Nitrocross, one of if not the fastest rally cross race series in the world, is returning to GMC Stadium at Stampede Park in February after a spectacular debut earlier in front of tens of thousands of Calgarians.
The team behind Nitrocross is promising that the high-flying, fast-paced action that defines the motorsport will return in full form for another ice and snow battle between some of the best drivers competing in any series, on Feb. 3 and 4, 2024.
Chip Pankow, general manager for Nitrocross, said that fans can expect an all-new course layout that brings the start line in front of the grandstand, while still keeping the fan-favourite jump from the inaugural race.
“We’re changing the layout of the track a little bit this year, and I think that’s gonna put more racing in front of the fans,” he said.
The redesigned track will also put more of the regular racing action in front of fans, with most of the track layout for regular laps now completely in view of the grandstand seating.
“The start is super exciting, and the Group E cars launch so well with the studded tires, we want to put that right in front of them. And we’re gonna do that,” Pankow said.
The stadium tunnel will also be returning as an element of the sports joker lap—a mandatory lap on an alternative layout that can make or break a race depending on when a driver decides to take the route—but in reverse order.
Fans will once again experience the all-electric, 1,200-horsepower Group E vehicles being raced by top drivers, along with the younger generation of development drivers racing the ICE powered NEXT class vehicles.
Pankow said that Calgary will also be one of the races for the sport’s newest class of vehicles, which along with the Calgary track layout, will be revealed to fans soon ahead of February.
An ice time, regardless of the weather
One of the things that Pankow said Nitrocross is working hard to do is to avoid some of the weather-related issues at the previous event, which led to changes in the racing format.
Unexpectedly warm weather meant that the number of racers on the track was reduced in order to preserve the ice throughout the two days.
“The new layout is a little bit more friendly to everything that we’re doing if we do get warm weather. We’re putting every effort into making this a really, really great event,” he said.
“We’re starting even earlier on our build, to get more to get more depth of ice, and I think that’ll make a difference. Our goal is to have all multi-car races. It’s only if we get into into a real crunch that we’ll go down to head-to-heads. We want to keep our competition structure the way it is everywhere else, whether we’re running on ice or snow or dirt and pavement.”
He said that the desire to put on the best show possible for fans was because of the fan reaction to Nitrocross the first time around—20,000 Calgarians packed GMC Stadium over a Chinook Blast weekend to take in the racing.
“For us, it’s all about the fans,” Pankow said.
Fan favourites returning
Part of that fan-friendly atmosphere would be amping up the other entertainment options during the weekend, Pankow said. Fans will also once again be able to directly interact with drivers, and see the cars up close for themselves.
“That’s part of our DNA wherever we go. Our drivers are great about sharing their time with fans, and we really try to be a series that’s for the fans,” Pankow said.
“We’ll have autograph sessions. We’re going to do more from a music standpoint and more from an activation standpoint, and really work on that entire aspect of the show.”
That work, which has already been underway this season with the rebranding of Nitro Rally Cross to Nitrocross, has led to record sales for the series.
In February 2023, Calgary set an all-time record for Nitrocross in terms of attendance, but the growth of the sport has led to new records like that of the latest race in Phoenix, Arizona, which was also sold out.
Part of the building excitement has been due to the quality of racing, Pankow said.
Calgary fan favourite from the inaugural races, Jamaican driver Fraser McConnell, who has already taken three victories this year, will be returning alongside Nitrocross founder Travis Pastrana.
“Everyone’s coming back. We have a really intense battle this year between Robin Larson and Kevin Erickson. In addition to that, we’ll have Lia Block, Ken Block’s daughter, in NEXT. She’s been doing a really great job, and she was on the podium in Phoenix,” said Pankow.
“Our qualifying for 10 cars are usually within five-tenths of a second—so half a second covers the entire field. And we had half a second covering the top five in finishing position. So that’s what we’re about: Really good close racing, and we look forward to doing that in Calgary.”
Early bird tickets are on sale now, with single-day racing starting at $30, and entire weekend passes at $50.
Tickets are available at http://www.nitrocrossracing.com/calgary, with early bird pricing available with the special code NITRO.