Brandon Semenuk made history last weekend when he won his first ARA Presented by DirtFish National Championship, but there was one person quite possibly more excited about Semenuk’s win than himself. And that’s his team-mate, Travis Pastrana.
Pastrana has been extremely vocal about his support of Semenuk over the past few years, often touting Semenuk’s performances over his own in DirtFish interviews.
And in the wake of Semenuk’s first championship victory, we had to know what Pastrana about his team-mate’s win, and understand how Pastrana championed Semenuk for Subaru Motorsports USA long before he ever got the seat.
“Semenuk has been just amazing all year,” he told DirtFish. “He’s done such a great job, and at the end of the day, Subaru really stepped-up, and Vermont SportsCar gave us a car that we could be competitive with.
“Brandon is one of those guys that, if you don’t know him, he’s pretty quiet, super humble. He’s a hard worker and he’s been rallying for a long time, and not many people know that.
“We were doing a rally up in Canada, and Antoine L’Estage was up there. And Antoine’s like, ‘dude, this guy is driving’. It was like a Crosstrek I think, and it was such a big vehicle, and he still in the downhill stages was running competitive times with me and L’Estage and everybody else.
“I’m like, ‘man. This guy’s going for it’, and you know what, it was just all his own money and then, you know, Red Bull Canada and Subaru Canada kind of helped him out a little bit. But this is a guy that just did this as part-time for like, six, seven years.”
So how did Semenuk go from a Canadian rally amateur to becoming the first Canadian to win the US Rally Championship since L’Estage himself in 2010?
Pastrana had the answers.
“[Brandon] did a driver search with Vermont SportsCar and Subaru Motor Sports USA, and he was the quickest one out of all the guys that they had there, and they had some really good drivers.
“They said, ‘man this guy’s really good but, you know, we’re not sure because he does mountain biking, he does all this stuff, maybe he’s crazy, or maybe he’s this, and that’. And I talked to Lance [Smith] and the guys, and I said, ‘look, you know, he’s going to be very good, and if he says he wants to do it, the work that he’s putting in, [he’ll get there]’ and he’s proven it, and I’m so proud of him.
“He outshined me all season. We’ve had the same vehicles. He’s been better at testing; he’s been better at setup; he’s been more consistent on the stages; he’s been flat out faster.
“So that’s a hard blow for me to take, but at the same time, to see Brandon step up, I cannot wait to see where he goes in the future, and I’d love to see him in WRC.
“I’d love to see where Brandon takes this, and I think having the championship is going to be such a big step in that direction.
“I’m devastated for Ken and Alex but I think as far as drivers in this championship, equal cars, Brandon has definitely proven he’s quicker than me almost every weekend and I believe he’s the best driver in the championship.
“I’m stoked for him, and stoked for Keaton [Williams].
“Not that this isn’t an amazing thing to win, the ARA championship, but I think he’s got a lot further to go, and I cannot wait to see where he takes it.”
Of course, Pastrana being the man who is always lifting up those around him, he also spoke highly of Ken Block’s performances, and admitted his heartbreak over how their season ended as well.
“I think Ken was definitely the quickest driver all year round,” he said. “He really stepped up in that Hyundai and he did phenomenal. I’m getting older and Ken’s getting older, but for a guy in his 50s, he gets faster and learns every single weekend.
“Ken and Alex, they worked hard. They deserved a championship. And a part of me is disappointed that after everything that Ken Block has done for the sport, has done for Gymkhana, has done to get this big crowd that’s here, and everybody that’s watched X-Games, that’s all Ken.
“And you know what? He’s done so much because he’s passionate, he loves everything and loves the sport. And you know, for him to walk away from this year, not having a championship is a huge blow. I really hope that he comes back and tries his hand again.”