- Devon O'Neil, Writer, Action Sports
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You could make a case that the X Games Los Angeles RallyCross field is the deepest of any sport this year, and the deepest Rally field in X Games history. Among the many big-name drivers, most would probably point to eight-time world champion Sebastien Loeb of France or Finland's Marcus Grönholm, a two-time world champion and last year's bronze medalist, as the favorites. Loeb recently accepted a challenge from Travis Pastrana to compete in L.A., and Grönholm leads the current Global RallyCross Championship (GRC) standings ahead of three-time XG champ Tanner Foust, with defending XG gold medalist Brian Deegan sitting in eighth.
But no matter who wins, the story within the story is that RallyCross continues to lure some of the biggest names from other action sports into its fold. The latest to convert is 14-time XG skateboard medalist Bucky Lasek, who will be making his X Games RallyCross debut on Sunday. Lasek's inclusion means the field now features former Moto X, BMX, Skier X and current Skateboard athletes behind the wheel -- a group whose members have won a whopping 68 XG medals among them. Here, we break down the five crossover athletes' chances, starting with the defending champion.
"I feel like the athlete of tomorrow is the athlete who can do multiple disciplines, and that's how I try to dominate X Games," Deegan, a 13-time XG medalist, said.
The strategy worked last year as Deegan won his first gold medal since claiming Moto X Best Trick gold in 2003. (He also earned Moto X Step Up bronze for good measure.) Still, Deegan's success behind the wheel of his Ford Fiesta has been far from automatic since he led from start to finish in last year's XG final. Not that it worries him. More than any driver in the field, Deegan, 38, is known for rising to the largest occasions, and his outlook hasn't changed.
"Last year I was coming in as an underdog, and I feel like there's a little more pressure on me this year," he said. "I'm ready for it. Win or crash -- that's my theory."
Pastrana needs no introduction to the race car or X Games sets, but since he T-boned the wall on the final turn of last year's XG RallyCross final and lost a sure bronze medal, his driving success has been limited. His best finish on the NASCAR Nationwide circuit has been 17th, and he's done no better than ninth in GRC races. Most of that is because of how much Pastrana, 28, has taken on this year, learning the NASCAR ropes and adjusting to a new car on the rally track after switching from Subaru to Dodge. His 2013 Dart doesn't exactly reek of rally history, but Pastrana -- who won't compete in Moto X for the first time in a decade -- remains optimistic heading into Sunday's competition, where he'll be trying to add to his 17 career XG medals and 11 golds, including Rally wins in 2006 and 2008.
"The X Games are one event a year that I'd say anything can happen," he said in a recent interview with Rally World News. "That's why I'm excited to go there."
Verdier, a Frenchman who lives in Long Beach, Calif., entered this year with something he'd never had in his driving career: factory support from a major team. Since joining Rhys Millen Racing and switching from an outdated Subaru to a 2012 Hyundai Veloster, he has shot up the ranks. "Frenchie," as the 42-year-old is known, currently sits in third place in the GRC standings and will be trying to win his first XG medal on Sunday. It's been a long road since he made his XG debut in Skier X in 2002, but Verdier isn't one to dwell on the past.
"I got where I am now by not giving up," he said.
The 39-year-old Lasek brings 14 X Games Skateboard medals to Los Angeles, including six gold, but he's likely the most inexperienced driver in the RallyCross field. It doesn't matter to Lasek, who will be backed by a seasoned Subaru crew and, like his teammate Dave Mirra, will be driving a significantly lighter rig than many of his rivals. This is his debut season on the GRC circuit, and he has finished respectably in both races thus far (11th and 13th). Even if a medal seems unlikely, Lasek plans to learn as much as possible as he advances his driving career.
"I love to race and have been doing it on my own for years," he said. "This is big-time to me, and I'm so grateful and appreciative to be given this opportunity."
No one owns more X Games medals than Mirra's 24, but since he earned bronze in his Rally debut in 2008, the BMX legend's best finish has been fourth in last year's carnage-filled RallyCross final. Mirra, a factory driver for the Subaru Puma team, aims to change that this year -- his third straight X Games focusing strictly on driving instead of BMX. He's committed to the full GRC schedule and currently sits in ninth place in the standings. After struggling through the most recent GRC race, the Hoon Kaboom in Texas, Mirra set his sights on Los Angeles.
"It's the biggest event of the year," he said.