Having never attended any stage rallies, I really didn’t know what to expect when I showed up to Portland International Raceway last Friday week. If you caught my story detailing these first two stages of the Oregon Trail Rally, you’d know that my expectations were blown away, meaning that Saturday’s racing had a really, really high bar to hit.
And yet, the racing on Saturday was far and away more fun to shoot, more fun to watch, and simply all-around more fun to experience than Friday at the race track.
Obviously, a chief cornerstone of any rally is the fact that the cars must be operated on public roads to get from stage to stage. This means hundreds of street miles (touring stages) over the course of the weekend, plus the violent abuse of driving on dirt trails and jumping your car on the backroads.
Saturday morning started off on the Oregon side of a city called The Dalles at parc expose, where all of the cars entered in the rally are required to show up for a public viewing.
The first stage of the day would be The Dalles uphill course, which takes place on closed-down public roads. Have you ever dreamed of taking the backroad home at top speed without worrying about pedestrians, traffic, or the police? That’s basically what those entered in the Oregon Trail Rally get to experience.
As none of these roads were designed with high speeds and power-slides in mind, there are plenty of sheer drops which lead hundreds of feet into various canyons.
Travis Pastrana is no stranger to danger, and kicked off the first stage with an epic entry to the corner we positioned ourselves at.
This right-hander was the last sharp turn on the course, which led into a quick left-hand hairpin.
From our vantage point we could see the turn, the hairpin, and a quick straight which led to an S-turn that brought the cars to the finish line.
A couple of hours flew by, and before we knew it the last safety car, or ‘sweep’ cruised through to clear the course. We’d be back in The Dalles later this afternoon for the downhill run, but for now we were off catch some cars in service.
Driving further north into Washington State to Goldendale, we finally caught up with the teams as the front-runners were heading out.
As we had to wait for everyone to finish Stage 3 (the first of the morning) before we could leave, most teams had already completed the next stage, had been tidied up at service, and were off to Stage 5.
As we hung out in service some stragglers rolled in from Stage 4, and various work continued on the cars which were already present.
There’s really no time for goofing off, as you’re required to report to the start of each stage within one exact minute, otherwise a time penalty will be assessed.
Service was a good place to poke around the engine bays and get a good look at the cars.
At any race series my favorite cars tend to be of the older variety, and this Starlet fit the bill perfectly. How cool is it to see this little Toyota tearing up a mountain pass?
As the next stage was a tarmac course, teams were prepping the cars accordingly and popping on some sticky rubber.
At service I also spotted his Merkur XR4Ti, a really odd hatchback which is basically a Ford Sierra.
The only other example I’ve ever seen was at the Long Beach Grand Prix, during the historic races. While this proper race car is definitely one for a future look, I wouldn’t have minded grabbing a few more shots of its funky-looking road-going cousin.
But time was against us, and it was quickly back to the truck to beat the cars to Stage 8, The Dalles downhill.
Again we were greeted with the unguarded drop-offs of Washington’s slow and windy unpaved roads.
While a few cars had been left in service due to mechanical failures and electric gremlins by this point, the drivers still in certainly weren’t letting up.
And, it must be said, the views out here are simply phenomenal.
With 50-plus cars tearing through the course, it’s crazy to see how many large rocks come to the surface. Naturally, the drivers pay no mind and plow on, hoping not to cop a puncture.
There’s really no other motorsport that can compare to rally, and hiking around to take in all the views and grab some shots of the widely varied machinery that made up the entry list can simply be summed up as an awesome time.
It’s a bit like a drift event and a grip race combined, and it is simply so good to watch the cars rip by.
I made the trek back to our vehicle as the last of the cars cruised through, and then it was off to a different point in the middle of nowhere for Stage 9, which would be the last of the day.
Oak Flat Road
We had about an hour and a half to burn as the cars made their way to and from other stages, service, and back out to the boonies. But once the first cars came flying through, the time spent waiting was well worth it.
As the sun went down, Oak Flat Road didn’t disappoint, and I tried to capture as many different vantage points as I could on the stage.
I’ve always maintained that motorsport has a certain visceral beauty to it, but this is multiplied tenfold when the events take place out in the open countryside. I know it’s a righteous pain for the Oregon Trail Rally organizers to petition to have these roads closed for a day, but the end result is an awesome event with unmatched visuals.
Eventually the sun began to set, the last of the cars finished Stage 9, and everyone rolled out to the final meeting point: Pete’s Pizza in Goldendale.
Cars were required to stay here until a certain time to give fans a chance to come by for one last look at them. Again, as we had to wait for everyone to finish, the cars which started first were already long gone. By this point in the day teams were tired, hungry, and ready for a long night’s rest.
However, for the teams whose cars needed repairs, a long night of wrenching was ahead after dinner. Sunday would be another day, although it sadly wouldn’t be one I was able to attend.
In the end, Subaru Rally Team USA ultimately finished 1-2, with driver David Higgins and co-driver Craig Drew taking first place overall. After three days of racing and 17 stages, just 59.4 seconds separated the first place team from Travis Pastrana and his co-driver Robbie Durant. Rounding off the podium for the national entries was McKenna and Jordan in their 2011 Ford Fiesta.
With the highs of the Oregon Trail Rally behind us, I’m already thinking of how to better shoot it next year, as well as looking around the country for other rally events to attend. It really is that good, and if you’ve never experienced an event first-hand I’d urge you to change that.