December 7, 2010

Interview: 2010 U.S. Rallycross 2wd Champion Josh Wimpey

U.S. Rallycross Championship Round 4 - NJMP

One of the most exciting things to happen to the USA motorsport landscape this year was the introduction of the U.S. Rallycross Championship.
As with any new series the entire thing was a big question mark: What would the fans think? Would it catch on? Would anyone even show up to race? While many were excited, no one really knew what it would take to be competitive, especially in two wheel drive. One of U.S. rally racing's up-and-coming talents, Josh Wimpey, emerged as the first ever champion of the two wheel drive class, with his 1987 GTI 16v carrying him to victory. We talked with Josh a little bit about his history, his team Quantum Rally Sport, and what his plans are for the future...

U.S. Rallycross Championship Round 4 - NJMP

Wolfsburg Rennsport: First up thanks for taking to time to speak with us Josh.

Josh Wimpey: No problem at all.

U.S. Rallycross Championship Round 4 - NJMP

WRS: What's you're general background when it comes to cars and motorsport. Is this a life-long passion, or something that has developed over time?

JW: Well, I would say that it all started because of a couple of factors. First, my dad forced my brothers and I to work on the family cars when we were kids so we learned about cars and working on them from an early age. Of course we wanted to go ride bikes and skateboard so we hated it. Sure enough, by the time we were teenagers we had surpassed our father in wrenching on cars, and even occasionally would drag him out to the garage to hold a flashlight or pass tools. In addition to teaching us about mechanic'ing, he also took us out for deliberate snow hooning every winter in his baby-blue Pinto and later a 1st generation RX7. Second, riding and driving pretty much anything we could find from bikes, to lawnmowers, to grandma's car became a highly competitive endeavor between my brothers and I. Around age six my twin brother Jeremy and I convinced my grandmother, who was blind in one eye, that it would be safer if the two of us piloted her Ford Granada for her around the mostly dirt roads of Northern Georgia. And so we did, taking turns working the steering wheel and communicating to the other who would work the brake and gas pedals because we were too small to do both at once.

A fondness for Knight Rider, The A-Team, AirWolf, and The Dukes of Hazard only fueled the fire for going fast on dirt. A progression from RC cars and riding lawnmowers to real cars was inevitable. As teenagers, we began off-roading anything we could get our hands on; namely a Ford van, a Buick Century station wagon, and a couple of Postal Jeeps. It was always competitive as we would see who could get further up a hill, or slide further in the gravel, or go faster but, it certainly was not formal motorsports.

U.S. Rallycross Championship Round 4 - NJMP

WRS: So how did you become involved in rallying?

JW: Needless to say my brothers and I knew what Rally was. However, we only knew rally as it existed overseas, from the few times a year that we caught a glimpse of some WRC footage from the Safari Rally, or some other European events. When we were 19 Jeremy and I purchased a 1985 VW GTI together, and proceeded to drive it as hard as possible on gravel and snow covered roads whenever we could. A couple years later someone mentioned to me that there was a Rally group that held events in Orange Virginia, and I should go check it out. This was the first time that I had ever heard of anything rally or rally related in the US, and the first time I had thought of Rally as something other than a really cool wall calendar. So I went to my first Washington DC region SCCA rallycross at a gravel parking lot in Waynesboro VA, only 30 minutes from where I lived at the time. With our shared 1985 GTI getting even more rusty, I found a replacement car, a 1987 GTI 16v with a bolt-in Autopower rollbar for $400, it didn't run, and set out to run the SCCA rallycross events. From my interactions with the SCCA group I learned that REAL Stage Rally existed in the US, and decided I wanted to do it. Jeremy and I mentioned this to our friend Eric Langbein and he got so excited that he bought himself a Toyota Celica All-trac to run for himself. Eric and Jeremy began running the Celica in rally right away while I went to Colorado for graduate school, and I found an SCCA rallycross scene out there in the interim. During the summer I returned to Virginia, and Jeremy, Eric and myself built my GTI into a real rally car so we could go rallying once I was out of school. After graduating, and finally getting some work, we entered our very first event Cherokee Trails 2005 in Tennessee. The rest is history.

U.S. Rallycross Championship Round 4 - NJMP

QRS: And why rally rather than say, circuit racing at a track?

