Defending American Rally Association presented by DirtFish National champion Travis Pastrana doesn’t believe any rally driver in the world could have driven his Subaru Motorsports USA WRX STI fast enough to defeat Ken Block’s Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC on last weekend’s 100 Acre Wood Rally.
The event was won by Pastrana’s Subaru team-mate Brandon Semenuk but only because Block hit a deer on the final stage and dropped a minute when his Hyundai was stuck in fourth gear and his windshield was covered in oil.
Block’s i20 Coupe WRC is the second final-generation World Rally Car to make it over to the United States following Barry McKenna’s Ford Fiesta WRC which debuted exactly 12 months earlier.
ARA officials worked hard before the event to neuter the performance of Block’s new car – increasing the weight and limiting its boost just like McKenna’s Fiesta – but unlike McKenna who was forced to switch to a manual gear shifter, Block was allowed to keep the paddle-shift system because of the way the i20’s transmission is designed.
The compromise was that unlike McKenna and the Subarus, which run two-liter engines, Block was capped at the World Rally Championship-spec 1.6L engine size.
Despite testing the car for just 15 miles before 100AW Rally – an event he had won a record seven times before – Block was immediately competitive, winning over half of the rally’s 12 stages.
Pastrana had led early on, leaving him to describe his weekend as “false hope” as by winning both SS1 and SS3 “we thought maybe we’d be competitive”.
A puncture on SS5 cost him precious time but he was quick to accept the fact that he just wasn’t quick enough.
“We were fourth fastest most of the weekend,” Pastrana told DirtFish.
“Brandon Semenuk drove the absolute wheels off that Subaru, so proud of him and just amazed at how consistent he was, adapting to a new co-driver.
“I’d say we were 10 tenths, 11 tenths maybe at most times and on the powerstage, I wanted my dollar and we still lost by a second to McKenna and got Brandon by a tenth of a second, but the three of us have been really close when we all finished the stage good and been knocking tenths back and forth.”
It was the deficit to Block that has Pastrana concerned.
“Unfortunately Ken Block – he’s always quick here, he’s had a lot of wins here – it was very lucky for us and anyone else that’s hoping to win this championship that a deer found Ken on that stage,” he said.
“Sucks for Ken, he definitely deserved this win, he was so dominant, but for us going forward we need to go back to the drawing board.
“I don’t know if there’s anyone in the world that could match his pace with what we have, we have some amazing cars but they’re not WRC cars. We’ll see what happens for the rest of the year but it’s just going to be a struggle for us, but we’re going to keep fighting.”
100AW I usually crash out so the fact that we finished is great, unfortunately fourth doesn't do us a lot of good in the championshipTravis Pastrana
ARA competition director Preston Osborn told DirtFish prior to 100AW Rally that the championship was going to be “paying very close attention to” the i20 Coupe WRC’s performance relative to the other Open class cars and would make any changes to the rules if necessary.
Pastrana stopped short of claiming Block’s Hyundai needed to be neutered – instead encouraging his team to find more performance from the car that won him last year’s title.
“I have three tough races of the year,” he said. “100 Acre Wood I usually crash out so the fact that we finished is great, unfortunately fourth doesn’t do us a lot of good in the championship. It’s almost a throw-out round except for the powerstage where we got second which is nice.
“Olympus, that’s Brandon Semenuk territory, that’s McKenna territory, all equal those guys will beat me there, and then there’s Lake Superior Performance Rally.
“Ken, if he does anything like he did here [on Olympus] he’s going to be hard to beat as well, but then we get to my territory.
“Second half of the season I’m sure we’re going to be working on the Subaru to try to figure out what we can do within the rules to start matching pace.
“We’re sure the motor can do it on the fast stages, we need to figure out the downforce. We’ve got some cool little gizmos and gadgets but we’ve got a little bit to work on, so we’ll see what happens.”
Block, naturally, is feeling quite confident about his season ahead after struggling with a Vermont SportsCar-built Subaru WRX STI like the one Pastrana drove last year. Despite losing out on a record-extending 100AW victory, he had a smile on his face at the end of the rally.
“I’ve got a lot of confidence,” he told DirtFish. “We’ve got another test coming up before Olympus so I think we’ll be more ready, but I’m getting more comfortable in the car but still learning it.
“It’s still a whole new beast but this was one rally I have a lot of confidence in, I don’t have as much confidence in Olympus, so it’s starting over again! It is what it is.”