Survival of the Fittest


Rallycross star Patrik Sandell leaves no stone unturned prepping for the 2018 season.

It dive-bombs its way into your consciousness like a freshly kicked-in door: The blur of soil and steel in a rallycross competition. There are few motorsports that can match it for gut-wrenching, visceral appeal. And just like guys who strap in to sprint cars or top-fuel dragsters, rallycross is the home of drivers who are lean, tough athletes. One of the drivers who leads the Subaru brigade is Patrik Sandell, a guy who could teach your typical pro football trainer a thing or two about getting into shape.


Go behind-the-scenes with Patrik Sandell in his native Sweden.

Sandell is 35 and, in one of the biggest off-season moves in the history of rallycross, joined SRTUSA for the 2017 season last year. He returns this year for the 2018 season. He’s been racing rallycross for years, and his accomplishments are many: He’s a three-time winner in the Supercar class and one of only three drivers to take a main event victory each year from 2013-2016.

Patrik Sandell
Patrik Sandell sails over a rallycross course.
Staying in top shape gives Patrik Sandell an edge on the track.
Staying in top shape gives Patrik Sandell an edge on the track. Photo: © Lars Gange, 2017

He’s been honing his craft for a long time. An ice hockey fanatic from the ski resort town of Åre in northern Sweden, just below the Arctic Circle, he began his motorsports career in 1998 at age 16, running a ’70s sedan on the frozen lakes of his homeland. “I loved competing, getting the team motivated and becoming a champion,” he says of his hockey days. “I really liked that whole part, was always into it.” And racing, it’s safe to say, was in his blood. “My dad, Anders, used to drive stage rallying back in the 1970s. Swedish motorsports is real big into stage rallying. I went off the road a lot and rolled a few cars while I was learning.”

It was a good learning curve, as Sandell elevated himself to Junior World Rally Champion in 2006. Joining SRTUSA allowed him to check another box off the long-term life-goals list. “I always wanted to drive for Subaru, which is No. 1 in rallying, and who I watched when they were competing in the World Rally Championship,” he says. “My idol was their driver, Colin McRae.”

Patrik Sandell
Tire studs help the STI navigate the ice.

“It was my dream to bring that sort of skill to the United States,” he says. “It’s a great thing to be with SRTUSA.” Rallycross is a wild blend of rally-bred cars competing on motocross-like closed courses, with leaps and moguls for the drivers to navigate. A booming phenomenon in 2010s motorsports, it requires its own unique disciplines. Car control is paramount – and this is an area where Sandell owns a special measure of expertise. He gets it, at least in part, from running his own ice-driving school, FlatOut Sweden, in Åre, where he still lives when not racing for Subaru. The school allows him to duplicate just about any famous racing circuit on ice, even Monaco, by plotting a course. At roughly the same latitude as the northern Canadian territories, class is in session for a good part of the year. That’s fine with Sandell, given his love of outdoor winter sports, such as skiing with his 6-year-old son during the rallycross offseason.

Patrik Sandell of SRTUSA
Patrik Sandell of SRTUSA. Photo: © Ben Haulenbeek, 2017
In Rallycross, you know the course by heart, and it’s up to you to find that extra tenth of a second.

Sandell isn’t the only new energizing factor at play. “For 2017, the team has been developing the cars for me and [teammate] Chris Atkinson,” he says. “I’m talking about new cars, new engines, and we’ve reached the point where we’re within about 0.2 seconds per lap between the fastest cars on the circuits. I like being in the car everywhere we go. The track in Atlantic City is one of my favorites, and I really think that we’re moving in the right direction. The biggest difference between this and stage rallying is that in stage rallying you’re relying on your co-driver’s notes, but in rallycross, you know the course by heart, and it’s up to you to find that extra tenth of a second.”

Patrik Sandell incorporates balance training into his workouts.
Patrik Sandell incorporates balance training into his workouts. Photo: © Lars Gange, 2017
Skiing in his native Sweden is a natural way for Patrik Sandell to exercise.
Eighty percent of Patrik Sandell's workouts is cardio.

If you can imagine banging around a rallycross track over and over again, your body being pushed to its limits, you can understand where a lifetime of conditioning enters into this whole deal. In this sense, Sandell has been readying himself to join SRTUSA for a lifetime. “I wanted to get to the point where I could control my whole physical level,” he says. “I do a lot of physical training because it’s a must; it’s what allows you as a driver to feel the car. Eighty percent of my training is cardio, 20 percent is physical, and it’s also very important to do a lot of balance training because, again, it’s how you can feel the car when you’re racing it. For example, I do a lot of work where I try to feel my balance when I’m working out with medicine balls – everything from standing on my knees to standing on my feet on top of them. That’s where your balance comes in.”

Rallycross season is just around the corner, and no one can predict the future. We do know one thing for certain, though: As they say in boxing, fights are won in the gym, and Sandell is going to bring his A-Game.

Sandell's #18 STI
Sandell's #18 STI. Photo: © Ben Haulenbeek, 2017