Three years ago, Subaru Motorsports USA welcomed Canadian rally driver and BMX legend Brandon Semenuk to its lineup to bring a new face to the team and for him to learn the US rally circuit.
But now that Semenuk has two years in the American Rally Association presented by DirtFish National championship under his belt, it’s make-or-break time for the rising star’s US rally career.
A trial by fire for his first few seasons with Subaru, Semenuk managed to pick up two wins, multiple podiums and come top three in the championship standings both in 2020 and ’21. Now with experience under his belt on most rounds, and a new co-driver in Keaton Williams, Semenuk faces the most important rally season of his career.
“It was just kind of mutual between John [Hall] and I,” Semenuk told DirtFish of the ending of his previous co-driver partnership.
“[John basically said] ‘I’ll do another season but I don’t know how much longer I’ll want to co-drive at this level’.
“Obviously we got along great, he’s an amazing co-driver, I didn’t really have a desire to move too fast, because it really is hard to find experienced co-drivers in North America.
“A little earlier than I expected I got a chance with Keaton. I met him at Olympus Rally this time last year basically, I was trying to be quick and he obviously did really good with Josh [McErlean] there. He enjoyed American rallying.
“He had reached out to me, and during the winter we managed to find a moment to get in the car together. We just kind of clicked. Obviously he’s an amazing co-driver, but it’s easy to get along with him, and we had a lot of friends in common and things like that. It was easy to just kind of mesh, and he’s bringing some World Rally Championship experience which is crucial to me and the team, so it just seemed like the right fit.”
Thankfully the change from Hall to Williams hasn’t meant too much difficulty for Semenuk when it comes to in-car communication.
“I wouldn’t say there’s a whole lot of changes, obviously with anyone new there’s a learning curve to figuring out what their system is and them figuring out what your system is, it takes a little bit,” Semenuk said.
“Even the small things like, we’re on our way to time control, is he going to tell me the time, or am I just going to figure it out? Just how those little nuances work. So not much has really changed, but he’s got a mechanical background.
“He’s someone I can lean on like with tire choice, he’s very knowledgeable with all that stuff, or even just managing the car on stage. These rallies are long, so being smart and knowing where to push and where’s the most valuable places to take chances.
“As a co-driver he’s great, but the thing is John was great too. I would say there’s a smaller difference between what’s happening in the car with the notes, than everything else he’s bringing to the table as well. He’s the full package.”
I’m definitely feeling more prepared for this season having that experience form the last few seasonsBrandon Semenuk
If Semenuk was to gain WRC insight, it couldn’t have come at a better time as his ARA opposition now includes two World Rally Cars, driven by 2020 National champion Barry McKenna and Hoonigan boss Ken Block.
While daunting for sure, Semenuk stays confident.
After proving to perform exceptionally at rallies he has already experienced, and an early win this year to boost him up in the championship, it could very well be his year despite the growing competition he faces.
“I’m definitely feeling more prepared [for this season] having that experience form the last few seasons at most of the events, where I can come in and actually feel competitive,” he said. “I’m not trying to just hang on and hopefully sneak in there.
“I think there’s really only one approach to the whole season: go flat out. We don’t really have a chance if there’s two World Rally Cars and now David Higgins is back [for Oympus]. Even in an R5 on a stage like Wildcat, Josh [McErlean] won it last year, his first time out at Olympus, and Higgins has probably more success and experience at that event than anyone else so, an R5 is plenty competitive.
“Every stage is a huge push, and we’ve got nothing else to really think about.”
Some events he feels more prepared for than others, and Semenuk was able to run down the rest of his season to give us an idea of what can be expected of him.
And Williams isn’t the only one helping Semenuk’s ARA performances, as team-mate and reigning ARA National champion Travis Pastrana is also heavily involved.
“It’s been awesome, honestly, I knew that [Travis] and David were very competitive, I know they’re good friends as well but, they had this very competitive team-mate relationship,” Semenuk explained.
“When I got on there, like Travis was super cool, he was super open, he never really tried to play any tactics or games with me, and it’s honestly been super fun with him and Rhiannon [Gelsomino, Pastrana’s co-driver]. There’s a really good vibe within the scene, like everyone meshes really well with sharing information, and we’re both trying to help each other as best as we can.
“If we’re on stage, I’m going to try to beat him, but, he’s going to have every advantage I have. Let’s share the information so that we’re the fastest, not one of us is the fastest. He’s been so cool and so supportive, if I have a good stage or a good result he’s genuinely excited for me and that’s amazing.”
With plenty of support, Semenuk is ready to show 2022 will be his best season yet.