SRTUSA is one of the most successful teams in motorsport. And with new rules that allow the cars to be pushed to their limits, 2018 promises to bring the thrills.
For SRTUSA, 2017 was all about rising to meet challenges. And rise they did. SRTUSA drivers Travis Pastrana and David Higgins won all six rounds of the American Rally Association (ARA), with Pastrana clinching the championship despite a car saddled with more than 300 extra pounds. And that wasn’t the only restriction the ARA made in an effort to keep things competitive. The team was also barred from running as many tires per event and required tighter air restrictors than competitors. In January, before the ARA released technical rules for 2018, Higgins foresaw a tough year ahead, anticipating further restrictions. He wasn’t alone.
Travis Pastrana and SRTUSA celebrate ARA success.
It turned out that the worrying was for naught. In fact, the ARA made the decision to level the playing field, and SRTUSA is now free to push their cars to the max. “Our cars were slowed down quite a bit last year,” says Chris Yandell, marketing manager for Vermont SportsCar (VSC), the Subaru factory rallying partner. “Now they’re nearly back to where they were in 2016.”
Pastrana and Higgins traded first and second place overall in every 2017 ARA event. With such consistent performance, VSC hasn’t modified its core setup since the VA-gen WRX STI debuted for the 2015 season.
For 2018, the ARA granted all turbocharged competitors in the Open 4WD class the same 2,900-lb minimum weight and 34mm intake restrictor. The only difference this year is a 32-psi limit for turbo boost. The 2.0-liter boxer engine makes 330 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque. With less ballast weight needing to be added in 2018, these STIs will be flying.
Watch the season finale of Launch Control, featuring the final event in Global Rallycross 2017, and look back at the phenomenally successful 2017 Rally season.
Where the team could face its most serious challenge is in rallycross. After a challenging few recent seasons, SRTUSA finished on the podium multiple times in 2017. They’re hungry to capitalize on that success. “When you get a second, there’s only one other place to be,” says Simon Robison, shop manager for VSC. “Before, we were struggling to get close to the podium, but now we are fighting for it at every race.”
That’s why Robison and his more than 50 colleagues at VSC can’t sleep. With a 33-year rallying career for multiple high-profile teams, including the team behind Colin McRae’s legendary World Rally Championship wins for Subaru in the 1990s, Robison is the team’s pulse.
It starts with a showroom-fresh WRX. Then everything comes off. In three days, the car is nothing more than a thin skeleton, its bare frame like a body-in-white coming down the Subaru factory line in Gunma, Japan. In VSC’s Colchester, Vermont, facility just 40 miles south of Canada, the ARA-spec car utilizes a stock Subaru chassis, engine block and heads. From there, only its door handles, front doors, hinges and lights will match the production WRX. Even though the stock car is plenty stiff with its spot-welded high-strength steel, VSC seam welds the entire frame so there are no gaps between any metal pieces. The roll cage is then welded into the frame, with tubes connecting to the rear suspension and engine bay. VSC’s master metalworkers fabricate their own control arms and a particularly stylish handbrake lever made from billet aluminum and carbon fiber. Other team members craft carbon Kevlar® composite body panels and wiring looms from scratch.
In the 1980s and 1990s, VSC concentrated on both rally car building and exotic car restoration, but quickly, its expertise in building rally cars crowded out the exotic restoration business.
If the ARA car sounds extreme, for Higgins the rallycross version is like “pulling a pin on a hand grenade and waiting for an explosion,” he says. “In rallying, you’re looking for compromise. In rallycross, you’re looking for perfection.”
Without a co-driver, these WRX STI race cars run on such a knife’s edge they practically bleed. Their nearly 600-hp Boxer fours get a scheduled rebuild after approximately 120 miles of on-boost competition driving, compared to 746 miles for the ARA engine (both use a stock STI block and heads). The Rallycross cars’ rear door outlines aren’t real; the entire back half of the car is a carbon composite panel that pops off like a shell. Only the ARA cars are street-legal, so they can travel to the next rally stage. And Robison’s wicked creations are cold-hearted beasts. When he’s feeling generous toward drivers, they might get a cabin heater.
After the first 1,200 production hours, the cars need another six days in the paint shop and four more days to apply vinyl wraps and graphics. VSC then takes a full day to test the electronics and runs an intense, two-hour test drive called a shakedown to check every system.
For his part, Higgins doesn’t ask for much. “It’s quite rare that drivers would be on the same team as long as I’ve been with Subaru,” he says. “They know what I want.”
In rallying, you're looking for compromise. In rallycross, you're looking for perfection.
The SRTUSA driving teams and their crews