RALLY CHAMPION DAVID HIGGINS REVEALS HIS PROGRESSION INTO THE WORLD OF RALLY RACING
Photo Credit: Subaru Rally Team USA
(L.Olsen - 8/22/18) If you're into American rally, or heavily into the Subaru racing culture, you will know the names David Higgins and Craig Drew. If you don't, you should. Consider class to now be in session. Here's why RX360 is ringing the school bell: this rally pair dominated the Rally America scene for six years from 2011 to 2016.
In 2017 the American Rally Association (ARA) launched and gave rally fans two American series to follow. The inaugural year of ARA saw an intense battle between teammates David Higgins and Travis Pastrana. The title challenge was so close it wasn't even decided until the last two stages of Minnesota's Ojibwe Forests Rally where for the first time in six years Higgins' and Drew's winning streak was broken. It was close, but Travis Pastrana and co-driver Robbie Durant ended up taking the title home. Now, midway through the 2018 ARA season, the Higgins/Drew team are currently leading the championship once again. RX360 had the opportunity to sit down with David Higgins earlier in the season to talk with him about his start in racing and his pathway to the motorsport of rally. Through a ton of hard work and steady perseverance David Higgins made a name for himself in the world of rally and rallycross. He continues to impress fans around the globe with his amazing control behind the wheel and keen sense of what is takes to be a champion. David talked with us in his English accent to explain his ascent within the world of rally racing. "I grew up in rallying," said David. "My grandparents were into it and then my mom started rallying. My dad was a mechanic and he started fixing my granddads rally cars. He obviously got together with my mom and started driving in rallies and my mom would co-drive for my dad. Virtually all of my cousins on the Isle of Man, where we grew up, and my granddad's brother rallied and all of his kids have rallied. We grew up being around events and driving my dad's rally car at around the age of seven or eight. There was no karting on the island when we were that young. My dad once said that if karting ever comes to the Isle of Man we could race. Then all of the sudden they started a kart club when I was nine years old. I began racing competitively and won eight or nine karting championships by the time I was 18 to 19 years old. "I didn't really want to go into rallying. I knew I couldn't financially afford to do it and I was [already] at a very high level in karting. Teams were funding me a little bit and I didn't want to go from the top of one sport to the bottom of another. But, my brother (Mark Higgins) got a factory drive with Vauxhall. The same year he was given that offer, he was also offered other drives. He put my name forward to one of those other teams asking them to give me a go. I went to a test and turned out to be the fastest guy in the test. I was given the drive in a championship called the Peugeot Challenge consisting of 45 drivers in identical cars. The winner of the championship got a factory drive with Peugeot the year after. I did the championship and won in my first year and got a factory drive with Peugeot the year after." What was his brothers response to David's winning of the Peugeot Challenge, resulting in a factory drive with Peugeot? "Yeah, he was upstaged," joked David. "We are still very competitive now. It's hard work when you're both chasing the same drives, the same sponsors. We've had some good fall outs at times with a few broken bones from when we used to race karts, but it's all good now."
