Subaru Motorsports USA driver Travis Pastrana is having the season of a lifetime so far in 2021.
Though he’s no stranger to the podium, and neither is Subaru, three straight wins in arguably the most competitive season of the American Rally Association’s National series in the past decade is not to be ignored.
Pastrana’s season started off with a dominant performance at Sno*Drift Rally in February. Despite being behind the wheel of the relatively large Subaru WRX STi, Pastrana was able to skate around the competition winning an impressive nine of the 12 stages to start off the year.
Pastrana needed the win to prove he and his team meant business against reigning event champion and 2020 title winner, Barry McKenna, who managed a podium finish despite the exceptionally slick conditions.
Pastrana’s team-mate Brandon Semenuk was also a favorite to win Sno*Drift, given his history of performing exceptionally well on Canada’s many snow and winter rallies. But even he wasn’t able to stop Pastrana at what Semenuk claims is one of his all-time favorite rallies.
After the frigid finish at Sno*Drift, Pastrana set his sight on the fast stages of 100 Acre Wood.
The largest turnout of R5 cars in ARA history rolled up to 100AW. Long-time rival Ken Block returned in McKenna Motorsport’s extremely dominant Škoda Fabia R5+, while McKenna rolled up in a new weapon, a brand new M-Sport Ford Fiesta WRC car.
It would prove to be an absolute car killer of a rally, with McKenna losing time to a puncture on stage, Block losing time to similar issues, and Semenuk losing time to a couple of offs and other issues.
Many others would suffer retirements and damage to varying degrees of setbacks, but while those problems plagued his competition, Pastrana stayed just safe enough to maintain a good lead, and hold off the competition that was ready to pounce back the second he slipped up.
Consistency was the name of the game for Pastrana at 100 Acre Wood, as he was only able to set the fastest time on three stages. But, as the saying goes: to finish first, first you must finish.
Coming into Olympus Rally, the cards were stacked even further against Pastrana with the addition of Irish rally up and comers Callum Devine and Josh McErlean in the RC2 class, and Block moving to an identical Vermont SportsCar-run WRX STi.
Pastrana expressed a lack of confidence on the Olympus in years past, admitting it was one of his weakest rallies.
With attrition being one of the top factors of the harsh Pacific Northwest, drivers often set a goal simply to finish, let alone win.
Pastrana admits part of his performance came down to luck at Olympus.
“This hasn’t been a great rally for me or even for Ken [Block] for that matter,” Pastrana told DirtFish. “With Barry [McKenna] having some family stuff he had to go and attend and Brandon [Semenuk] having that really unlucky [off], like, we got lucky to get through.”
With Pastrana leading all the way up until SS7 when his closest competitor, Semenuk, had his unfortunate rally-ending wreck, saying he won only on luck would be a stretch. He undoubtedly had the speed from the beginning to battle Semenuk until the end.
Pastrana said that his VSC-built STi “without a doubt” gave him an advantage in the field as well.
“I mean I’ve had the same number one [mechanic] with Sean Jacobs and Brando, the number two mechanic, pretty much since 2004, so just having that reliability in the team, the crew and the car, it’s something that pays huge dividends.”
Pastrana has proven this year to have speed, consistency, reliability – plus a bit of luck – landing him at the top of the ARA standings with 66 points, leading over second-place Ken Block with only 34.
So what’s next?
Southern Ohio Forest Rally. It was at this rally where Pastrana’s car famously went up in flames early in the competition.
If last year’s event proved anything, it was that luck can work against you as much as it can work in your favor.
While a reoccurrence of those events highly unlikely, Pastrana is still cautiously optimistic about SOFR.
“I feel pretty good going into Southern Ohio,” he said. “Definitely, the Subaru where it does a lot better than most of the other cars is on the faster stuff and Southern Ohio is pretty tight so we’ll see how it fares.”
One thing Olympus proved was that the smaller, nimble R5 cars are able to easily eat away time from the O4WD class front-runners on tight stages, with McErlean taking a stage win on SS7, the tightest and most technical stage of the weekend.
SOFR could prove to be the levelest playing field Pastrana has seen yet, with the high-speed sections the Subarus are so strong on absent in Ohio. Plus, there’s the return of the most threatening vehicle in the ARA.
“We’ve definitely got the WRC car coming back with McKenna, so we’re going to have our work cut out for us without a doubt,” Pastrana admits, “but it is really awesome having Brandon and Ken all with identical cars and that at the very end of the day is really cool for us because we share all the videos.
“Sharing all the information, it’s helping each one of us improve and get closer to the one so it’s going to be super competitive.”