, and we evolved into composites, and the horsepower went up, and we had to alter everything. For years. And finally to pull it all together this season is just amazing. And with Nitro Rallycross, it’s a new sport again,” following two failed iterations of the series. “But it came at the right time – the sport has a lot of momentum. I’m absolutely looking forward to next year. Can’t wait to start this again.”