Subaru conquers one of America’s oldest and toughest races

Subaru is in a record-breaking mood. The Japanese automaker built a special version of its WRX STI to take on the Nurburging, the famous German racetrack where lap records equal PR gold. While that project was ongoing, Subaru also managed to break the course record on New Hampshire’s Mt. Washington Hillclimb (which the automaker also sponsors) for the second time.

At 6,288 feet, Mt. Washington is one of the tallest peaks on the East Coast. But anyone can drive to the top on a twisty 7.6-mile road. Most people don’t cover that distance as fast as Subaru rally driver Travis Pastrana, though. He was able to take his WRX STI rally car up the mountain in a time of just 5:44.72, beating the previous record by over 24 seconds.

The old record was set by Pastrana’s teammate David Higgins in 2014. Higgins actually tried to lower his record and beat Pastrana this year, but ended up sliding off course about five miles into his drive up the mountain. He emerged unharmed, according to Subaru, but his record run was done.

The rally cars used in the record attempt are based on stock WRX STI body shells, which are sent from the factory to Vermont SportsCar for extensive racing modifications. That includes boosting the output of the cars’ 2.0-liter turbocharged flat-four engines to over 600 horsepower, around twice the output of the stock versions. The cars also get the normal array of racing safety equipment, including roll cages.

Unlike Subaru’s previous record attempt in 2014, Pastrana and Higgins were not allowed to bring co-drivers along for their 2017 runs. Since most rally courses are too long for drivers to easily memorize, co-drivers typically come along to read pace notes, providing cues for things like corners and changes in terrain. It usually sounds like incomprehensible babble to the uninitiated, but a co-driver’s recitation of pace notes provides valuable information to the driver.

The Mt. Washington Hillclimb was first run in 1904, making it one of America’s oldest motor sports events. It’s largely overshadowed by Colorado’s Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, which generally gets more attention from automakers and the public. But certainly, in a country as car-obsessed as the United States, there is room for two major hill-climb events, right?