We’ve all done it; walked out to our garage, driveway or parking lot, seen our reliable, comfortable and responsible (if unexciting) SUV or crossover, and thought: ‘Ah! If only I could rally this 2005 Toyota Sequoia!’
Wait, that might just be me.
Regardless, the Honda Performance Department (HPD) Maxxis Rally team has taken our (my) dreams and made them come true.
The team – which has put the likes of the Fit, Civic and CRZ on US rally stages – is an Ohio-based group of volunteer Honda engineers. When Honda announced the return of the Passport in the form of an adventurists type of SUV back in 2018, the team hatched an idea to prove its capabilities both on and off the highway.
That meant trying it for size in the American Rally Association presented by DirtFish National Championship.
The Passport made an appearance most recently at Lake Superior Perfomance Rally, running in the L4WD class
With a recent facelift, Honda has set out to prove that – despite coming from an often domesticated segment of the market – the Passport can take whatever you can throw at it on some of the roughest roads in the US, and brought it back out for the fans to witness.
“The rally team is one of many volunteer-based Honda race teams across North America, serving as a proof point for Honda ‘racing spirit,’” says Chris Sladek, rally truck driver and Honda engineer.
“One purpose of these race teams is to grow associates’ skills in the areas of decision making, problem solving, multi-tasking and intra-company networking.
“Through participating in a demanding motorsport like rally, our associates are continuously exposed to a wide variety of opportunities to enhance their capabilities through an activity they are truly passionate about.”
This team, along with Honda’s Rebelle Rally Team and Acura’s Pikes Peak team, not only allows the engineers to work in an environment they love, but also proves the worth of the parts they’ve designed.
The HPD Rally Maxxis team prides itself on running many of their cars in near stock from, and the Passport is no different.
The roll cage, fire suppression system, exhaust and weight reduction cover the majority of changes to the light rally truck, while most everything else is standard.
The 3.5-liter V6 engine, nine-speed automatic gearbox, all-wheel-drive system and all suspension components are left unmodified for competition. The only addition is an automatic tramsission fluid cooler from the stock Passport’s available tow package.
But if you’re aware of the ARA’s rules, you’ll know this can’t quite be right as electronically actuated drivetrain components are banned, hence why Barry McKenna’s M-Sport Ford Fiesta WRC had to have different differentials fitted to run in the US.
However with the Passport, HPD Rally Maxxis has taken advantage of a clause in the rulebook that says a vehicle may obtain special permission from the ARA tech director to run electronically actuated drivetrain components so long as they are OEM and are run as installed from the factory. So with paddle shifters, and electronic diffs, the Passport is oddly one of the most technologically advanced vehicles in the ARA – and is fully legal.
The behemoth also stands out as it forgoes the usual rally gravel tires you see most competitors use, taking advantage of Maxxis all-terrain and mud-terrain tires available commercially for your own vehicle.
The obvious downside to the Passport is weight. Clocking in at 4500lbs, the “light” truck’s 280bhp V6 has a harder job than most of the field, but the Honda engineers know how to overcome these obstacles as best as possible.
With Sladek at the wheel, the Passport put in times among the top 15 on many stages of LSPR, and placed second in class at Southern Ohio Forest Rally back in 2019 when it debuted.
HPD Maxxis Rally team is ready to get serious with the Passport, promising to run more events in the 2022 season than it has in the past, but it has yet to announce specifics as of yet.
In the US, where cars seem to be getting bigger and bigger and crossovers and SUVs now outsell any other vehicle segment, the Passport may be a sign of things to come.
The ‘race on Sunday sell on Monday’ idea doesn’t exist in every form of motorsport, but if manufacturers want to get involved they might want to start taking more vehicles from this segment to the special stages. Remember, we have seen Ryan Millen rally a Toyota Rav4, and do it well.
In the meantime, the HPD Maxxis Passport gets to hog the spotlight as one of the stand-out vehicles in US rallying, drawing the attention of fans every time it takes to the stage.