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Subaru U.S. Rally Team - Dialogue

From Action Sports To Motorsports: Inside Subaru's U.S. Rally Team

Carter Jung
Sep 1, 2009
Impp_0909_01_z+subaru_us_rally_team+group_shot Photo 1/18   |   Subaru U.S. Rally Team - Dialogue

Take drifting, put it on a dirt course with a 70-foot jump, time it, add a co-driver to each vehicle and some of the greatest action sports athletes, and you have X Games Rally: one of the greatest motorsports spectacles to be televised in the U.S. And making some of the biggest noise in the rally front is Team Subaru. Besides being the dominant manufacturer on the X Games' podium, it's their drivers who have brought notoriety to American rally, namely Travis Pastrana, Ken Block and Dave Mirra. All action sports super stars, these three X-men--spearheaded by Pastrana--helped to introduce motorsports to the X Games. And going on its fourth year, it's about time we introduce them to the 2NR audience.

2NR: For the uninitiated, what are your backgrounds?

Travis Pastrana: I started out racing motocross, but I've always had a passion for cars. I had a go-kart at two and basically loved anything that had wheels. When I was 16, I had the opportunity to get in a WRC car. From then on, I was trying to get into rally racing.

2NR: How did you manage to finagle your way into a WRC car at 16?

Travis: I had a deal with my sponsor, Alpinestars. They knew I was really into rally, and said if I won the Outdoor National Championship, they'd get me in a WRC car. I was down 40 points at the time, so it was the perfect motivation. After I won, I didn't think they'd really do it, but they followed through and that was the beginning.

Ken Block: I grew up skateboarding, riding motocross and snowboarding. As I got older, I realized I could never make a living out of doing it--I truly enjoyed the sports, but was never good enough to compete as a top-level pro. Since I loved the industry so much, I decided to get in the business of making skateboarding and snowboarding apparel. That eventually turned into DC Shoes, which I've been doing for the past 15 years.

Dave Mirra: [laughs] It was my first one and I loved it. I started racing when I was 10 and I wasn't really into it. I started reading magazines about these guys out in California who were freestyle riding during the '80s. They would go to local bike shops for demos, and when I was ten, I saw a Haro demo at a dealership and was amazed. I started trying the tricks I saw, and by the time I was 13, a pro team sponsored me. By 14, I started winning national events and turned pro when I was 17. Through the success of BMX, I was exposed to different things throughout my career. As far as rally, it was a weird combination of how I got into it. I won the Long Beach Grand Prix Celebrity Race in 2007 and my agent suggested I try rally school. Ken brought out the Monster/Vermont SportsCar Subaru and once I drove it, I was hooked.

I was never a big fan of American motorsports, which are typically cars that go in circles or go straight, but I've been a fan of rally since I was young. It looked like a lot of fun--cars were sliding, jumping and it seemed like an aggressive form of motorsport. As I grew up and got a hold of my parents' car keys, I was out sliding and jumping their car--it was so bad that I got arrested for jumping a car when I was 16 or 17. [laughs] That influence has always been with me, and in 2004, when I saw press releases of Vermont SportsCar taking Travis to rallies, it blew me away. I had no idea that there was a rally championship here in the States. Soon after, we at DC ended up hiring Travis as an athlete in the middle of 2004 . . .

Travis: . . . Under the stipulation that Ken had to come out and do a rally school with me. [laughter]

Ken: So as soon as the contracts were signed, I called Vermont SportsCar to try rally--just to go out and have fun with Travis. I went to a rally school and found that I was pretty good at it, and I've been into rally ever since.

Dave: I grew up riding BMX. As soon as I learned how to ride a bike, I pretty much never got off one. From a small beginner's bike to a Sears Roebuck one with a banana seat that I modified into a BMX bike.

2NR: Banana seat? I think I had one of those.

Impp_0909_21_z+subaru_us_rally_team+travis_pastrana_front_view Photo 5/18   |   Subaru U.S. Rally Team - Dialogue

2NR: When were your first X Games?

