Rally has yet to catch on in America. Even less popular, however, is France. Unless, of course, there is an opportunity to rock a fanny pack and speak very loudly while seeking out the McDonald’s closest to the American hotel one is staying at while on a trip to Paris for bragging rights. Then, France is “what the French call ‘TRAY BE-AN'”.
So, when it was announced (this past week) that Citroën World Rally Team superstar Sébastien Loeb would be following his run for more podium glory at Brother Rally New Zealand (21-24 June) with a trip to Los Angeles to participate in the 2012 X Games, two thoughts came to mind:
1) The Mouse That Roared
2) Are French cars even allowed in the US?
The Mouse That Roared was a 1959 film (starring Peter Sellers and Jean Seberg) about a (fictional) speck of a European nation who runs into a bit of a financial crisis when their primary export (wine) is no longer in demand. In a panic and with limited resources (as made clear by Sellers playing the bulk of the starring roles), the country opts to declare war on the US, an empty threat made in the hope of gaining reparations. When their declaration is brushed off, an invasion is launched. An invasion which goes (largely) unnoticed and ends in the kidnapping of a prominent, his daughter, and his bomb (to gain the attention of someone, anyone). Which results in an accidental win.
The parallel is quite obvious. While the appearance of Loeb may be huge, exciting news to the rally world, the US is more likely to notice the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) in a serious light. Not that the X Games is not big news. It has come a long way since its early days as a ghetto operation in San Diego with skating ramps as its centrepiece and late night cable broadcasts, catering to kids on summer break. But, this is the land of Ken Block. Not to mention all the former stars of the early X Games who have moved their ramp and jump-tortured bodies into the (slightly less abusive) driver’s seat of rally cars. A small Frenchman on the rallycross stage is a reenactment of The Mouse That Roared. And, whether or not there is any kidnapping of X Games glory has to be concluded.
The second concern is a half joke. Half? Yes. (Of course) French cars are allowed in the US. People love to buy Bugatti Veyrons (yes, Bugatti is a French company, owned by the very German Volkswagen Group-take that, money-blowing Euro haters!) and trash them in attempts at insurance fraud. And, if one looks hard enough, they may find an old Citroën, buried deep in the classifieds. In complete disrepair and with little hope of resurrection, of course. But, they are out there. And, of course, one could (always) have one imported or buy one in South America and christen it with an ultimate road trip back north (Pan-American Highway, people-you. are. welcome.). But, in general, French cars are not available in the US. Why? Because the US refuses to let go of antiquated wartime sentiments of the French. And, ‘wartime’ dates back to the founding of the nation. Flash-forward to World War II, when the US decided that french fries could not be ‘french fries’ anymore, renaming the fried potato wedges the far less disgusting ‘freedom fries’. All this leaves some deeply engrained malicious stereotyping and hard feelings. The automotive result being a greater interest in larger, more patriotic Fords and Chevys than any petit fleur imported from France. So, when the X Games rolls around, the Citroën DS3 driven by Loeb (modified into what has been dubbed the ‘XL’-pretty perfect for a US trip) is going to be noticed. But, (maybe) not in the most favourable way. Then, again, it will be covered in Red Bull designs. And, if there is anything Americans respond to, it is instantly gratifying quick-fixes and artificial energy. Energy drinks are huge in the US. Especially Red Bull. The red nectar keeps kids awake at school and even slaps some wings on vodka. So, it is very possible that Loeb will find new fans through a love of aggressive chest-bumps and screaming “WOOOOOOO!!!!!!!”.
Sébastien Loeb may be a superstar in the World Rally Championship series. But, can a small Frenchman in a small French car be translated to American? Honestly, who cares? It is a great opportunity for Loeb (who loves dabbling in many motorsports and has a freakishly high energy level which allows him to do so) and a good sign that rallycross is making steady strides ahead and that there is hope for the growth of rally in the US. Just as Ken Block makes a point of competing in WRC events when he can, (maybe) WRC drivers will find their way to Global Rallycross Championship. With legendary WRC flying Finn Marcus Grönholm (already) leading the way by winning two of two events in the 2012 Global Rallycross season and Loeb, making his way to the X Games, the future looks bright. Of course, it would look brighter if there was more coverage (the GRC event only aired at midnight, locally) and if regional growth were promoted (finding rally of any sort in the US requires a bit of twisting, turning research and a few secret handshakes) more and lawsuits were promoted less (the fear of being sued over a spectator being hit on the foot by some gravel has to be a major concern, as the US is a society which fosters this behaviour). But, one step at a time, eh?
The 2012 Summer X Games run from 28 June to 1 July in Los Angeles, California.
The rallycross rounds will be held Sunday, 1 July, kicking off at noon (Pacific).
US television coverage will be handled by the ESPN networks and ABC (check your locals).