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Anything With an Engine: Patrik Sandell

by Chris Leone // Website // Twitter
Images via Subaru Rally Team USA

Anything With an Engine spotlights a rare breed of race driver: those who can find success in multiple disciplines of racing, even in the same season. Be sure to check out the full archive here!

Patrik Sandell // Ostersund, Sweden // April 21, 1982
2018 Subaru WRX STI Rally // 2018 Subaru WRX STI RallyCross

From winning the Junior World Rally Championship in 2006 to taking three rallycross wins since coming to the United States in 2013, Sweden’s Patrik Sandell knows a thing or two about getting four wheels around a loose surface. That ability is a big part of why Subaru Rally Team USA signed him before last season, and so far he’s repaid them with podium drives in both disciplines. In fact, Sandell’s first American stage rally with the team, this May’s Olympus Rally, resulted in a win, and he took another one last weekend at Idaho Rally.

But while the box-flared and brightly colored Subaru WRX STIs that Sandell races may look quite similar to one another, they’re anything but the same beast under the bodywork. Today, Sandell explains some of the key differences between the two vehicles, and what it takes to be successful in each discipline:

When did you start racing in rally, and when did you start in rallycross?

I actually started off with rallycross, or the lower version of rallycross in Sweden, called folkrace. It’s the exact same format as rallycross. I started with that when I was about 15 and did that for about two or three years. Then, when I was 16 or 17, I started stage rally, and more or less switched to stage rally.

How do you prepare differently for a season in each discipline?

I think the biggest difference is in the preparation that goes in before the season starts. This is the first season where I’ve done both. In my stage rally career, I did more long distance workout sessions, whether it was running, biking, or whatever. The last couple of years, when my focus has been on rallycross, I’ve done shorter workout sessions, focusing more on reaction and how to improve things like that from a physical point of view. This season, when I’ve done both, I’ve put in a mix of workouts. I just do more of everything to prepare for each race.

The difference when it comes to the actual driving is that, in stage rally, we always talk about seconds, but in rallycross, we talk about tenths. It’s two different sports for sure.

What’s the most important skill you need to have as a driver to get the most out of each ride?

The most important rally skill is to understand the pace notes, and develop your own system that is 100% accurate. For example, a left 3, which could be a medium left corner, should always, always be the same type of corner, allowing you to have the same speed no matter where you are in the world and no matter what the surface is. To develop that skill, where the pace notes are always accurate like that, takes a lot of time. That’s why it takes a longer time to reach the top in rally than in other race series.

If you take the guys that are fighting for the World Rally Championship right now, they’re around 30, but if you look at Formula 1, you can start to win races younger, like Max Verstappen—he’s in his early 20s. So you have to have the same driving skill as the top guys in all levels of motorsport, but the pace notes are the key to success in stage rally.

In rallycross, I think the most important skill is to first of all, be able to do the same things over and over again, similar to any type of circuit racing. But then, you also have to be able to combine different types of driving styles in one lap of the track. Take, for example, the track we raced on in Canada. On the asphalt corners, you have to drive pure racing lines like any other racing series in the world. But then you enter the gravel section, and you need to throw the car in and be the most aggressive rally driver in the world. You need to combine those two things and hit your marks, over and over again.

Another key factor in rallycross is to be able to drive the same way and hit your marks whether you’re in first or you’re behind someone. It’s so easy to get dragged into driving in the rhythm of the car in front of you instead of keeping on hitting your marks, your shift points, et cetera.

Your two cars may look similar on the outside, but inside they’re anything but. What are some of the biggest differences, and what are their similarities?

The biggest difference between the cars is the regulation that allows us to have so much more power in the rallycross car. In that car, we have around 600 horsepower; in the rally car, it’s somewhere around 360, maybe. So that’s the biggest difference between the cars. They’re also set up completely different—it’s harder to set up a rallycross car, because you need to have a car that is super accurate as a pure racing car on asphalt, but it also has to be able to handle the gravel and the jump. In stage rally, it’s normally either a gravel rally or an asphalt rally. In America, it’s only gravel rallies, so there we have a gravel setup on the car.

When it comes to dampers, diffs, and so on, I would say it’s fairly similar, or at least the thought behind it and how to set up the car is. But if you take the cockpit in stage rally, you have two seats, but in the rallycross car, you only need one. On the technical side, the cooling system on the rally car is like a normal road car and on the front, but on the rallycross car it’s further back, as you’re driving behind other cars. So those are two of the other main differences between the cars.

Which one is more fun to drive, and which is more challenging?

I would say that if you take away the element of rally and rallycross, and just have the two cars, the rallycross car is for sure harder to drive. But it’s also the more fun car to drive, because you have so much more power. It’s just another level of motorsport—it’s the most fun you can have in a car, so the rallycross car wins for sure if you’re just comparing the two types of vehicles. But it mainly comes down to the double power in the rallycross car.

Which would be more fun: running the stage rally car on rallycross tracks, or taking your Supercar through the woods?

It would be amazing to take the rallycross car out in the forests! With that much power, that would be something very, very crazy—that’d be the one to pick. If the surface is wet on a rallycross track, I think that if we put the rally car on it, the car would be more or less the same in lap time. Sometimes, as you know, the Lites cars (which have half the horsepower) have been fairly close to the Supercars in the wet. So I’d definitely bring the rallycross car to the rally stages.

If you only had to race one discipline from now on, which one would you pick?

I think I would pick stage rally. My main background in my career is stage rally, I would say my heart is still in stage rally, and I really like that pure part of it. You’re out with your buddies, driving the whole weekend through the forest—the ultimate motorsport for me is stage rally.

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