Dave: Its first year, back when it was just Extreme Games in 1995. I think they only had a vert contest for skateboard, inline and BMX . . .

Travis: . . . They had extreme bungee jumping . . .

2NR: Word?

Dave: [laughs] That was in '96.

Travis: 1999 was my first. It was the first year X Games introduced motocross racing.

2NR: How many X Games medals do each of you hold?

Dave: I think I have a total of . . . nine more than Travis. [laughter]

Travis: I only count the Golds! [more laughter]

Dave: OK--the Golds, I have six more than Travis. [laughter] No, it's actually five.

Travis: Come on, don't undersell me, man! [laughs] I have 14 Golds, but Dave's the all-time gold medalist.

2NR: How many do you have, Dave?

Dave: 23 total. 14 gold . . . it should've been 15 but I got robbed. [laughter]

Travis: I know I only have nine Golds, but these two [pointing to Dave and Ken] are splitting bronze medals in Rally. They're just handing them out, now. [laughter]

2NR: Prior to rally, what's the one feat you're each most proud of?

Travis: Winning the Outdoor National Championship and Motocross of Nations when I was 16. At the time, I was the youngest person to win the Outdoor National Championship and to represent Team U.S.A.

Ken: The accomplishment of building a brand like DC. I'm very lucky, but I worked really hard and it's something I'm really proud of.

Dave: . . . And now he has the option to wreck as many cars as he wants to. [laughter] For me, it goes back to my youth. I grew up in a really small town in upstate New York, and looking back, it's crazy that I was able to pursue something that wasn't considered a sport or a future. Teachers, students and people in general are so afraid of thinking outside of the box that they will knock you down for trying something different. I had a Sixth grade teacher make fun of me in class, saying things like, "Does your bike have streamers or a horn?" They ended up interviewing that teacher years ago and he remembered the whole thing. So to be able to become successful in BMX, despite of all those factors, is something I'm proud of.

2NR: Why the transition to rally racing?

Travis: Rally racing is like motocross with a roll cage. I had a tendency to crash a lot on two wheels, and every time I was hurt, I would drive go-karts and cars, which sort of lead to rally racing. I love motocross, and the sliding and jumping while racing, and rally was the closest form of motorsports I could relate to. I have ADHD and I get bored real quick, so I had a hard time with circuit racing. I loved the racing aspect, but when it came to actually driving the courses, I wasn't precise enough. In rally, you're constantly coming over a crest, full drift, launching off jumps, not knowing what's on the other side. You're on snow or mud, and the conditions are constantly changing--all of which I find challenging.

Ken: I've always been into motorsports and cars. I've tried karting and circuit racing, and there isn't anything like rally. Like Travis, it goes back to my love for motocross--being on the dirt, sliding and jumping. I've been getting into time attack and I really enjoy driving the course, but I get bored after a while. Playing with the fine line of traction on the same corner over and over . . . there're only so many times I can do it. In a rally course, I love the unknown. Even if you drive a stage a few times, there are hundreds of corners and you don't see one enough to hit it perfect, and that's what makes it fun. When you're going flat-out and battling for tenths of a second over ten-mile stages, it's pretty scary. And if you're not scared, that means you're not going fast enough.

Dave: The transition has been completely different. BMX is physical, while rally is mental. But at the end of a day of both, I'm exhausted. While I'm not quite at the level in rally that I was in BMX, it's been awesome.

Impp_0909_20_z+subaru_us_rally_team+dave_mirra_front_view Photo 6/18   |   Subaru U.S. Rally Team - Dialogue

2NR: What was the point in your former life of success that made you guys want to try something like rally racing?

Dave: Probably age. [laughs] The Long Beach Grand Prix Celebrity Race that I won was my first opportunity to try motorsports. We're all competitive and competitive with ourselves, and challenges are reasons to try new things. And understanding cars and how they work has been a welcomed challenge.

