Event Preview: GRC #1 at Irwindale

The Toyota Speedway at Irwindale, Calif. is home to the first stop of the GRC. Getty

Day 1: Elims and Super Rally
Day 2: SupeRally Finals

The Global RallyCross Championship (GRC) kicks off this weekend at the Toyota Speedway in Irwindale, Calif. The first stop on the inaugural tour has been dubbed "The Revolution", and it's followed by "Twin Peaks" in Snoqualmie, Wash. (April 15-15) and "Last Chance" in Colorado Springs, Colo. (June 17-18). Aiming to capitalize on the flat-out, wheel-to-wheel racing style seen in the X Games, GRC organizers are hoping to attract car racing and action sports fans alike. Yes, the Revolution will be televised -- literally, on ESPN3.com and ESPN2. Here's what you should be watching for.

Headlining the first stop is Marcus Grönholm, a two-time World Rally Champion, who will be driving a Ford Fiesta, the car that dominated at X Games 16. The flying Finn's presence at the event should provide a distinguishing yardstick for North American competitors to measure their skills against. "[RallyCross] is quite hectic and quick," says Grönholm. "You have to have quick reactions for a good start and there are a lot of cars at the same time and a lot of pushing and fighting."

Grönholm has only done a handful of rallycross-style events in Europe, but he won his rallycross debut in Sweden. Still, he refuses to take his competition lightly. "I think maybe Tanner Foust will be quite quick. He drove the European [RallyCross] Championship last year and he has a lot of experience so he is quite fast."

Foust, with two Formula Drift titles and several X Games rally medals (including a pair of golds last year in Rally and Super Rally), put in a very strong showing at the European RallyCross Championship in 2010. For 2011, he has extensive plans to compete in rallycross on both sides of the pond, on top of his hosting duties as part of the Top Gear USA crew. "Since I would rank Marcus Grönholm in the top-five drivers worldwide, having him label me as the guy to beat is quite an honor," says Foust. "The problem is, I know how good his Ford Fiesta is since I have the same one!"

Foust and Grönholm will also have to watch out for Rhys Millen, who has put together a powerful package in the form of the Hyundai Veloster, built specifically for rallycross. With 500 horsepower, the Hyundai is ready to take on the Fords. Millen has multiple drifting titles under his belt, as well as a Pikes Peak world record run. "The Veloster Concept inspired me to expand Hyundai's motorsports program back into their roots of rally," he says. "We've transformed the Veloster's lightweight, rigid architecture into a rally car."

Also racing the Veloster is Marcus Dodd, an accomplished British driver with more than 50 National Championship Rally victories under his belt. Dodd is the most successful driver in the history of British National Rally, and he knows a thing or two about developing and testing a winning vehicle.

In addition to the drivers in the AWD category, a number of strong drivers in the 2WD category will be at Irwindale as well -- from Sweden's Mikael Eriksson in a Porsche 911 to America's own Jim Morris in his rally-prepared 1983 Camero RS. Matthew Johnson, who put up an impressive performance in a Ford Fairmont station wagon last season, is entered in a Mazda RX-8.

Every weekend of the Global RallyCross Championship (three total weekends, plus X Games 17) will be action-packed. The first day of racing, Friday, will take the form of Super Rally, a head-to-head event where eliminations occur in a series of bracket-style showdowns through the day, two cars at a time. The second day, Saturday, will be a RallyCross event with drivers competing side-by-side, potentially entering corners four cars at a time.

With seating for 6,000, all with a complete view of the track, the Toyota Speedway at Irwindale is the perfect location to kick off the GRC series. Most commonly associated with NASCAR, the venue has two oval tracks, the larger one just 1/2 mile in length. The track for "The Revolution" will be half tarmac and half dirt. To keep things interesting, GRC organizers are adding in a 70-foot gap jump, just like fans have seen during the X Games at the L.A. Coliseum. Known as the "Joker," each driver must take the jump on one of the laps of their race, or face disqualification. (A slower "B" line is an option for those not confident in their ability to make the gap.) Fans will want to keep track of when the drivers choose to take the joker, the timing of which can easily impact their results.

Aside from event wins, there are a number of X Games invites on the line, and results through the season will play a big role in who heads to L.A. in July. Anyone opting to sit out the first round to see how it goes could find themselves short of points after the third event ... and on the sidelines at X Games 17.

"We've been working on putting together something like this since X Games 15. What we're going to be doing at this first round of the Global RallyCross Championship is setting the tone for the season," said Brian Gale, co-founder of Global RallyCross. "Really what we want to do for the first go around is capture the best and most exciting elements of X Games rally: the jump, the cars, and good, exciting competition between the athletes."

The Revolution is here, the drivers are ready, and now you know what to watch for at the first round of the Global RallyCross Championship.