Buddy Rice is one of only a handful of drivers to have won both the Indianapolis 500 and 24 Hours of Daytona, joining such racing legends as Al Unser, Bobby Rahal, and A.J. Foyt. He’s also a karting magnate, running a successful karting team and race shop in Fontana, California. But at this weekend’s X Games in Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil, Rice will try something completely different—running the Global Rallycross season opener in a Marklund Motorsport Volkswagen Polo.
Before heading down to Brazil, Rice sat down to talk about his outlook for the race weekend and his approach to driving a rallycross car for the first time:
You’ve had a lot of success elsewhere in motorsports, winning at Indianapolis and Daytona. What inspired you to try rallycross?
For me, I haven’t done rallycross before. I’ve done a little bit of off road racing with the Baja 1000 with Cameron Steele, I’ve tested one of Robby Gordon’s stadium trucks, but the rallycross deal is really exciting. It’s a stadium format, it’s something that’s totally different, and I really have always liked new challenges. I think the more diverse you are, the better driver you become. I haven’t done this before, it’s something totally new to me, but I really look forward to the challenge and seeing what I can do. I know it’s going to be extremely difficult with the driver lineup, the competition, and the factories that are all involved with this, but this is a great platform. And it’s at X Games, so how can you pass up an opportunity to go take part in that?
How did you put together the deal to join Global Rallycross in Brazil?
Everything came together quickly, talking with Colin (Dyne) and VW. It all came together at a quick pace. (They) checked to see if I was available and I was, everything was okay, and they put it together. The next thing you know, I was trying to get a visa in 48 to 72 hours, getting my driving gear put together, packing my bags, and getting ready to leave on Monday for Brazil.
Have you had any test time in the car? If not, how do you prepare to drive a rallycross car for the first time?
No, no test time, no nothing—I’m going at this thing cold turkey. I’ll be real green, but I’m going to be like a sponge. There are going to be lots of guys there with lots of talent, there are going to be some driver coaches on hand, so I’m just going to ask as many questions (as I can). The big thing for me is that first off, I’m going to get in the thing, go drive it, feel it, check it out, and once I have that under control, start asking questions on how I can go faster and what I need to do. I’ve just got to be very adaptable and make some adjustments as I go, and just get comfortable with everything.
How does X Games compare to some of the other major events you’ve competed in?
I’ve been to X Games before in Los Angeles, but I’ve never competed. Also, for me to be in a foreign country—I’ve never been to Brazil—and to go down there is going to be quite exciting. I know what it’s like to race outside the country from when I was racing with IndyCar, A1GP, and some of the other stuff that I’ve done, and I’ve been to Formula 1. It’s unbelievable, the support that comes from those countries, and how they get behind racing. So it’s going to be similar to the 24 Hours of Daytona, the Indianapolis 500, the Daytona 500, Charlotte and the Coca-Cola 600—all of that stuff is so big, and the people behind it are going to be in the same kind of atmosphere. It’s the same kind of excitement. It’s going to be great! It’s going to be unbelievable, and I’m looking forward to it.
How do you think you’ll compare to the rest of the Global Rallycross field? Do you have any expectations?
Honestly, I have no idea. I’m just going to go out, I’ll do the best I can, and it’ll be what it’ll be. I always pride myself on being able to adapt and stand up to new challenges. We’ll see how it plays out! I know the field is stacked, these guys are really good, and it’s their arena and their type of environment, and I’m coming as a complete outsider with very little dirt experience. But we’ll see how it goes. I’ll do my best, and we’ll see how far I get. Hopefully it turns out to be a good weekend for myself and VW, and hopefully we put on a show for all the Global Rallycross fans.
Is Global Rallycross something you’d look at doing full-time?
That’s definitely a possibility. We’ll just have to wait and see how the first round goes. Like I said, it’s going to be an extremely steep learning curve with no practice, just having me jump in and go. But it’s not the first time I’ve done that with other cars I’ve driven. Obviously when you’re on pavement it’s a little bit different, but at the end of the day, when you show up to something and you’ve never done it before, it’s the same kind of learning curve. I’ve been able to adapt before, and hopefully I can adapt quickly, and this turns into something that I do more races with VW and carry on.