Ken: I've always been competitive--I raced dirt bikes during my career at DC--and I like to go out and be physically active. I'm very lucky with DC; we have some of the best snowboarders, skateboarders and motocross riders in the world and I've been able to ride with all of them and educate myself on the physical and mental side of competing. So, going from my business background to rally wasn't that unusual.

Travis: After my 12th knee surgery, and discovering I didn't have an ACL or PCL that was going to put me out for nine months, and finding out that I still could drive a car is what got me into rally. [laughs]

2NR: What's the difference between an action sports or "extreme" athlete and a regular one?

Dave: Competing with Bucky Lasek at the Long Beach celebrity race against more mainstream athletes, it was interesting to see how Bucky and I were able to catch on to motorsports so quickly. I don't think people realize how much precision something like riding vert takes--if you're going 13 feet above a 13-foot ramp and if you pull out six inches . . . wow, that sounded kind of gnarly. [laughter]

2NR: Whoah Dave, TMI. [laughter]

Dave: [laughs] . . . How can I say this? If you drift out a few inches while up in the air, you're going to land low and eat it, so there's a lot of precision, hand-eye coordination and depth perception that goes into a vert run.

Travis: What separates us is the ability to react.Not just under pressure, but from imminent injury. On a dirt bike, when you're in the air and you know you're going to crash, you have to be able to think, "If I stay on this bike, I'm going to break my neck. But if I jump off, I'll break an ankle, and that takes a long time to heal. But if I jump and roll this way, I'll only dislocate a shoulder and suffer a concussion--but I'll be able to ride next week." So, to be able to calculate all that, make an adjustment in the air according to what's going to injure you the least, and to be able to get up afterward . . . that's what makes an action sports athlete. In situations where most people freeze up, you have to use your adrenaline to slow time down instead of going blank.

Dave: Shooting blanks . . . just after he pulls out six inches? [laughter]

2NR: What about rally racing makes it "extreme"?

Ken: I don't necessarily think rally is an extreme sport. For us, it's the closest motorsport for our interests. I think the only reason why some people call it an extreme sport is because of its tie-in with X Games and how the cars jump and slide around in a stadium. Beyond that, it's one of the oldest, and to me, one of the most amazing motorsports. People around the world respect it as one of the most difficult driving techniques to learn.

2NR: How steep was the learning curve for car control and competing in the Rally America series?

Travis: It wasn't an overnight success. There's a whole lifetime of experience that helps to build your foundation. Rally is a precision sport, but you have to pull from so many different aspects that you can't be just one type of driver. There are so many techniques to learn and you have to be available to pull stuff out of the air.

Dave: It's a collaboration of skills. It's not easy to jump a rally car, but it's easier if you have experience jumping other things.

Impp_0909_19_z+subaru_us_rally_team+ken_block_front_view Photo 7/18   |   Subaru U.S. Rally Team - Dialogue

Travis: Getting to the top of any sport takes a certain amount of dedication, focus and drive, and that has allowed us to bypass some of the mental challenges. I think anyone who's at the top of one sport knows what it takes to get to the top of another--although that doesn't necessarily mean they'll get there.

Dave: [sarcastically] For example: Tying Ken Block in my first X Games Rally, that's pretty huge. [laughter]

Ken: Keep it up, Dave. [laughter] I think it takes a certain personality and interest to get to a certain level of driving. A lot of people come into this sport with natural talent, but once you start learning techniques to develop that ability, you really discover just how gnarly it is to become a top-level pro. Both Travis and I have competed against some of the top drivers in the world in PWRC--which is a step below the WRC--and we both got completely smoked. There's so much more that we need to learn to go beyond where we are now. It's humbling to race guys from Finland, Sweden, Japan, France . . . who have grown up in that environment--I started rallying at 36; most Finnish drivers start at 16. Rally has been a part of their lives, it's on Eurosport (a European sports network), whereas growing up here, we hardly see it. I think Americans are handicapped when it comes to rally. There is less media exposure, drivers aren't starting at an early age, and there isn't the infrastructure here like there is internationally.

