Sno*Drift Rally winner Travis Pastrana is one for big statements, on and off the track. His 1m08.8-second victory over team-mate Brandon Semenuk on the season-opening American Rally Association presented by DirtFish round was about as big as they come.
This year was the first time the Subaru Motorsports USA star had rallied in Atlanta, Michigan since 2010 – but you wouldn’t have known it. Pastrana won nine of the rally’s 12 stages to truly command proceedings and send an early marker to reigning ARA National champion Barry McKenna.
“This feels awesome,” Pastrana enthused to DirtFish. “This is where I started my rally career if you will so it’s been really cool coming back.”
It’s now been 17 years since that first rally that Pastrana mentions, from back in 2004. Then, he finished a modest 19th overall but the winter event has been one Pastrana has grown into.
Victory this year was his fourth on the Sno*Drift, moving him level with US rallying legend David Higgins at the top of the rally’s winners’ list. Surely then, Pastrana was relatively confident he had the skills to score the big points in 2021?
“I was super nervous,” he counters. “Because Brandon, being from Canada, he really sharpened his teeth up there on the Canadian rallies and a lot of the snow rallies and then McKenna he just has so much experience on everything.
“But coming here I knew it was a good rally for me before but again we were racing guys from California with Ken Block and Tanner Foust and that kind of crew.
“[It was] definitely exciting, super sketchy and that’s kind of where I shine so that was good.
“When everyone else was scared, we were smiling, backing it in!”
McKenna was vocal throughout the event about the tire advantage Subaru enjoyed on a different brand of rubber, but Pastrana puts his strong speed down to quality preparation from him and co-driver Rhianon Gelsomino.
“We made really good notes,” he says.
“Every service we were able to go through most of the areas we thought were scary or sketchy and we made notes and changes; icy and cautions and cares all day long so that as the roads progressed our pacing progressed with it.”
After losing the American rallying title last year for the first time since Antoine L’Estage won the championship in 2010, Subaru’s 2021 aim was clear: to reclaim it.
A one-two finish then on the opening round was just what was needed.
“I mean it’s how everyone plans to do it!” says Pastrana.
“Honestly, Barry showed that he was the class of the field last year but Brandon showed that he has what it takes to win. We got a win last year and it’s going to be [competitive this season].
“Before it got super slick and icy and it really came down to the notes and tire choice, we were all within four seconds. And that’s with crazy conditions so this is going to be the most competitive year and [there are] rumors of other people coming in here next round.”
Second-placed Semenuk was similarly enthused, although he didn’t see himself as the favorite like Pastrana did.
“A great start to the year,” Semenuk told DirtFish.
“I felt pretty good, definitely [didn’t have] as much confidence as Travis coming to an event like this. I knew I was going to be chasing him down the whole time but it was nice to put a gap on Barry and start the season one-two for Subaru.
“End of the day I felt quite good in the car and I really, really enjoyed the drive so I’m looking forward to the rest of the season.”