Yep, you read the headline correctly. In one of the most bizarre tales from any rally, anywhere, the late Dave Mirra and Ken Block actually swapped Subaru Imprezas midway through the 2008 Oregon Trail Rally.
This sensational story line somewhat stole the limelight from Travis Pastrana who expertly guided his Subaru to victory and took valuable points away from Block who had led the championship heading into the weekend.
The 2008 season was Mirra’s first full campaign as a rally driver as the BMX rider had just followed Pastrana and Block into the sport. Because of this lack of experience, Mirra wasn’t permitted to run a full-spec Open class car as he had less than six months of competition experience.
Instead, he had to make do with a de-tuned Subaru without a turbo which had approximately half the power of Block’s ride. Block’s Impreza was also lighter and featured a dogged gearbox which enabled clutch-less gear shifting. In short, it was much, much faster.
The Oregon Trail was to be the car’s last appearance in Block’s hands however as a new 2008-spec Impreza was coming. Just before the Orgeon Trail, Mirra had gained enough experience to obtain an unrestricted license so was all set to make the jump into Block’s outgoing car for the next round of the championship, the Susquehannock Trail Rally.
Alex Kihurani, who was starting just his second event as Mirra’s co-driver, picks up the story.
“[It was our] second rally [together] and we were in a normally aspirated Subaru and we knew that soon we wanted to move up to the turbo all-wheel-drive car, basically one of Ken or Travis’ cars [once the new 2008 Impreza was launched],” Kihurani remembers.
“On the first day we caught the guy ahead of us, were in his dust and just couldn’t quite see. We went around a corner with a fire break and he [Mirra] thought the corner had finished and went straight but really it went left.
“By the time the dust cleared we were off the edge and down the cliff-side a bit but held by some bushes which was good, so we didn’t rollover further down.”
But Mirra’s Subaru wasn’t the only one to be found stuck in a ditch on Saturday’s leg of the rally. Block had made a similar mistake too, so both drivers retired from the event. Neither could therefore score any championship points but the rules did allow them to compete on Sunday’s stages.
Mirra and Kihurani woke up the next day expecting to head back out and just learn the stages. They were in for a surprise when they walked into the service park and saw a message on the hood of Block’s car.
It read: “Congrats Dave, it’s graduation day – here’s your new car. Keep the shiny side up!”
Kihurani: “We got to drive in Ken Block’s car for the last day of the rally, get some experience in that and actually set some good times so it was good fun!
“Fortunately they were both sponsored by Monster Energy so it was OK. We got to move up to the big boy car for the final day and Ken had to trundled around in a normally aspirated Subaru.”
Kihurani praises Block for his kindness that day, as he doesn’t reckon many other team-mates would have done that.
“He’s such a good guy. He’s very humble and just really enjoys the sport and does as much as he can to help people out,” he says.
“In Mexico [this year], I finally set up something with him and Sean [Johnston] and he just talked to Sean about everything for over an hour just before the start of the rally. He’s a really, really good dude.”
Mirra said at the time: “That Subaru was just amazing to drive, it’s a whole different ball game than the car I’ve been learning with. I had to be really careful because I kept getting stuck in the dust of cars that I was catching up with ahead of us, but we had a clean run on one of the stages where I got third fastest overall.
“It was an amazing opportunity to get to test this car on some real rally stages ahead of the next rally in Pennsylvania, where I’ll be driving this car again. I’m still buzzing from this drive, it was incredible.”