2NR: It's crazy to think international drivers are starting in their teens. Growing up pre-Internet, I think the first time I saw rally wasn't until college. How much have your previous athletic abilities helped, if any, in rally?

Dave: I think it's been huge. Reading up on racing, they say that if you're in better physical shape, you're mentally stronger and that you will win more races. I don't know how true that is, but I think it's huge to be dialed physically and mentally to be a rally driver.

Travis: For us, I think a lot of it is more natural. I've been in pressure situations since I was four years old and I enjoy having to step up in competition.

Ken: When I came into this, my experience level wasn't the same, compared to Dave and Travis. Once you've been a champion and have gone through the pressures, I think it's easier to translate it into other things. There were situations where I took things more seriously and got more nervous than Travis. Going into the last stage of the first X Games Rally, I had to beat the third-place team by half a second to get a medal. For me, after all the years of watching the guys I work with get medals, it was incredible trying to get one of my own. Televised nationally, I was more nervous than I had been in my entire life.

2NR: How did the involvement with Subaru come around?

Travis: From the opportunity I had driving the WRC car, I was hooked. But before that, everybody who helped with support in motocross and a lot of my friends drove Subarus. That established me wanting to drive a Subaru.

Ken: I called up Vermont SportsCar about taking some lessons. They got me in the same car Travis was racing, and I've been competing in a Subaru ever since.

Dave: With Ken and Travis being involved, the opportunity came my way. I came out and drove a Subaru, was pretty good at it and it's been on ever since.

2NR: What characteristics about a Subaru make them so competitive in rally?

Ken: The asymmetrical all-wheel drive. That, and the boxer engine's low center of gravity.

Travis: The all-wheel drive and durability is what sold me. I hit a lot of stuff, so I need a car that can continue on and finish.

Ken: Subarus really hold up well under a roll! [laughter]

Travis: They do! Subarus can roll and keep rolling. [laughter]

2NR: Now would be the time to say: Don't try this at home, kids! Unless you're in a Subaru equipped with a roll cage built by Vermont SportsCar, that is . . .

Travis: . . . No, stock ones too. I rolled a Subaru wagon three times before it quit.

2NR: Stock, with no roll cage?

Travis: Uh . . . hypothetically speaking, that is. [laughter]

2NR: For those of you who were previously in STI sedans, how do the '08 hatchbacks compare?

Travis: The hatchbacks are more of a race-able car. They hug the road a lot better than the previous sedan--the previous Imprezas tended to slide a little bit more. You can still slide the new STIs, but you can be more aggressive with them.

Ken: The new STI's suspension geometry has really come a long way.

2NR: How's the anti-lag system?

Travis: It sounds sweet and it takes out the hesitation! You notice the anti-lag more when stuff's going wrong than when it's going right. When you're driving smooth and everything is perfect, you can get on the gas and it's mellow. But when you're hail-mary, spun around backwards, and you need the power right there, the anti-lag system provides it.

Ken: I notice when I switch into my gymkhana car that doesn't have it, I have to be more accurate with my throttle control--I have to know where the power is and when it's going to hit. With the anti-lag, it's not even a thought. The boost pressure is always there.

2NR: What on-track adjustments are made to the car?

Ken: Depending on the track layout, mostly differentials and suspension setup. We don't mess with the engine too much . . . although I do ask the engineers for more power at every race, and not to give it to Travis. [laughter]

Dave: For us, it's more about dialing in the weight ratio. It's really precise--it boils down to whether I eat a cheeseburger or a chicken salad before a race. [laughter]

2NR: The craziest repair during a rally?

