Just before the X-Games Austin we were lucky enough to grab a few minutes on the phone with F1, IndyCar, and NASCAR vet Scott Speed, who is just starting his second season in Global Rallycross. He knows his way around a fast car, and we wanted to get his opinion on the young racing series and adapting to the new discipline. He gave us a few additional gems besides—including some VW speculation that should excite gearheads everywhere.
COMPLEX: So, It seems like you've gotten off to a pretty good start this year.
Yeah, yeah. Things are goin' good. Soon we'll get our Beetle, and then we'll be doing really good.
I was looking at the GRC Beetle online a few minutes ago, and was wishing that VeeDub would compete with the WRX and call it “Baja” or some such, but I'd be happy if they just put your GRC car into production.
It's getting pushed man, It's really getting pushed. The first goal for them is to make the Beetle more masculine so that the demographic of buyers changes. They want to get some testosterone in it, and the GRC is the way to do that. The next step is to come out with a four-wheel drive, awesome, turbo Beetle.
Sounds perfect to me... I want it.
Hah! Me too
So back to racing and your previously mentioned “good start.” Regarding that, what would you say your edge is?
Mostly a racing background [as opposed to some of the competitors who come from an extreme sports background] really help with qualifying and helps us stay a step ahead of the field, but we're playing a lot of defense right now because of having to run the Polos, which aren't made by us. We're scrambling until we get our Beetles. The Beetle will be a proper Volkswagen-Andretti product. Right now it's very much an interim deal, and that's why, for example, one of the mechanical failures we had was totally preventable and won't happen when we get our stuff. In the mean time we're just having to survive, and we're quite surprised that we're as competitive as we are with what we have.
The next step is to come out with a four-wheel drive, awesome, turbo Beetle.
That's good news for you, isn't it?
Yeah! It's great news. No complaints over here.
Are you planning on making any significant changes once you have the Beetle. Are you going to have a chance to play around with it an get used to it, or will you just have to hit the ground running?
We will be hitting the ground running, very much so. The season is relatively short. Towards the end we'll get a break and some time between races, but so far the team have touched my car for maybe one day, two days maximum, before we're on track. We basically just opened up the cars like Christmas morning a few days ago here.
It's hard for us, since we're a new team and there's a lot to learn for all of us here. We're all, including myself, basically open-wheel guys. It's been more or less just making sure that we're avoiding mistake and failures and being as conservative as possible. I think, at the end of the year when we're hitting our stride, I'm optimistic that our performance level will be really good.
You said you thought that your motor racing background was helping you. What is the skill transfer like from open-wheel to GRC? They both come down to getting in a car and driving faster than all the other guys, but it's still a very different discipline.
It is. There are a lot of differences. Four-wheel drive is quite a big difference. The experience of racing is basically being able to take any race car on a track and figuring out the quickest way to get back to the start/finish line. Guys like myself, we've been doing that since we were nine years old in go-karts, open-wheel karts, and even NASCAR, and they're all different but they're all really the same. The only real difference is four-wheel drive, which makes GRC quite a bit different. The four-wheel drive allows you to drive as hard as you want and it fixes a lot of mistakes. You can basically overcome a lot of different problems and keep a car in control that looks like it's out of control. You can basically just point the where where you want and the car will just go there. That's why those World Rally guys look so impressive going through the trees all sideways.
Regarding the transition to GRC, have you found yourself practicing on dirt a lot, since you have so much more experience on tarmac?
The only thing that I've, surface-wise, had any kind of adjustment need was in the gravel. There's a type of gravel that the car reacts very differently on, but dirt and tarmac actually drive really similarly in these four-wheel drive cars. I know they're not the same in any kind of two-wheel drive late model or stock car stuff, but here they really are relatively similar. The dirt aspects have been as relatively easy transition.
I'm sold on global rallycross. I am all in.
So, tell me about the gravel then.
The gravel's different because you're able to gain grip with the sidewall of the tire. I'd say that my style out there, if you compare me to a guy like Tanner [Foust] or Ken Block, is a lot more tidy and looks more in control, which is, I think, better on the dirt and the tarmac. But in the gravel you actually need to have the car as sideways as you can because the sidewall of the tire digs into the gravel; you're gaining more grip by adding yaw.
And that's definitely fun to watch.
Yes it is, but it's very different to me as a driver, since I came up with the school of thought where, if you're sliding sideways, you going forward slower. In the gravel, when I'm having to drive so yawed-out, it's kind of an unnatural feel for me.
That's certainly where a lot of the spectacle of GRC comes from.
Certainly. Look, I'm sold on it. I am all in. Personally, I've put all my chips in this basket and I think this is the future of motor racing in this country.
I know GRC got off to a rocky start, like any organization; there were some kinks to be ironed out. Do you think they have been dealt with and where do you think the series is headed?
Aww... man. Dude, the sky is the limit. I think that where it's come since I've been involved, which is a really short period of time, a lot has happened. I think that having a guy like Colin Dyne, with his background in fashion and in production, at the helm is what is helping the sport to stay popular. The series is tailored for the entertainment value and for the show, and that's what it needs to be. As drivers, we'll go out and race anything. If there's a format it doesn't really matter to us what it is; we'll go out and do our best to win. With the involvement of companies like Red Bull and manufacturer interaction like what we have with Volkswagen and Andretti and next year even more really, really big team names are coming, I don't see how this won't take off. It has momentum.
[Shortly after this conversation, Scott Speed went on to kick yet more ass and take first place at X-Games Austin.]