GRC Personalities // Stephan Verdier: A Privateer at X Games
A lot of people asked me, “Why are you doing the X Games? You’re a privateer going against big factory teams. You have no chance.”
Well I did it because it was right here, 30 minutes away from my house, and I’m fortunate to have a rallycross car doing nothing in my driveway. I knew that my chances of winning were slim, but you never know what can happen and it’s FUN to race.
So I decided about 3 weeks before the event to race in the Gymkhana Grid and Global Rallycross events at X Games. I got an invite because of my sixth place finish in last year’s GRC championship and Ken Block invited all the GRC guys at the X Games to do Gymkhana Grid. My car had mostly been sitting in my driveway since X Games 2011, but I took it out for a local SCCA rallycross in Glen Helen a few months back, so I knew the car worked.
Still, I had to go through the car and do a few upgrades. As with most privateers, all the work was done in my driveway on my own. Some of the changes were to upgrade the front OEM differential with one from CUSCO, and to change my OEM gear box to a 6 speed sequential from KAPS. Unfortunately, I never had the chance to use the Kaps gear box because it got stuck in customs for 3 weeks and never showed up on time for the events.
I actually drove my car with the OEM 6 speed H-pattern. Not ideal when everybody else has a sequential.
Because I was doing two events, the first one being Gymkhana Grid, I had to change the brakes to light ones from Wilwood and different spring rates on the Tein suspension. So about 10 days before the events I started working on the car and organizing everything for the race, from Fuel from Ignite racing to the Cooper tires, a new wrap on the car from Visual Imaging designed by AJ Grasso, passes from everybody, et cetera.
The bottom line: I got to the events with sore, bruised, cut hands and in need of sleep. I kept telling myself “I’m too old for that s***!” “Why am I doing this?” “Oh yeah, it’s gonna be fun…”
Fortunately I was able to find help at the event from friends and family. Todd Moberly was my spotter, and Cody Parkhouse was my mechanic with Frank Turcios and Brent Smith from Prolific.
My first event was Gymkhana Grid. My goal was to compete and keep the car in one piece for the GRC. Wishful thinking.
During qualifying I was paired with Patrik Sandell, and exiting the course Patrik got confused and made a wrong turn which resulted in a collision with my car. My car was heavily damaged—the front bumper structure was destroyed, frame was bent, intercooler fan was broken, and so on. We were able to fix it to finish the Gymkhana Grid event, but as soon as we were finished we needed to convert the car to rallycross set up for the next day’s GRC event.
We started around 8 pm on Saturday night. The first step was to remove the front bumper structure to rebuild it. Next, we had to change the front brakes to bigger brakes, redo spring rates and ride height, install skid plates, and go through the whole car for a bolt check. We finished around midnight. Frank and Brent went to the Prolific shop and spent the whole night rebuilding the front bumper structure.
We met at the track around 8 AM to reinstall the front end of the car. Everybody was burned out and the event hadn’t started yet. Not good.
We had a five lap practice as the only practice before qualifying. During the practice, the car was understeering a lot through turn one and was lacking traction in the dirt. I decided to remove the rear wing, go softer on the spring rate in the front, and soften up the rear as well.
Since we only had one practice, all the changes I made would be for qualifying. When I went out for qualifying, the car was oversteering, but it was still better. That was good because it proved to me that my fake WRC wing actually work at high speed. Unfortunately, after my second lap I broke a rear half shaft and I had to stop my session.
I had a pretty bad time. Not having a sequential hurt me a lot, and I needed more time to set up the car.
Because of my bad qualifying I had to fight from the back for my first heat. I got an okay start, but got hit by Scott Speed in the gravel, which broke my front half shaft. Game over.
We fixed the car, but didn’t have time to make any changes to the handling. The car was still understeering in turn 1 and lacking grip in the dirt.
Going into the LCQ I had to start from the back again. I had a good start and was able to pass four cars in the first lap, but the race got red flagged. I had an okay start on the redo, but couldn’t pass any cars in the first lap. The track go really dusty—in the section of dirt coming back on the tarmac, I had to actually stop twice to see where I was going putting way back in the field. I finished fourth in that heat and that was the end of my 2013 X Games.
Overall it was a long and hard weekend, but it was a lot of fun. I met a lot of great people. The car is still in one piece and back in my driveway.
Thank you to my family and friends for all the help!!!
Photo credit: Matthew Kalish (1, 4, 5); Stephan Verdier (2); Jennifer Ziegler (3)