The sideways-sliding, big-air, full-contact sport of rallycross seems like it was invented for a guy like Travis Pastrana, the action sport star with a reputation for fearless exuberance in the face of any challenge. Heading into his second season behind the wheel of the top-spec Red Bull Discount Tire Dodge Dart, with a full season of experience behind him and new teammate Bryce Menzies, he's hoping the 2013 season will bring his team the championship title Pastrana Racing seems destined to achieve.
“We're excited and we're ready coming into this year,” said Pastrana, as he prepared for the long journey south to Brazil for the April 21 rallycross season opener at the X Games.
The 2012 season was admittedly frustrating for Pastrana, who debuted with a brand-new team and car. A spotty finish record marred by bad luck – including a ghastly, sudden shoulder dislocation and a couple of on-track clashes that sent Pastrana's Dodge Dart spinning out of contention through no fault of his own – left the action sports legend in the unaccustomed position of underdog in the series. He finished the year a mid-pack 10th in the championship.
But last year's overall results are a poor reflection of the team's potential. While the rival Ford teams entered the season with many years of development behind their rallycross cars, Pastrana Racing started the 2012 season from scratch and faced all the usual challenges of working with a brand-new chassis that had not previously been campaigned in the production-based sport. Even so, the Dodge Dart was fast out of the box, proving able to qualify well and take the all-important hole shot into the first corner from a standing start. In just its fourth race, everything came together and Pastrana took his Dodge Dart to a confident win at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Rallycross as we've come to know it, featuring high-horsepower cars racing door-to-door on mixed dirt and paved courses with huge jumps, has only been in the United States since 2010, when it debuted at the X Games in Los Angeles. It has an established history in Europe, where it was conceived in 1967 as a playground for retired rally cars. While the racing format shares the sideways, mixed surface, big air action popularized by World Rally Championship competition, rallycross has evolved into a condensed, track-friendly version of the sport. It favors powerful cars and combative race craft as drivers progress through a series of short heats to a winner-take-all final. The competition cars are production-based, but incredibly specialized, 600-horsepower sprinters that run 0-60 in under two seconds – faster than an IndyCar.
Rallycross has been an ideal fit in the action-sport Olympics known as the X Games, the premier competitions in skateboarding, BMX and motocross. When the X Games went global in 2013, rallycross went with it. The Global Rallycross Championship's first four rounds will be at X Games events held in Brazil, Spain, Germany and the U.S. before the series moves to more conventional motorsports environments, including the recently announced stops at Bristol Motor Speedway and Atlanta Motor Speedway, to finish the season.
The sport's growing domestic popularity means it is evolving fast, and Pastrana Racing's Dodge Dart is a reflection of that increasing sophistication. With a season of experience behind it, the team is continuing to grow, benefiting from European expertise to gain horsepower and torque from their Mountune-built two-liter, turbocharged engine, as well as working closely with engineers at Dodge's Street and Racing Technology division to take advantage of the resources afforded to the factory supported team.
“We've looked at every single area of the car that I felt we could improve,” said Ian Davies, the new lead engineer for the Pastrana Racing squad. “We intend to use SRT facilities and resources a lot more this year and we're gaining valuable information about what our current car does and building on that.”
Davies, who moved from Ken Block's team to Pastrana Racing this season, anticipates that gains made in suspension and chassis development will be apparent on the dirt-heavy course in Brazil. A wind tunnel session in Detroit, along with testing at the team's off-season headquarters at the DirtFish rally school in the Pacific Northwest, have also increased team confidence heading into the first race of the season.
“I got two weeks of testing in,” said Pastrana. “We've done work with the suspension since last year and we're confident with the handling and durability of the car.”