Any mention of Subaru racing usually conjures images of rally cars flying through European forests, or rallycross machines catching some air on a short arena track. But the Subaru Crosstrek Desert Racer is a completely different animal. It’s a purpose-built vehicle designed for some of the toughest off-road races in North America.
The Crosstrek Desert Racer shares its name with the Subaru Crosstrek hatchback, but the similarities end there. It’s a Class 5 Unlimited off-road buggy powered by a rear-mounted engine. Built by Crawford Performance, that engine is a naturally aspirated 2.5-liter Subaru boxer-four that makes 300 horsepower. Subaru normally resorts to turbocharging to pull that amount of power from its road-car engines. The buggy itself is designed to be as lightweight as possible, with long-travel suspension that allows it to maintain high speeds on rough terrain.
Boxer engines have a long history in off-road racing, first in Volkswagen Beetles, and then in a variety of purpose-built vehicles powered by Beetle engines. While Subaru is primarily associated with rally and rallycross, the Japanese automaker’s boxer engines have been used in off-road buggies “for years,” Quirt Crawford of Crawford Performance said in a statement. He said he wanted to prove how effective a non-turbocharged boxer engine could be in these vehicles.
The Crosstrek Desert Racer is campaigned by Grabowski Brothers Racing, with backing from Subaru. The racer debuted in 2017 and won its class in 2018 at the 550-mile Las Vegas-to-Reno off-road race. For 2019, the Crosstrek Desert Racer dons Subaru’s classic blue-and-yellow racing livery, first used on rally cars during Subaru’s World Rally Championship (WRC) glory days in the 1990s and early 2000s.
The first stop for the Subaru Crosstrek Desert Racer in 2019 will be the Baja 500, which kicks off June 1. Despite the name, the Baja 500 actually covers 487.11 miles, taking racers in a loop around Mexico’s Baja Peninsula. The race team will then return to Nevada to defend its class title in the Las Vegas-to-Reno race. However, the biggest challenge of the season will be the Baja 1000 in November. The legendary race, again held on Mexico’s Baja Peninsula, is considered one of the toughest in all of motor sports, testing the endurance of both drivers and their vehicles in a marathon sprint over unforgiving desert.
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