Subaru Rally Team USA ventured overseas to contest the Wales Rally Great Britain with driver Travis Pastrana and navigator Christian Edstrom.
This was the third foreign venture for the team (Mexico and Argentina were the other two) in preparation of an all out assault for the 2008 Production World Rally Championship. A team of 15 arrived in support of the lone Subaru entry.
Travis Pastrana is well known as a pioneer in the extreme world of motorcycle sports—that includes the X Games and the Dew Action Sports Tour. A few years ago, Pastrana looked into the extreme four-wheel sport of Rally. He did well enough early on that it caught the attention of Subaru, and the rest, they say, has been history.
While no one is officially mentioning it, Pastrana and Edstrom are being groomed for the greatest show on wheels—the World Rally Championship, being brought up through the ranks as many drivers before them. The main difference, however, being that no American team has ever contested the championship.
The rally starts with something rare in American rallying—reconnaissance of the stages two days prior to the start of the event. The benefit of this is teams can make custom notes detailing every aspect of the road ahead for the driver; degree of turns, road camber, road condition, areas of caution, etc. It sounds easy, but in reality it is two grueling days of tedious driving, trying to decipher the road ahead at 35mph that you will be racing down at much greater speeds approaching over 100mph.
The following day is a piece of road provided by the event organizers to shakedown the cars, as Pastrana tries to get a feel for tire preference and suspension settings. A small excursion into a ditch wrinkled a rocker panel on the Subaru. That night, a ceremonial start kicked off the event in Cardiff, Wales; the next morning, the rally would start with the first six stages and the first of three days of rallying through the treacherous forests of Wales.
The first day of the rally dawned cold, wet, and foggy—basically a typical November morning in Wales. Pastrana and Edstrom left the service area for the first stage with high hopes, and were doing well until they blew a tire three kilometers from the finish, which they drove on over the finish to record a 38th place finish out of 108 entries overall and 15th in class, despite losing about 30 seconds with the troublesome flat.
In stage two, things went smoothly and the team recorded a 30th overall best time and 7th in class. Stage three was problematic, as another flat tire early in the stage had the team stopping to change the flat. The prior damage in shakedown to the rocker panel made for a problem with the jack slipping in the Welsh mud, and what normally is a minute and a half tire change took over four minutes, dropping the duo well down the leader board. The final set of three stages run that day were clean for the American team, as they recorded 13th place in class, and in the final stage of the rally placed 7th in class and an astounding 20th overall.
Day two dawned much the same, with wind and rain pelting the crews. Pastrana’s first three stages were cleaner than the first day, albeit for another flat tire at the end of a stage and damage to the front control arm at the end of the third stage of the day, costing the team about 25 seconds and a short stop on the transit to service for a quick roadside repair of the suspension.
Stage 10 would see it all go wrong for the team, as a ball joint sheared on the front suspension, causing the team to grind to a halt. In World Rallying, you can miss stages at a great time expense but still be in the rally.
After a few hours waiting in the freezing Welsh forest, the team was towed back to service, where Subaru Rally Team USA set upon making the car decent for the final day of stages. What was encouraging was that many fellow Production class entries were having similar problems—hence the Americans could make a good result after all.
The third day was shorter—only four stages—making for fewer opportunities for the team to improve their position. However they ended up making the most of their opportunities, and finished stages as high as 25th overall, eventually coming in 40th overall out of 87 official finishers and 11th in stage.
This was one of the most difficult rallies that Pastrana has ever experienced, both in terms of conditions and bad luck. The experience of Wales will serve the team well in 2008, as they will be more comfortable with the surroundings and will have a better base of stage notes to go off of, which has proven over the years to be an asset to up and coming teams.