Travis Pastrana is back. He’s back with a smile, a knee that’s working and a desire as strong as ever to land a seventh American title.
After a year away from the ARA, Pastrana will carry the fight to team-mate and chief title rival Brandon Semenuk this season. And he’ll do it in a brand-new Subaru Motorsports USA WRX. A car he tested for the first time on Wednesday.
The first time? Yes. Doctor’s orders. Knee surgery meant he wasn’t able to shake the car down and was only just able to make it to the start of this week’s season-opening Sno*Drift. Downtime done. He’s good to go.
He told DirtFish: “Last, I guess, seven weeks [out] with my knee, but I still feel right at home. I got in that car and it actually felt like I’d never left. I love it. I got in, felt right at home. It just made everything a little bit easier. The turn-in is a little bit easier, you can slide it a little bit easier. The understeer doesn’t come into play. Whatever you want this car to do, it does it.”
The lack of seat time doesn’t worry him in the slightest.
“I’ve been driving a lot,” he said. “Don’t let it fool you. Just because I haven’t been doing ARA, I’ve been in a lot of different vehicles. And getting to know a new car, it’s no problem. Any driver, by turn three, whatever car you’re in, you have no excuses. You know what you got and you figure it out.”
Pastrana has no interested in any chatter about taking time to get back up to speed. There’s a championship to win, a champion to beat.
“I feel like we don’t have any excuses,” he said. “We’re ready to go out there. We’re ready to do well. But we’re going to see how those first couple stages go and [see] if it’s in our best interest to keep trying 10 tenths.”
And this is his rally. This is the American round he’s won more than any. Four times. But never like this.
“I think it was 2002 or 2003,” he said, “the last time we had no snow. I was looking forward to this ice race. It’s been my most successful race of the whole ARA championship. But, you know… I like the sand as well.”
Inevitably, sand instead of snow will bring more traction from gravel-spec tires. And more traction means more speed.
Pastrana’s all in for more speed. He grinned: “It’s going to be probably the fastest rally in the championship, which is the opposite of what it was. You usually have snowbanks and the speed is so much slower. It’s going to be a super-fast rally and while snowbanks are better than trees, they’re not going to stop you going into the woods!
I don’t like seeing the number one on someone else’s car.Travis Pastrana
“I’m excited to get back in and have some fun – but Brandon [Semenuk] is extremely fast when it comes to high-speed, when it comes to full commitment and also when it comes to mud.”
And there’s still enough snow and ice around to keep it interesting. As Pastrana and co-driver Rhianon Gelsomino found early in the test.
“In his first pass, Brandon took some snow out of the bank on the inside,” said Pastrana. “I was like: “Oh, it won’t be too much…” I almost put it off right away. I’m like, holy cow!”
The ARA has missed Pastrana, his energy, his enthusiasm and his desire to be America’s best all over again. He’s missed it back. Walking across to his #199 Subaru, he smiles at the single digit sister car.
“I don’t like seeing the number one on someone else’s car,” he said. “I want it back.”
That battle begins on Friday.