Travis: I think I know the least about cars, motorcycles or anything mechanical out of anyone on the face of the Earth. We broke the driveshaft and front right tire at Ojibway Forests in 2006, and I had no idea what was going on. My co-driver Christian started yelling, "OK, jack up the front of the car!" He yanked out the tire and yelled, "Pull the driveshaft out!" I yanked it out and he yelled, "Throw it in the back, let's go!" I'm like, don't we need this? Christian yelled back, "We don't have time--lock the differential! Go, go, go!" [laughter]

I think I need to learn more about mechanics just so I'm not as frightened when we're pulling stuff off that we're not putting back on. [laughter]

Ken: In 2006, at the Maine Forest Rally. I clipped a rock on a turn and broke the front control arm on the left wheel. We ended up on the side of the road with the rim jammed up in the wheel well. I was devastated. The rally was going well and Alex, my co-driver, hopped on the right corner of our Subaru to try and counterbalance the missing front left. By the end of the stage the wheel was sideways and one-third of it had ground down.

Dave: Maine Forest Rally, last year. I hit this bank and the gas pedal got stuck wide-open and my co-driver was yelling "keep going!" Every time I shifted, the motor would rev up and I had to use my brakes for everything. It wore down to the point where I was driving without brakes!

2NR: What's the worst accident you've been in?

Travis: My most fun accident was when I came over a crest after a really long straightaway. The car got loose and we rolled out into a field. After three rolls it got quiet, so my co-driver and I thought the crash was over and started asking each other if we were OK, and then, "wham!" Another three rolls!

Ken: Ojibway Forests, 2006. I was few seconds ahead of Travis . . .

Travis: . . . Thanks for throwing that in! [laughter]

Ken: . . . Another event where something happens to me and I have to sit there and watch you win! [laughter] As we were sliding through a junction filled with sandy material, the rear wheel caught something mid-slide and stopped--we flew into a tree.

Dave: I'm pretty chill. I haven't had any crazy wipeouts.

Travis: I'm going to contradict that, because I saw an in-car video of where you're going down a straightaway, sliding, almost came to a stop . . . but then flipped over a cliff.

Dave: That wasn't too bad. That was because my co-driver at the time had fear in his voice that threw me off . . .

2NR: . . . Hence the former co-driver status! [laughter] So, how important are co-driver/navigators?

Travis: The difference between First and Fifth is less than a second per mile. The difference between a good co-driver and a great one is more than a second per mile. If you don't trust your co-driver--let's say one time a mile, or one every ten turns--that will cost you a half a second per mile, and that's the difference between a podium and not.

2NR: What's been your greatest moment in rally?

Travis: Every time I beat Ken. [laughter]

Dave: Tying Ken Block at X Games my first time out. [more laughter]

Ken: Wow! [laughter]

Travis: Seriously though, driving with Colin McRae at the first X Games has been one of the most amazing experiences in my life. To be somewhat competitive with him, and to go into the last stage that close--regardless of the outcome--was what sealed my new career.

Ken: Mine involves Colin McRae, too--pressuring him into rolling in X Games 13. [laughter]

2NR: Is there any interest to try other forms of motorsports?

Travis: I love anything with a motor, but for me, rally is the ultimate four-wheel sport.

Dave: I'm pretty content with rally right now. I'm trying to get consistent and learn more about it.

Ken: I'd like to do the Baja 1000 or a similar race--it sounds like a thousand-mile rally. I love sliding, so I'd like to get better at rear-wheel-drive drifting. I've done a little bit with Vaughn Gittin, and there's a finesse and technique to drifting that I'd like to learn more about.

2NR: Travis and Dave, have you guys considered drifting?

Travis: Tried it and it really didn't do much for me. It was fun; I liked sliding the cars around, but it just wasn't rally.

Dave: Sure, I'd love to try! Any opportunity to try a new type of driving is cool.

2NR: Lastly, considering your day job, what do you guys do for excitement?

Dave: My day job. Riding bikes, going to the gym and rally racing is enough excitement for me.

