The 2021 Nitro Rallycross season has been a tale of two powerhouse teams. One of them, Team Hansen, is a close-knit family team with two brothers, whereas Subaru Motorsports USA’s own title-chasing duo features two drivers that couldn’t be more different.
On one side of the garage you have Scott Speed, a former-Formula 1 and NASCAR driver who leaves no stone unturned in his quest for success behind the wheel. On the other you have Travis Pastrana, an action sports icon who, despite enjoying his own genuine success on four wheels, is perhaps more well-known for his high-energy daredevil antics.
The two couldn’t be more opposed on paper, yet together they’ve combined to become one heck of a force on track. Between them, they’ve notched up three wins from four so far to control the top-two spots in the championship, and if Nitro Rallycross had a teams’ championship, they’d be on the verge of clinching that by quite some margin too.
Pastrana particularly has been a revelation this year. Winner of the two most recent events in Phoenix and Southern California, he leads the points going into the final round, bettering four-time US champion Speed and 2019 world champion Timmy Hansen.
That might seem to be something of a surprise, but given Nitro Rallycross’ penchant for jumps, Speed explains that Pastrana has been able to bring something to the table that no other driver would.
“Travis has a unique skill in the race car of having an intimate knowledge of jumping, on two wheels he’s almost done that exclusively for his whole career and him, how he has translated that to four wheels is a big advantage for him,” Speed tells DirtFish.
“And he’s fast at that. He’s also got a different strategy for taking corners than I do, he’s a bit more… you know, he puts emphasis on different things in corners than I do.
“When you get to situations and conditions where that’s advantageous, it shows up right away on the data and we’re able to see like, ‘oh, we should take these corners like this’.
“I have my strategy for taking corners and what I value and, and those, and when they work, it’s easy for him to see that and try to adapt to how I’m driving it.
“So having the big delta in driving styles is pretty good advantage for us, just because the two cars are circulating around the track all weekend and one is faster than the other in an area it’s easy to spot for us.”
For Speed, working with Pastrana draws parallels with Tanner Foust, whom he partnered at Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross for five years.
Honestly the biggest thing that’s improved Subaru is Scott SpeedTravis Pastrana
“[They’re] super similar, very similar, [it’s] a very similar dynamic. I would say Travis has a bit less rallycross racing experience than Tanner did, but he’s got more jumping experience. So especially from a jumping perspective, there’s nobody better to have on your team than Travis.”
On the other side of the equation, Pastrana has been partnered with a whole host of successful rally drivers at Subaru over the years, including Chris Atkinson and Patrik Sandell, but he points out that Speed’s circuit racing background has enabled Subaru to not only find another level, but also help its drivers alter their own approach to driving when required.
“If you look at how Scott drives, it’s more like [Sébastien] Loeb,” Pastrana says. “It’s more like drivers are driving now.
“The cars, you don’t have to Scandinavian flick them, even the cars as big as the Subaru, the diffs and everything, they just work extremely well, they’re very driveable.
“So when you have myself and [Sverre] Isachsen, and then even with Atko; Sandell was definitely more along the lines of a Scott Speed.
“But we had so many drivers that were like ‘OK, the car needs to do this, and obviously we have to throw it in harder or use the handbrake’, and to see how Scott approaches testing … I think honestly the biggest thing that’s improved Subaru is Scott Speed and he’s been tough for some of the engineers because he’s hard-headed, he’s stubborn, and he won’t drive until they change it the way he wants it.
“That’s why I think Subaru has a great shot at winning this and it’s because Scott Speed is stubborn and he is very good at what he does.”