Stunt driving has always been related to racing, with rally being no exception. Tanner Foust, Ken Block, Travis Pastrana, and Rhys Millen are just a few of the notable rally racers also known for their stuntman capabilities.
One stuntperson team in rally you might not have heard of yet, however, is Ele Bardha and Corrina Roshea of Bardha Racing out of Detroit Michigan.
Bardha and Roshea, new to rallying, have only ran about four events, but have already managed to impress, taking top spot in the L4WD class at Sno*Drift last weekend in their Prodrive built 2000 Subaru Impreza.
A long time Sno*Drift spectator turned racer, Bardha has been a fan of rally for a long time.
“It’s always been this itch,” he explains, “I’ve got a photo of me being a fan getting a picture with Pastrana like ten years ago.”
So, when the opportunity arose to purchase a real Prodrive Subaru, Bardha jumped at the opportunity.
The car itself has a long and interesting history, being a certified Prodrive built car believed to have been raced by David Higgins, as well as one of the first student cars at DirtFish Rally School.
Though through various exchanges of the car the original documentation was lost, Bardha decided to do his own research.
After contacting Prodrive and not having much luck, a woman there eventually decided to help out by using her lunch break to go to the Aston Martin warehouse where their records are stored to see what she could find.
Lo and behold, like a scene out of a movie, in a dusty filing cabinet in the warehouse was a folder labelled “Group N,” and the very first file in there was Bardha’s car.
“I received the original cage certification and the build sheet, photos of the car with Colin McRae’s car being built right next to it” says Bardha.
After running Sno*Drift a few times and one other rally, Bardha finally got a chance to take the car out to a gravel event last year at the Southern Ohio Forest Rally, but things didn’t go as planned.
After getting blinded by the sun during testing, Bardha cut into the woods and ended up flipping the car on its roof.
Though not an unfamiliar situation for Bardha and Roshea, the context of owning the car they were now sitting upside down in was an unfamiliar one.
“I was waiting to hear a guy yell ‘cut,’” said Bardha, “I was devastated.”
The car sat damaged for the rest of the year until about two weeks prior to Sno*Drift when it was all hands on deck to get the car ready for the team’s home-state event.
While prepping the car, Bardha was also prepping himself, looking over pages of notes he had taken over the years and watching hundreds of videos of snow rallys to study how cars react on the surface, and specifically where they crash.
“The first year we went, we threw caution to the wind and we made all those mistakes,” explains Bardha, who also looked over his own in-car footage to figure out what not to do this time around.
By the time he had done his research Bardha felt confident he would know what turns would be potentially race ending, and where he might be able to really push the car, likening it to when he used to race go-karts in the rain, and how he had to adapt to those conditions.
“I basically ran a ‘rain line’ a lot of the event,” he said.
With prep done, it was finally time to get behind the wheel, and for Bardha racing, it paid off.
“I took the first turn on the testing day, and I looked at my girlfriend Corrina, and I was like ‘oh my god I can work with this,’” said Bardha.
After the first loop it was clear that Bardha Racing had done their homework, when Bardha, who typically doesn’t want to hear his times, started getting approached by people between loops.
“It wasn’t until like the first service where people were coming up like ‘hey man, you’re fast!’” says Bardha.
Continuing on, Bardha’s intuition of what corners people would overcook proved to be correct as well, “You could tell 50 cars stuffed it on that berm, and [there were] trees with no bark on them” he explained.
All in all, the work paid off with Bardha Racing sitting over six minutes ahead of L4WD second place Travis Nease and running away with a huge margin of victory in the class despite 1:10 of penalties.
Bardha Racing does attribute a lot of their success to their stunting careers, and the lack of nerves that come with getting behind the wheel of a fully built racecar because of them.
“I’m very hard to shake,” Bardha says, “if I’m not on it at work, they don’t call you anymore.”
“I’m constantly in a different car, I’m leaving today for Orlando for a job where I’m going to be driving a bunch of pickup trucks, and the next week I might be driving a Dodge Demon sideways for a commercial, y’know, threading the needle in a city somewhere.”
“I’m always driving every car in the world all the time, so I acclimate very quickly.”
This year Bardha Racing plans on putting in a full National ARA Championship effort for the first time.
“We’re very excited about what the ARA is doing with the series,” Bardha says.
“At my age the opportunity of even saying the word Championship, that’s just like a pipe dream, so if I do well at 100 Acre and some of the other events, and I go out west and do okay, then I’ll probably run every race until the bitter end.”
But for the Bardha Racing team, rally is more than just a competition, but a freeing experience, where they get to experience the same thrills of their day jobs, but without having to follow the will of a director. As well as an opportunity for him and Roshea to grow closer.
“It’s like being a bird,” Bardha says. “It’s the greatest thing I’ve ever done with my girlfriend, it’s strengthening my relationship.”