We would be remiss if we failed to mention that David's brother Mark Higgins has also made his mark in the world of rally and rallycross. Mark is currently competing in 2018 British Rallycross Championship and has won British Rally Championship three times, first in 1997 and again in 2005 and 2006. He has also worked for many years with the former Stig, Ben Collins, from the hit British television show, Top Gear. Fast forward a few more years to when David was competing in China, where he happened to meet up with his current co-driver, Craig Drew. They hit it off and discussed that if the chance ever presented itself, they should consider working together. At some point down the road, David's team was doing some testing in the United Kingdom. Due to work obligations, David's co-driver at the time was unable to take part in the testing. They decided to contact Craig Drew to see if he would be available to fill in for the testing. Eventually the day came when David got the phone call to come compete in America. Unfortunately, his current co-driver didn't want to make the commitment to be away from family and job. Once again, Craig Drew stepped in to fill the co-driver position where he remains to this day. Obviously these two make a great team. After all, if you're going to work with someone in an intense environment you definitely need to get along well with that person. "We don't actually spend any time together at home," said David. "We live basically two and a half hours away. In the UK that's a long way away, whereas in the US you could go meet someone for lunch and not think anything of it. We talk a lot and are always working on the next rally. Then we meet up and do our job. You have to get along well because you spend so much time together." Higgens has done many rallies around the world. He's competed against top drivers in rally on very competitive stages. Naturally, we had to ask David which rally he favors and why. "Everyone always asks me this, and I really don't have a favorite rally," said David. "I could say that the rally I happen to be competing in on any given weekend is my favorite because the previous year I may have won the round; but then this year it may suck because of mechanical issues or whatever. I really enjoy rallying in the Pacific Northwest area and love the Portland round. The roads are very good. But then I may go to Michigan and have a great rally and love that area, too. What I love most about rally is every rally is different and can change so much. The weather or the roads can be so different from one year to the next, so it's hard to have a real favorite. With other types of racing a driver may have favorite tracks and know what they will be racing on every time but we never know what it will be like."
And after earning so many championships in American rally, RX360 asked if he ever gets frustrated at the lack of competition during some seasons, and if competing here in the U.S. was worth the effort. "Yes. There are times like in 2015 when we had some really top drivers from Europe who came from WRC, but we've beaten everybody that's raced against us. At the same time, it is getting more competitive. We do have more people out there doing the same things, so some years rally has been frustrating. The biggest problem we have in American rally at the moment is not the competition level when it's good, [the problem is when] all of a sudden two of the top guys go out front and create a huge [point] gap to the other ones. But that happens in a lot of championships around the world. To be honest it suits me quite good now because I have a busy program here [in the US] with rally, rallycross, and testing. On top of all that I have the media events that are held before the races. My kids are also both racing and I still do a lot of coaching back home with other drivers." David does keep a very busy schedule but spends a lot of time with his two children, who seem to be following in their dad and Uncle Mark's footsteps. While they do spend a lot of time karting, the family recently visited the DirtFish Rally School near Seattle, WA. David's kids were able to get behind the wheel of a DirtFish-sponsored Subaru-powered rally car with their dad sitting next to them coaching them through the process. RX360 says that if you're going to learn rally, learn from one of the best. "My daughter would like to work in motorsports as a career in some form," said David. "My son likes the idea of a touring car or rallycross because he's doing the wheel-to-wheel racing (karting). He feels like it would be the most natural side of it [for him]. But I think once they get loose in a forest where they're doing 120mph they will see a different side [of the sport]. At the moment, rally is good training for them." David Higgins has a life many aspiring rally drivers would love to have. One would assume that his biggest enjoyment would be behind the wheel of the race cars he pilots. Although he truly loves the driving aspect, David actually also enjoys the "behind-the-scenes" side of racing. "My biggest enjoyment as a driver is the development, testing, and working with the engineers,' said Higgins. "So when I do rallycross, I really enjoy that side of it. I miss that side when we don't have a massive competition. Generally, our biggest competition in rallying is with our teammates." Higgins then went on to expand a bit more on the differences between racing in rally and racing in rallycross. "Rallycross is very, very different," said Higgins. "The hardest thing with rally is that you attack one corner once. Whereas in rallycross you attack a corner multiple times. I tend to have to hold myself back a little bit because I tend to try to do more every time, and start to overdrive. If you watch Scott Speed from the outside he always looks like he's got a problem. And then you look at his lap time and it's like, wow, how efficient. So to try and switch back into that mode again is why I still do quite a bit of kart racing just to put myself back into that discipline mode." If you have not attended a rally here in the states we encourage you to do so. If possible, make it an American Rally Association event David Higgins and Craig Drew do their thing. They are truly fun to watch and their skills as rally competitors rank among the best in the world.
Photo Credits: Subaru Rally Team USA/Facebook