David Higgins Interview: “When we start a rally, we start with only one aim: to win”
SHELTON, Wash. (May 15, 2015) - The Olympus Rally. Three words encapsulate one of America’s great motorsport challenges.
The World Rally Championship might have come and gone, but the forest roads of the country’s far north-west remain the same challenge they ever were. And this weekend a full Rally America field will compete on some of the toughest stages of the season.
And David Higgins will lead the field away.
David’s special. And so is his Subaru. Neither has been beaten this season. In fact, neither has been beaten for the last nine rallies. That’s almost two years.
Higgins provides his rivals with a quite exceptional benchmark.
The bad news for those rivals is that Higgins and his co-driver Craig Drew have exactly the same deep desire to win this weekend as they do every time they step aboard their Subaru Rally Team USA WRX STI.
The Higgins name has been well known in American rallying since 2002, when David won the first of two back-to-back SCCA Pro Rally titles.
Not content with two, he came back to what he sees as some of the world’s best roads nine years later. And he remains the dominant force today.
Since the start of the 2011 season, he and Craig have won 29 of the 47 Rally America rounds they have started and posted 41 podium finishes in four years of crushing domination.
“I hate losing,” says David. “I might have won a few rallies recently, but the motivation is always the same. When we start a rally, we start with only one aim: to win. And that’s not just rallying, that’s the same whatever I’m doing. If I’m riding my bike I have to ride it further and faster than anybody else.”
And anyway, his Stateside record might be good, but his team manager John Buffum’s is even better. Buffum has 117 national wins and eight titles.
And he’s won the Olympus Rally four times – that’s three more than Higgins.
“John’s pretty fond of telling us the stories about when he came here and competed against the likes of Markku Alen and Juha Kankkunen in a factory Audi in 1986,” smiles Higgins. “Actually, having John in the team is great – for many, he really is rallying in America.”
The Olympus Rally has moved away from Tacoma, the base where Buffum won from, but the challenge is still the same. All-but one of this weekend’s stages are new to the crews, but Craig knows they’ll be in for a challenge.
“The roads are very rough, rocky and very challenging,” he says. “Parts of stages are very fast and flowing, but mainly they are narrow, technical and twisty. They remind us a lot of the Scottish stages back home.
“This one’s regarded by many to be the toughest challenge of the season. The roads require 100 per cent concentration at all times, as there are always nasty rocks lurking on the edge of the roads ready to puncture a tire or damage your suspension.”
For David, it doesn’t matter what the rally throws up. When the lights go green he listens to Craig, does as he’s told, and drives just as fast as he can.
The one thing he’s not keen on is dust.
“It’s so difficult to drive in the dust,” he says. “You commit to your pacenotes as much as you can, but it’s definitely a bit unnerving when you’re being told to drive at more than 100mph when you can barely see beyond the end of the bonnet – that’s how bad it can be.
“Three years ago there was a fire hazard on this rally which meant we had to run in the dark. If there’s one thing worse than dust, it’s dust in the dark. But, it’s part of the challenge and we’ll get on with it. Being a rally driver means you have to deal with what’s put in front of you.”
And in front of David and Craig this weekend lies one of the most exciting Olympus Rally routes in history. With more than 130 miles of flat-out competition, the pair will be fully focused on securing their fourth straight success of the season.
“I love rallying in America,” says David. “There’s a great buzz around the championship and especially in this part of the country. We do anther event – the Oregon Trails Rally (did it, won it last month) – which is based just about an hour from here and it’s the same: great views, great roads.
“It’s the same everywhere we go with Rally America in a season, we could have a world championship based completely within this country. There’s a real sense of adventure with this championship – you know, this weekend we’ll be competing in our top-specification Subaru against some private guys who have driven 700 miles just to get to the start.
“It’s a bit of an epic before it’s even begun.”
Higgins is quick to pay tribute to his team as well. Only Ken Block and his Ford Fiesta built by World Rally Championship-winning team M-Sport has had the beating of Higgins in recent years.
“The team does a fantastic job in the car they build for us,” says Higgins. “We started this year with a completely new Subaru. The team had so much work to do through the winter, but they got it all right and it was an amazing achievement to come out of the box and win the opening round in the car.
“These open class cars are pretty special to drive. We have great power and fantastic suspension. In many ways, these are the fastest rally cars in the world currently competing, so it’s kind of fitting that we’re using them on some of the best stages anywhere on planet Earth.”
And this weekend, planet earth will be watching Shelton, WA as the latest Rally America round fires up.
Can you hear the noise? Rising, falling. The burble and bark of the boxer. Stand back, Subaru #75’s coming.
And it’ll be coming quickly.
Text: David Evans, rallies editor AUTOSPORT
Photos: Scott Rains (1), Libra Racing (2), Subaru Rally Team USA (Cover, 3)