Speedway, Ind. (January 28, 2020) ~ It’s not easy getting a headliner. It can take months of negotiations, adjustments and even sacrifices for the possible greater good. For quite some time, Subaru Motorsports had their sights set on bringing back the talented and effervescent Travis Pastrana for the 2020 season. Over the past several months the two sides had the same common goal, but changes in schedules and commitments and the real possibility of not being able to re-sign ten-time champion David Higgins made the transition and consummation tenuous.
It is undeniable the success that the premier team in U.S. rally has had over the past several seasons. Bringing in Pastrana is brand-positive, but losing Higgins has its subtractors. But Pastrana is easily one of the biggest names in motorsports. His years of success, shows and stunts have left him extremely marketable, the face of a generation of action sports and lifestyle marketing campaigns. The fact that he can drive a rally car better than most is feather in the cap to the rally community.
But Pastrana won’t be making this journey alone. He will be joined by his trusty side-kick Robbie Durant, a two-time British Jr. Rally Champion and the Overall Co-Driver champion in the American Rally Association’s first season in 2017.
At a private test session in February, Durant was asked about getting back into the car full-time with Pastrana, while also being the lead dog for Vermont Sports Car in 2020.
“Travis couldn’t wait to get back in and work with the team again,” Durant told Open Paddock’s and ARA Host Mike Shaw. “I think it’s a good place for him. Behind the wheel of anything really, but with the team that he’s comfortable in. A little bit has changed with the team from before, but he enjoyed it I think.”
Pastrana and Durant will also be parked next to another new team in the Subaru paddock. With Oliver Solberg’s one year USA tour over, Subaru tapped Brandon Semenuk to drive their second VSC ride this season. For Durant, he is confident in the action stars ability, as well as their own opportunity to become the mentor.
“Well, we started off giving him pointers and then realized how fast he was,” said Durant. “Actually, one of Travis’ comments that has been going back as many years as I can remember is how much help David Higgins was to him, especially in his early career. As the speed came up, David was massively helpful from everything to data and pace notes stuff, to driving the car. In respect to that, I think Travis is pushing that down the line a little bit of help. We suspect it won’t take him long to get really confident and find some really good speed.
Semenuk is by no means a newcomer to the sport, or ARA action. As one of the the best freeride mountain bikers in the world, his accomplishments in rally may seem minimal compared to his day job, but the Canadian driver finished fourth at the Oregon Trail Rally in 2019, and raced twice on the ARA circuit in the Side-by-Side championship. He has also found success on the Canadian Rally Championship, taking five overall event wins and a pair of North American Rally Cup titles the last three years.
“Pretty excited to be flying the Subaru blue and yellow!” said Semenuk. “Travis has been really good. Trying to instill his knowledge from what he’s learned from Higgins and passing that down. So far, everyone has been just amazingly helpful.”
“I’ve driven some decent cars, but after driving this, nothing really compares. This thing, it has the speed, but it’s such a dialed platform and so balanced. It’s a really enjoyable drive.”
His co-driver for the test session was the experience hand of Rhianon Gelsomino. It will be John Hall sitting alongside Semenuk during the 2020 ARA season, but Gelsomino came away from the testing impressed with his driving ability, and his ability to communicate.
“Brandon’s doing a really good job. We’re working on lots of new things because he’s obviously brand new to this car, but it’s just been a fantastic two days for both of us. He’s a really good driver and writes fantastic notes. I think he’ll do really well this year. I’ve been really impressed.”
Overall, the test session gave both teams a chance to adjust to the new cars, in various conditions. A dry day was quickly followed up by rain, giving them the opportunity to mimic real-life conditions they are sure to find this season. First impressions came up positive for the new team, including Race Engineer Steve Dunlop.
“He’s obviously got a lot of history working in his other background, but for sure he’s used to dealing with us technical people and discussing things and trying to get what he wants out of the car,” said Dunlop.
“But being a new car for him, we started at the beginning and brought him up step-by-step. Every time we did something he just said ‘yep, got that. Let’s move on to the next one.’ Everything we checked out he just took it in stride and got on with things. We did that on the first day, then today we’ve progressed through some other chassis changes as well, just to adapt the car to how he would like it to be.”
NOTE FROM THE ARA: The 2020 ARA National Championship will resume racing as soon as it is safe and responsible for the sport and communities we live in. Series officials and event organizers for both the Olympus Rally and Oregon Trail Rally are monitoring the on-going effects of the Coronavirus on the world. For updated information on the ARA schedule, go to www.americanrallyassociation.org.