JW: Rally is more raw and visceral than road racing, and I find that really rewarding. Track racing can be stuffy. and there are a lot of people who spend way too much time fretting about hypothetical rules and competitive advantages, while many racers are paranoid and secretive at the track. Part of that is because road racing requires a certain amount of strategy and gamesmanship that is absent in Rally, where you compete against the clock. Rally competitors develop a different kind of relationship with one another, much like competitors in other individualized sports such as skateboarding and downhill skiing do, where camaraderie is dominant. Passive aggression and playing dirty won't get you any friends in Rally and it won't get you any wins either.

U.S. Rallycross Championship Round 4 - NJMP

QRS: So why did you choose to campaign a Volkswagen when there are so many other options out there?

JW: I could give a huge list of reasons why we keep campaigning VWs, and why you should too, but they wouldn't reflect the reasons why I started out in one. I would love to say that I picked a Volkswagen for any reason other than 'I had one that I bought for $400,' but I would be lying. The truth is, I stumbled into picking a great car and a great platform on accident and I fell in love with the Volkswagen GTIs right away. They are great cars, light weight, easy & fun to drive, easy to make competitive, and easy to work on. In 1998 when I still didn't know anything about US Rally, I drove my GTI up to this new shop in Aberdeen MD and met Dave Graf and Ed Sheets of NGP racing to see what kind of go-fast bits they sold for my car. Despite leaving empty handed, I had Ed drive my car to see if he could diagnose a hiccup and spent the next few years thumbing through catalogs of aftermarket VW parts while dreams swirled in my head.

U.S. Rallycross Championship Round 4 - NJMP

QRS: Cool, so what pushed you over the edge from dreamer to racer so to speak, and how long did it take for that to happen?

JW: As I mentioned before, I was always a dreamer and as soon as I found out that Rally existed in the USA, I decided that it was something I was going to do. It took about 4 years for that to happen because I went back to school.

U.S. Rallycross Championship Round 4 - NJMP

QRS: In your opinion and from your experience in rally, are VW's under-represented in the motorsport scene compared to other marques? There are a lot of them out there on the streets, lots of 'tuners,' but not as many seem to be involved in motorsport...

JW: VWs are still quite popular in rally here in the US. There are at least a dozen mk2 VW Golfs and Jettas, a few Mk3 and Mk4 cars, at least one mk5 car, a couple new beetles, an old beetle, and a surprising number of mk1 rabbits still going strong in rally, with the occasional Scirocco or Corrado thrown in the mix. So, VW enjoys a lot of popularity as a 2wd car in US rally with one or two 4wd franken-cars put together by some crazies.

The tuning scene is cyclical and follows all kinds of trends. It is when these trends happen to overlap with motorsports that you see a lot of enthusiasm and increased motorsports participation. For example, about 10 years ago, autocross was huge and you saw a lot of tuners catering to autocross setups. Right now, the trend is car-as-art cartoonishly-low-so-you-can-barely-drive-it. In that world, broken sub frames, oil pans, and suspension components are seen as a badge of honor. There is very little overlap with any kind of motorsports, and, participation wanes.

Luckily or not, rally has never been a mainstream motorsport in the US. Even the massive wave of enthusiasm from the Subaru faithful over the past decade produced relatively few rally newcomers.

U.S. Rallycross Championship Round 4 - NJMP

QRS: What have been some of your favorite moments in stage rally?

JW: There are a couple of things that really make a rally special for me. The first is great roads. Truly great roads are hard to find and harder still to get permission to race on. The roads at Idaho Rally, Rally West Virginia, Rally Tennessee, and Cherokee Trails are simply a pleasure to race on, so anytime I get to do those events is a favorite moment. The second thing that makes a rally special is having great competition and camaraderie. Anytime we get to trade stage times back and forth with a great competitor is amazing. Last year, we got to duke it out with Doug Shepard at Rally Tennessee and with Eric Burmeister and Chris Duplessis at New England Forest Rally, and we couldn't have been happier to fight for just seconds after over 100 miles of racing.

U.S. Rallycross Championship Round 4 - NJMP

QRS: Do you and your twin brother have telepathy? (haha)

JW: Not that I know of...

U.S. Rallycross Championship Round 4 - NJMP

QRS: In all seriousness though, how is it having your twin brother as a co-driver?

