Friday, August 03, 2007

X Games entry

I'm extremely excited that one of the rally drivers I used to co-drive for, Ohio's Pat Moro, will be racing in this weekend's X Games. The event will basically be like a WRC super-special, in and around the Home Depot Center in LA and this year will feature a massive motocross-style jump. The top drivers in the country will be there, including Subaru USA team-mates Travis Pastrana and Ken Block and SYMS team drivers Andrew Pinker and Tanner Foust and they will all be joined again by former WRC champ Colin McRae.

To gain entry to the competition drivers needed to have scored well in the Rally America national championship, and most of the drivers appear at or near the top of the current championship standings. Organizers kept two final spots open that were considered "at-large" spots, and the choice of who was going to be picked was up to their discretion.

The announcement was made a week ago. One spot went to top US road-racer and occasional NASCAR driver Boris Said, who is heavily involved with the Sobe No Fear brand that sponsored Colin McRae's X Games Subaru last year (I followed Boris' progress earlier this year in NASCAR as I tried to learn more about it). The other place was given to current Rally America Production GT class leader Pat Moro.

A bit of background is necessary here: Pat is an experienced off-road motorcycle racer, who has done very well in GNCC enduro racing, and more recently in Supermoto. He turned to rallying in 2003 with a PGT-spec Subaru WRX that had a salvage title after being driven into a lake by the previous owner. Pat and his buddies rebuilt the car and he started racing some local SCCA rallies. I first raced with him at the opening event of the 2004 season at Sno*Drift in Michigan. I immediately found him to be fast and fearless, but it was also clear he needed a lot more experience (he overused the handbrake and got easily spooked by spectator areas for example). I'd been co-driving a lot and helped him learn how to think more strategically, use stage notes and worry less about the mechanical aspects of the car in order to focus on his driving. I ran with him again at Susquehannock Trail in Pennsylvania where we crashed heavily into a tree when he didn't pay attention to a "caution" call I made. After the car was repaired we did the Ojibwe Forests event in Minnesota. It was there that I started to see some positive changes in his style and approach. Later that season he took my advice about separating himself from car maintenance by bringing in a rally prep outfit to look after the car.

Due to my commitments in the music business I stopped rallying soon afterwards but followed Pat's progress. He didn't run much in 2005 and had a stop-start season in 2006 punctuated by crashes and DNFs. In 2007 he has run a perfect campaign. He's the first to admit that he's not the fastest guy out there, usually outpaced by PGT wildman Matthew Johnson, but Matt has had a few crashes (the most recent one has probably totaled his bright orange WRX) whilst Pat has put in consistent points finishes. As a result he leads PGT, and is actually tenth in the overall points standings. The only person above him in the points who didn't get invited to the X Games is Matt, who would probably not have been able to attend due to the state of his car.

As you can see, Pat's progression as a driver, his commitment to the sport and his 2007 season performance clearly indicate that he's worthy of the final X Games invite. Sadly, it seems as though some people in the American rally community disagree. In fact, the amount of complaining amongst US-based rallyists about the X Games is staggering. Here is an opportunity for the sport to have network TV coverage featuring the top drivers and best-prepped cars. It is true that it is not a "real" rally, but that doesn't actually matter. If it brings people to the sport that's a positive thing. If some of those people don't stick around because they don't like the actual format that's fine too. A percentage of these X Games-sourced new fans will continue to follow rallying. Exposure to multi-million dollar extreme sports sponsors is also not a bad thing!

I've always found rallyists to be a friendly, open group of people. Here in the US however there is always a cadre of them who insist on bitching and moaning about everything. Not a good thing for potential competitors, spectators and sponsors to see when they head to the main online discussion forum for American rallying, Let's hope that the spectacle this Sunday lunchtime will be sufficiently impressive to allow newcomers to the sport to overlook the whining old guard and instead embrace its potentially bright future.

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