How Subaru USA’s next star made ARA breakthrough in Oregon

Brandon Semenuk starred on last year's Oregon Trail against Subaru's top dogs


We’ve already taken a look back at the thrilling battle for the win at last year’s Oregon Trail Rally, but a few spots behind Subaru USA’s victory fighting duo was the team’s future star Brandon Semenuk.

Before Semenuk joined the US’s premier rally team, the multiple world champion mountain biker plied his trade on the stages in his native Canada, becoming one of the country’s top rally drivers.

He’s also made a handful of starts in the American Rally Association National series, the most recent of which was the 2019 Oregon Trail, where he claimed his best US rally result to-date.

“It was my first time doing that event, so it was definitely a new challenge,” Semenuk told DirtFish. “It was a car that I’d only done one other event in so [I was] semi-unfamiliar.

“It’s a very fast rally – I’d done a different event the week before in the same car and then it was quite a bit more technical. Narrower roads, kind of like mountain passes. A lot of more twisty [roads] whereas this was absolutely flat-out. You’re still getting the car to turn in a lot of areas but at a lot higher speed so it was a different driving style.”

The car in question? A Ford Fiesta R5. Semenuk had driven Subarus throughout his rallying career to that point, ranging from production-based Imprezas, right the way up to Open class Crosstreks.

“I’ve always had Subarus, I’ve had Subaru production cars, and then kind of Group N style, the Open class, and that was the first time I had stepped away from a Subaru platform,” he said. “The car is developed by a World Rally team [M-Sport] so they’ve done a great job with it. I thought it was a good platform but probably not the right platform for that event to be honest.

“It’s a five-speed with a limited top end, where my old Subaru probably would’ve had quite a bit of speed in some of the fastest sections compared to that car. But overall it was still a really good drive and a good experience trying some other equipment.


Photo: DirtFish

“Oregon’s really fast and there’s not a ton of tight, twisty stuff so the short wheelbase was actually a hindrance. When you’re flat out, fifth gear and you’re throwing it into corners and you’re hoping that it doesn’t spin on you whereas the Subaru I always had a lot more confidence in that. In North American rally we have a lot of fast roads so that little bit of extra wheelbase is actually a good thing a lot of the time, whereas in Europe you’re using a lot smaller roads so there Fiesta and cars like that come into play a lot.”

Despite the unfamiliar car, Semenuk put in a stellar performance to finish fourth, ahead of that year’s Sno*Drift winner and fellow Fiesta runner Piotr Fetela.

Fourth place in just your third start in the series is good going by any measure, but could more have been possible? Semenuk certainly thinks so.

“With the Subaru Motorsports USA car this year, if I had had that platform last year…   granted it was my first time at this event and I was going against a lot of fast drivers that have done it multiple times so I wasn’t expecting to necessarily battle with them, [but] my stage times were strong and with a platform like the Subaru Motorsports USA STI WRX I would’ve been able to battle for at least a top three there.

“Obviously [Subaru’s] David [Higgins] and Travis [Pastrana] are way more familiar with that car but I was fairly close to Barry [McKenna] in his WRC-engined Fiesta S2000 so I think that would’ve been a good battle if I had a little bit more top end but regardless it was a good experience and I think some stages were, regardless of the time and the car, the other drivers knew that I had put down a pretty good pace for what the car had in it.”

Since that stellar display, Semenuk signed with the factory Subaru team for a full ARA series assault. Of course, the coronavirus crisis has put that plan on ice for the time being – and he sadly won’t get to return to Oregon Trail at all this year, but he’s looking forward to getting behind the wheel eventually in 2020.

But more on that soon…