Review of Top Gear on History’s Off Road Racing

Review of Top Gear on History’s Off Road Racing

In this week’s Top Gear USA, Adam Ferrara and Rutledge Wood stepped into co-star Tanner Foust’s world, for Off Road Racing.  He’s often referred to as “Race Boy” and “Captain Rally Pants” on the show, but in this episode we got to see exactly why.  As a lifelong rally fan, I swooned that Adam and Rutledge got to fulfill one of my own motorsports fantasies – a driving course at DirtFish Rally School in Snoqualmie, Washington.  While many drivers are born with a gift for car control, it’s actually a skill that can be taught, and the good folks at driving schools like DirtFish do just that.  Even if you think that you’re a great driver, no opportunity to go to a school like this should be missed.

Adam and Rutledge emerged from the bushes to find Tanner tearing up a practice course in a white Subaru Impreza STI.  The mission was based on perspectives.  Tanner wanted to introduce the guys to his favourite sport.  On the other hand, Adam and Rutledge amusingly wanted to prove that rallying is actually quite easy.  This was when every rally fan watching, probably wanted those two to get their butts handed to them.  (Was there ever a doubt?)  Their argument would be settled with a race a mere day later.  (Do you smell that?  Me too.)  It would be Adam vs. Rutledge vs. Tanner; but first, anybody who’s not “The Golden Child” has to go school, before getting schooled.

“I mean, he comes in and whatever good feeling you have, he just steps on and “Yeah, watch this!” I think he actually taught the Subaru to read. That’s the magic powers he has over a car.” – Adam Ferrara on Tanner Foust (My Life at Speed Interview)

Like every responsible institution of learning, the driving lessons began in the classroom.  However, Adam and Rutledge weren’t all that interested in hearing about weight transfer and throttle management.  Their search for more practical instruction led to the arrival of GRC racer, Bucky Lasek.  He occupied the passenger seat while letting those wacky rally virgins lap the course in an orange Subaru.  Bucky Lasek is a brave, brave man.

I quit eating fried stuff and I’ve had a weight transfer myself.” – Rutledge Wood

Top Gear USA: Off Road Racing

Top Gear USA: Off Road Racing (Photo Credit: History Channel)

The next segment informed us of Tanner’s activities while his cast-mates were taking turns terrorizing an X Games legend.  He was off to Shelton, Washington for the Nameless Rally.  There he met up with his co-driver Chrissie Beavis, who would talk him through the twists and turns of the forest route.  Now, I’m going off on a tangent here, so bear with me.  One of the downfalls of car events in X Games is that they’re haplessly artificial.  Unlike Europe, where (rally and rallycross were born) their tracks are built upon and/or around pre-existing naturally occurring topography; X Games circuits are completely man made.  The only thing that’s natural about those events is the dirt that’s trucked in for the jumps.  Drivers utilise the same skill set, but it’s a different experience.  Unfortunately, artificial pays better but there’s always hope that someday we’ll see those drivers step out of the speedways or convention centre parking lots, and back into their natural habitat – nature.  At least Rally America‘s events take place in forests and the countryside, so we all stand a chance of seeing what real rally racing looks like for ourselves.

“Street tyres?” – Chrissie Beavis

Can we all send Ms. Beavis tasty, baked goods for her shadeful response to the 2013 Mini Paceman All 4 Cooper S, that they raced in?  Even McKayla Maroney would be impressed by Chrissie’s complete lack of respect for the car that came straight from showroom.  Tanner wasn’t exactly a happy camper.  In fact, this is one of those times that he wasn’t 100% confident getting, behind the steering wheel of a vehicle.  It is truly nuts to take a car like this into a rally without a roll cage; so nobody should hold it against him if he didn’t turn the dials to eleven on this one.  The Mini does indeed have an excellent racing history, but if I had to drive a Mini in a rally, it had better be like one from the X Raid Team that has kicked the Dakar Rally in the teeth for the past few years.

The focus shifted back to Adam and Rutledge.  Their driving skills seemed to have improved under Bucky’s tutelage, but the time came for their final exam.  Henceforth, any and every article that I write will refer to Mr. Lasek as Bucky “The Coyote” Lasek.  He’s a talented guy, possesses predatorial instincts on the track and a lustrous mane.  On top of all that, he represented rally racing very well and I’m very impressed.  The Coyote has been having an unfortunate GRC season and this is just the kind of boost that he needs.  It’s not that he can’t drive but everything imaginable works against him.  Hopefully at this weekend’s race in Charlotte, North Carolina, we’ll see The Coyote show the field what his teeth feel like.

If I catch you, I’m gonna eat you alive.” – Bucky Lasek

The episode’s finale was supposed to be an all-cast rally race, but the devious duo pulled a Captain Kirk and changed the rules of the game.  Now it was Tanner in a Subaru Rally Team rally car against an Aston Martin Vanquish driven by Rutledge and a jet boat named Pure Insanity with Adam as passenger, for a three-way showdown in Hells Canyon.  They raced along Snake River between designated points, but took different routes to suite their chosen vehicles: dirt, asphalt and water.

“We have officially derailed, gentlemen.  This isn’t a race…This is ridiculous.” – Tanner Foust

I may be wrong but it’s been a long time since we’ve seen a race with such decadent production values.  It made previous races look ordinary by comparison.  Every shot was sepia-filtered with a thunderous soundtrack that successively went from orchestral to opera (Habanera from Bizet’s Carmen) to hip-hop to rock.  On top of all that, they threw in slow motion shots, onboard shots, point of view shots, exterior shots, and helicopter shots.  They made the Vanquish appear to teleport, along with the mirror image of a rally car set to Schubert’s Ave Maria.  They threw the kitchen sink at this sequence, but for a series that landed troops as part of a Ford Fiesta review in the UK version, I guess it was typical Top Gear?

At its heart, this episode was introducing a large audience to a branch of motorsports that most Americans don’t know much about.  Everything was explained in broad strokes but kept fun and interesting.  Quite frankly, this may have been the most educational Top Gear USA to date.  Most of the action was in the Pacific Northwest where some of America’s beloved rallies take place.  The inclusion of DirtFish Rally School where early GRC events were held and currently serves as the home base for Pastrana Racing was a darned near perfect move.  Also, it gave rally nut Tanner Foust, a chance to indulge in the kind of driving that seems to truly challenge him.  Thanks to Adam and Rutledge for live-tweeting the episode with fans.  Next week’s episode is America’s Biggest Cars, when Rutledge Wood will show us his famous donk.  Stay tuned!