JW: Well, it is definitely a huge advantage. Jeremy is certainly the best co-driver I could ask for and one of the top three co-drivers in the US, period. Jeremy is a very good driver and that really helps him as a co-driver because he can provide excellent coaching in addition to managing the driver and delivering pace notes as a driver needs them. Additionally we work well together as a crew, like the same foods, like to camp instead of hotels, and I get to hang out with my best friend the whole time. Pretty cool!

U.S. Rallycross Championship Round 4 - NJMP

QRS: I guess you were sort of unknowingly practicing being drivers and co-drivers when you were bombing around in your grand mom's car back in Georgia...building up that trust that a driving team must have to be successful?

JW: Absolutely. Grandma got us started!

Josh Wimpey

QRS: So how did your competing in the inaugural U.S. Rallycross Championship come about?

JW: We heard about this new series and thought it might be fun. If nothing else, it was only a few hours drive away which is extremely nearby in rally terms. The truth is no one involved in the first event had any idea of what to expect. I watched a handful of European Rallycross races online before the event and said, that looks like fun...lets go try it.

U.S. Rallycross Championship Round 4 - NJMP

QRS: When you scored your win in round 1, did you already have the overall championship in your sights, or was it strictly a take-it-as-it-comes sort of endeavor?

JW: Like I said, no one knew what to expect at the first event. I am pretty sure that worked out to our advantage somehow, even though I had never driven a car on a racetrack before in my life. The win at round one was amazing and I think encouraged other competitors to come out and race in the other events. When people saw that you could win an a 150hp VW, they realized they didn't need to be worried about being outclassed by 500hp Porsches and such...Yet! Likewise, it sealed the deal for me. The event was fun and well attended and really gave us a chance to interact with fans which is great so we decided then and there to campaign the whole series.

U.S. Rallycross Championship Round 4 - NJMP

QRS: Not that we're asking you to give anything away, but do you have any tricks that help you compete with the more powerful cars, like Dillon Van Way's turbo Focus or Matt Johnson's V8 Ford wagon? It has to be intimidating going up against cars with twice the power.

JW: We knew that after the first event things would get more difficult, and they did. A lot of new drivers showed up with competitive cars and we knew that our effort was outclassed in terms of horsepower and grip, so I had to try very hard to play to our advantages. Namely, the car is lighter than any of the cars that have shown up so far, so we can carry speed further toward each corner before braking. Running a front wheel drive car is a huge disadvantage in the drag-style starts, but a small advantage on the dirt while horsepower is huge advantage anytime you can get the car pointed straight enough to use it.

U.S. Rallycross Championship Round 4 - NJMP

At the second event, it became clear that Matt's V8 was unbeatable off the line, so chasing him down and passing would be the only way to compete unless he made a mistake. The final weekend of racing we came with a bit more ammunition as NGP Racing and Diebold Autosport had done an amazing job squeezing some more power out of the car and shaving off some excess weight. The payoff was that we could go out and run faster laps than any other car including Matt's and Dillon's. But, I never did get a good run on passing him so we finished right on his bumper in both A-mains despite qualifying on the pole in each.

U.S. Rallycross Championship Round 4 - NJMP

QRS: It had to be an awesome feeling when you realized you were the first ever 2wd champion in the U.S. Rallycross Championship.

JW: Definitely. Going into the final race, there were three guys that could take home the championship depending on how things went down in the final heat. We had a lead in the points so, the most important thing was to finish in the top three and not crash. When I saw that we had a chance to win the final race and the championship in the final few corners, I pushed hard but it wasn't meant to be. I'm happy with the championship win but would have loved to win another event as well.

U.S. Rallycross Championship Round 4 - NJMP

QRS: So what are your plans for 2011?

JW: Well, it is sponsorship season right now so we have some feelers out in a bunch of different directions trying to make things happen. There are some really good stage rally events like Rally West Virginia on the schedule next year and we would love to finally complete the entire MaxAttack! 2wd National Championship series so those things are on our list. For Rallycross, next year will have events on both coasts and the center of the country and I hope to get a program together to defend our championship so we will just have to see what happens. It should be exciting no matter what.

U.S. Rallycross Championship Round 4 - NJMP

QRS: Best of luck next year, thanks again, be sure to keep us in the loop with any developments.

JW: Thanks, I will.

For more information on Josh Wimpey and Quantum Rally Sport, check them out:


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