Photos: Rodney Wills
Photo: John Retie
The seeds for the next installment of SOA’s involvement in American rallying were planted in 2001. Ironically, that was the same year that the inaugural SRT USA team was competing. That’s also when a young motorcycle racer by the name of Travis Pastrana was in the United Kingdom spectating at the WRC [World Rally Championship] Great Britain. He had just turned 18 and was invited as a guest of Alpinestars S.p.A. as a reward for winning the AMA 125cc Outdoor National Motocross Championship in 2000. He also was scheduled to attend the Phil Price Rally School in Wales, where he was set to learn how to drive a rally car as a prelude to being given the opportunity to test-drive a Subaru WRC rally car.
Coincidentally, Mike Whelan of Subaru public relations, in charge of promoting SRT USA, was also there.
Whelan recalled, "Mark Gillies (one of the editors of Automobile magazine at the time) was invited to go to the U.K. to learn to drive a rally car and also drive the SWRT [Subaru World Rally Team] WRC Impreza at the Sweet Lamb Rally Complex in Wales. At that time, Alpinestars sponsored SWRT, and they had invited Travis Pastrana to participate in this exercise in Wales. Travis picked up the nuances of rally quickly and developed a keen interest in rally along with a friendship with Mark Lovell."
Indeed, others who were there also were impressed with Pastrana’s skill at handling the WRC car. One Prodrive team member was overheard saying, "This kid could be the next Colin (McRae)." Quite an endorsement.
Pastrana said he had been interested in rallying from a young age and liked to refer to the sport as "motocross with a roll cage!" But for the next couple of years, Pastrana competed in AMA Supercross events and the X Games. Rallying was not in the cards at that time.
In the summer of 2003, Vermont SportsCar (VSC) decided to give Pastrana another shot at testing in a Subaru rally car. They went to the Team O’Neil Rally School in New Hampshire and flew in David Higgins to join them. Higgins ran a rally school and was a British rally champion and winner of the 2002 SCCA [Sports Car Club of America] Pro Rally championship. Within five minutes of riding with Pastrana, Higgins told VSC, "This kid can drive."
Later in the year, Pastrana got his first taste of driving rally cars when he was selected as one of the U.S. competitors in the 2003 Race of Champions in the Canary Islands. He managed to reach the quarter finals, beating out Boris Said and Casey Mears, the other two U.S. team members, as well as David Higgins, who was on the British team!
Pastrana’s natural talent behind the wheel of a rally car as well as his popularity among young people – and let’s not forget his amiable personality – made it a no-brainer for VSC to hire him as a driver for the 2004 SCCA Pro Rally season alongside Ramana Lagemann, who returned as a privateer.
So it was that Pastrana’s car number 199 first appeared in 2004.