Travis: I had last weekend off--my first since last Thanksgiving--and I went and raced motocross. My last weekend off before that, I went to race cars in Omaha, NE. So I'm either practicing with my team or I'm out spending money doing the same thing. [laughter]

Ken: I enjoy gymkhana, and any opportunities to take my rally car and do something fun where there's no pressure. Northstar Ski Resort recently let me drive my rally car around their facility, and I had a blast! These cars are incredible, and there's so much potential besides the racing. Any opportunity I get to test their limits, I jump at the chance.

2NR: Pun intended?

[laughter]

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X Games 15 Rally
Course Preview

The X Games Super Special Stage is a dual course where two teams each run one of the 7,000-foot long courses, run back into the stadium, switch courses and race back into the stadium to cross the finish line.

5 Most Memorable
X Games Rally Moments

Of all the heart-stopping, crowd-riling, dirt-encrusted moments in X Games Rally, here's our pick for the top five:

Impp_0909_15_z+subaru_us_rally_team+2009_sti_front_shot Photo 15/18   |   Subaru U.S. Rally Team - Dialogue

Open Class Vs
Super Production Class

Travis and Ken compete in the Open Class, Dave in Super Production. what's the difference between the two? Take a look:

Open Class
'09 Subaru Impreza WRX STI


Output: 320 HP; 425 lb-ft torque (est.)

Impp_0909_16_z+subaru_us_rally_team+2009_sti_engine_bay Photo 16/18   |   Subaru U.S. Rally Team - Dialogue

Weight: Under 3,000 lbs

Engine: Bored and stroked 2.2L block; MoTeC M880 ECU; GReddy radiator, front-mount intercooler; Vermont SportsCar intercooler piping

Wheels/Tires: Work Gravel rims (15x7); BFGoodrich GZS gravel tires

Drivetrain: KAPS five-speed dog gearbox; Custom-programmable DCCD; Exedy twin-plate clutch; Cusco differentials (front and rear)

Suspension: EXE-TC competition suspension; Custom tubular multi-point arms; modified suspension geometry for increased travel

Brakes: Four-piston AP Gravel rally brakes.

Exterior: Carbon fiber rear spoiler; Vermont SportsCar carbon fiber hood; Seibon carbon fiber rear hatch; M-TECH composite under-floor protection; aluminum sump guard

Interior: Seam-welded shell; Custom Cages T45 roll cage; Vermont SportsCar modified dash; M-TECH carbon fiber door cards, carbon fiber co-driver footrest, hydraulic handbrake; Sabelt harnesses; Coralba C-Giant rally computer

Impp_0909_17_z+subaru_us_rally_team+2009_wrx_front_view Photo 17/18   |   Subaru U.S. Rally Team - Dialogue

Super Production
'09 Subaru Impreza WRX STI


Output: 285 hp; 350 lb-ft torque (est.)

Weight: 3,150 lbs

Engine: 2.5L STI block; MoTeC M880 ECU; GReddy radiator

Wheels/Tires: Work Gravel rims (15x7); BFGoodrich GZS gravel tires

Drivetrain: Stock STI six-speed transmission, MoTeC SDC 3 Differential Control Unit; EXEDY/STI pressure plate w/ STI six-puck clutch; STI plated differentials (front and rear)

Impp_0909_18_z+subaru_us_rally_team+2009_sti_engine_shot Photo 18/18   |   Subaru U.S. Rally Team - Dialogue

Suspension: EXE-TC competition suspension

Brakes: Four-piston AP Gravel rally brakes

Exterior: STI carbon fiber roof scoop, Aluminum sump guard

Interior: Seam-welded shell; Custom Cages T45 roll cage; Vermont SportsCar modified dash; M-TECH carbon fiber door cards, carbon fiber co-driver footrest, hydraulic handbrake; Sabelt harnesses; Coralba C-Giant rally computer

Sources

X Games
n/a, AK
http://www.xgames.com
Rally America
Prather, CA 93651
559-322-2128
rallyamerica.com
Vermont Sportscar
http://www.vtcar.com
By Carter Jung
164 Articles

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