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Loeb Conquers X Games RallyCross Track And Competition


Ken Block's Ford Fiesta barely clears the ramp - Anne Proffit photo

Ken Block's Ford Fiesta barely clears the ramp - Anne Proffit photo

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The X Games RallyCross race went to eight-time World Rally Champion Sebastien Loeb in a Citroen, after he dominated the finals in the absence of former WRC rival and World RallyCross point leader Marcus Gronholm. Gronholm was hospitalized after Saturday seeding practice when he hit a concrete post; he was taken to hospital for observation after losing consciousness at the scene.

A crash for fan favorite Travis Pastrana in his heat race (the last of four) that removed the American and his Dodge Dart from competition may have cut publicity from the show, but the race track devised for this race did multiple damage to both bodies and cars throughout the three-day affair.

Following the horrendous accident in initial jump practice that put Finn Toomas Heikkinen in hospital with a fractured foot--two surgeries so far--and some internal injuries, the track was amended to make the jump into a table-top, rather than a 50-foot gap between a pair of ramps.

Gronholm's accident came on Saturday afternoon, when practice had been postponed from 2-4 p.m. PDT to 5-7 p.m., with the first hour allowing contestants to learn the track and the second dedicated to seeding for the heat races. Gronholm cleared the newly-surfaced jump and then hit the base of a concrete light pole that was left on the side of the track right at the apex of a corner.

If these two incidents didn't foretell further embarrassment for the X Games promoters, they should have. Losing two viable contestants to avoidable accidents is not a good thing.

In the four Sunday heat races, the two top finishers went to the final round, while the balance of the four-car field were left to battle it out in a Last Chance Qualifier. In heat No. 1, Sam Hubinette took his Saab 9.3 to the checkers in a snoozer over Ken Block's Ford Fiesta, while Loeb's Citroen beat Tanner Foust's Ford Fiesta in the second heat. Sverre Isachsen of Norway brought Subaru its first heat victory at X Games this year with Brian Deegan second in heat No. 3.

The fourth heat went to David Binks' Ford with David Higgins second. This was the heat where Pastrana got pushed into the wall in the first turn of the first lap by Andy Scott's Saab; the Scot said Pastrana braked early and he had nowhere to go while Pastrana's comments were all over the news as he proclaimed the silliness of the incident.

Published before the race on Sunday, Gronholm's PR statement read: "RallyCross driver Marcus Gronholm sustained an accident during the X Games GRC seeding round yesterday in Los Angeles.

"Marcus was taken to hospital in Los Angeles for assessment of his injuries. Attending doctors are pleased that Marcus is conscious, alert and talking and has full limb mobility. Following his initial assessment, doctors confirmed this morning that his condition has improved overnight following a night’s sleep and rest.
 
"Marcus will remain in hospital for ongoing observation and further tests and is benefiting from the best acute medical care.Further updates on Marcus’ condition will follow and in the meantime, the team wishes to thank everyone for their concern and best wishes." While organizers said Gronholm had bleeding on the brain, his people never confirmed this fact.

On Monday, Gronholm's people acknowledged that he did lose consciousness in the accident.  The statement noted he received "a full body scan and related tests confirming that Marcus has full limb mobility, but a bone compression which requires treatment. Consistent with this type of accident, Marcus sustained a number of other injuries that have also improved since his admittance. Accordingly, Marcus will remain in hospital under medical supervision to continue his recuperation."
 
In the six-lap finale, it was Loeb and Hubinette on the front row, but that didn't really matter as it took three tries to get the race underway. A pile of collisions gave Loeb clear sailing to the checkered flags, followed by Block and Deegan. Block suffered a puncture on the fourth lap and used his outstanding car control to ensure a fourth X Games medal.

“The X Games was a good experience, the track was good and I was excited to race at the X Games and win this competition,” said Loeb.  “The most difficult point was that first corner because you lose everything if someone hits you.”

Here's hoping the X Games crew gives the RallyCross portion of their four-day extravaganza a bit more respect in terms of track preparation and promotion. Probably the only thing the promoters did well was prepare the Saturday crowd for the Hot Wheels challenge with drivrs Foust and Greg Tracy, who each made a loop of a tall circular track (which looked like a giant Hot Wheels toy track) and made a cross-wise pass to exit nearly simultaneously. And successfully.

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