Rav4 vs Subaru – The unexpected yet brilliant ARA battle

Alejandro Perusina and Sam Albert put on a thrilling show last weekend in ARA West Regional

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If you weren’t keeping track of the American Rally Association Dodging Dysentery Regional Rally that ran alongside the ARA Nation round, Oregon Trail Rally last weekend, boy did you miss out.

Almost 50 competitors entered in a large variety of cars to battle for points in the second round of the ARA West Regional championship. Well-known regional names like the Tabor family, Andy Miller, Josh Gierman and Julien Sebot all tackled the fast stages, but there were two teams that stood out among the rest.

The 2004 Subaru WRX STI of Sam Albert and Krista Skucas, and the Toyota Rav4 of Alejandro Perusina and Andres Bautista stole the show, even turning in times that would have gotten them in the top five had they entered the National rally.

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Their battle rivaled anything in the National field in terms of excitement, but how did it get there? DirtFish spoke to the drivers involved to find out.

Both Perusina and Albert share a similar back story.

“I grew up in the country, so we’ve always rallied our local roads, and I saw it, wanted to get into it and when I did actually, I think Sam was kind of just getting into it too, or a little bit before,” Perusina said.

“I got into rally about 2010. We actually both went to the same high school, so we learned to drive on the same roads pretty much, and I think that’s a big contributing factor of why we’re into rally,” Albert added.

Same high school, same learning opportunities, but very different rally weapons. As you probably already noticed, Perusina’s car is a bit unorthodox.

If you’re unaware, the Rav4 actually has a decent bit of rally history in the US. Ryan Millen, in a partnership with Toyota, ran the Rav4 with a stock, two-wheel-drive drivetrain in the North American rally scene from 2015 to 2017, picking up 19 class wins out of 28 starts.

In the absence of the partnership, Millen was left with three Rav4 cages – one of which began being prepped to AP4 spec for another racing program that fell through.

“It looks like a mom car, but it’s not. It’s pretty solid,” Perusina said.

But while the Rav4 has an interesting backstory, Albert’s Subaru has sentimental value, and years of build progress.

“I have a 2004 Impreza WRX STI that I bought showroom new Eureka, California right as I went to college,” Albert explained.

“And then after I graduated college, and had a real job, I was like, ‘I have got to race this thing,’ and got started kind of tinkering on it getting it ready to be a rally car.

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“It’s essentially a Group N-esque type car with a little bit more power and a sequential transmission. Group N suspension, nothing crazy there. Pretty standard garage built rally car.”

While you might not expect these two unlikely vehicles to be so competitive with each other, Friday night would prove that wrong.

Perusina and Albert finished SS1 just 1.3 seconds apart. Shocking as Perusina hadn’t rallied in about two years, but it turned out that Albert started experiencing fuel delivery issues – a problem that lost him another eight seconds on the next stage that night.

Saturday would see Albert back in action on SS3 where he was able to take 12.5s from Perusina on the 5.5 mile Oak Flat Reverse stage. But unfortunately lingering issues from Albert’s fuel system then lost him 45s.

Service after SS4 allowed Albert to get the car back in order, and he started eating away at Perusina’s healthy gap. Six seconds here,  two seconds there, Albert won five straight stages, only coming second to Perusina on the final stage of the day by a mere 0.4s.

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Sunday was where the battle really heated up. Albert was still roughly 25s off of Perusina, but by the end of the first loop had closed the gap to just 5.5s, with the two tied at the first split of SS13.

On SS14 and SS15 Albert would close that gap even more to just 1.6s, and with two stages to go, it appeared that Albert was ready to strike on the last stage of the loop.

“We tried as hard as we possibly could to regain that gap,” Albert admitted, “but he saw us coming.

“He was like ‘nuh uh’ and he just turned it to 11 and he was not letting us come back.”

On the second pass of Starveout, which ran as the powerstage in the National rally, Perusina proved his worth at the top spot, and opened the gap back up by another 6.6s – and even clocked a time 0.1s faster than Tom Williams in his Fiesta Rally2!

The final stage, Cow-a-Bunga, still promised potential for Albert to win, but in a great example of just how well matched these drivers are, the two finished the test 0.1s apart with Perusina in the lead.

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“You know, kudos to him, he stepped up and definitely delivered,” Albert said of the performance.

It’s not unusual to see such great competition in the Regional rallies of the ARA. There’s great competitors in the Regional field with awesome home-built rides who are having the time of their lives and setting some fast times while doing so.

What’s notable though is that these cars next year are likely to be close to the top level of competition. Already the duo would have placed fifth and sixth in the National rally if they had been entered in it, and on top of that, they would have been trading insane times with Derik Nelson, Dave Carapetyan, and Pat Gruszka all Sunday for fifth.

It’s a huge step to run the National championship compared to a few Regional events every year, but one that both teams would be willing to make if they could.

“I’d love to, it was always a dream to run the whole series, but it takes a lot of a lot of work, money and manpower,” Perusina said.

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“I had a great team this weekend, a good crew, the first time I had a real crew and it helped out so much. But to do National you need a lot of resources, but I’m hoping I can get it together. The pace now is crazy fast –  that kind of stood out the last three years and coming back, everyone’s running so fast.”

Albert, who has plans to drop a Ferrari V8 in his Subaru, has run the National championship with DirtFish Motorsports before but would do it again in a heartbeat if possible.

“No immediate plans for a National season again,” Albert said.

“I got my fill in 2018. If the funding were to show up, absolutely, I’d go for it but I think our next step is upgrading the car to the Ferrari engine swap or just going all in and getting an R5, and I think that’s going to be the answer.

“So if anyone’s listening to this, funding, or some sponsors greatly appreciated!”