X Games 16 Subaru Practice Session – Click above for high-res image gallery

It was just a short time ago – five years, to be exact – that rallying was introduced as a competition in the X Games. The first event started out in spectacular fashion, with Travis Pastrana beating out the late Colin McRae after the former World Rally Championship winner rolled his car with just a few turns to go.

Since then, the competition has become stronger and car manufacturers have increased their involvement as interest in the sport has increased thanks to ESPN's mainstream audience. This year looks to be one of the most exciting events yet with a host of new cars, new drivers, new rules and even a new event. Follow the jump to learn about what to expect for this year's X Games 16 and what it's like to ride shotgun in a 500-horsepower rally car.

Photos copyright ©2010 Drew Phillips / AOL

What's new for X Games 16

Perhaps the most exciting news for rally at X Games 16 this year is the introduction of SuperRally. Extremely popular in Europe, this event pits four rally drivers against each other for a wheel-to-wheel race on the course. Twelve drivers will complete individual time trial sessions to qualify for the three elimination groups, each of which competes in a heat race to determine the four cars to race in the final. Given the sideways nature of rally racing, we fully expect there to be plenty of paint trading.

Another change includes a new venue. The rally events will be held at the legendary L.A. Coliseum instead of the Home Depot Center, and the course will be purely dirt. The track looks to be somewhat tighter than last year, but thankfully a jump remains as part of the course.

Finally, technical changes allow fewer restrictions to the engines of the rally cars, many of which will now be putting out more than 500 horsepower. The main difference in performance will be the size of the restrictor for the turbocharger, which is 45mm compared to the normal 34mm dictated by the Rally America Open Class.

Drivers and Cars

The lineup of drivers for this year's X Games will contain a mix of old and new faces. Veterans of the competition like Travis Pastrana and Tanner Foust will be in attendance to try and regain their titles from last year's rookie winner Kenny Brack, but new drivers will be there to challenge as well, like former Formula Drift champion Samuel Hubinette and European Rallycross champion Sverre Isachsen.

The cars of X Games 16 might sound familiar, but many of them are actually brand-new. Subaru has brought an all-new version of its Impreza WRX STI complete with a seam-welded chassis, competition fuel cell, launch control, BFGoodrich tires, a turbo anti-lag system and a clutchless five-speed transmission. Not to be outdone, Ford is bringing its well-promoted Fiesta once again, but it's the version that competes in the European Rallycross Championship. A handful of Mitsubishi Lancer Evolutions will be competing as well.

Riding Shotgun

We had the chance earlier this week to attend some practice sessions, and we don't balk when giventhe chance to get in the passenger seat of any 500-horsepower cars being driven in anger – especially a rally car. Our first stop was in Irwindale, CA where ACP Racing was holding a practice session with a trio of Mitbsubishi Lancer Evolutions. While the outfit doesn't have the budget of the Ford or Subaru teams, they make it up with a pair of very talented drivers – 2009 North American Rally champion Andrew Comrie-Picard (ACP, as he is known), who is best remembered for his spectacular front flip at X Games 14, and 2004 and 2006 Formula Drift champion Hubinette.

Watching the two drivers, it's easy to tell their style is heavily influenced by their racing "day jobs." ACP tackles the practice course like a true rally driver, employing the Scandinavian Flick to make it around turns, while Hubinette seems to like to powerslide his way around the dirt track.

Of course, we weren't there just to watch, we came to experience the cars as well. A ride with Hubinette was impossible thanks to a broken tie rod, but we were plenty happy to have seat time with ACP. After securely strapping in, he wasted no time in showing off the Evo's ability to launch from a standstill, revving the 2.0-liter inline-4 to redline and dumping the clutch. Less than three seconds later, we were traveling at 60 mph, hurtled towards our first left turn. The next few minutes went by in a blur, but we seem to remember thinking we were going to end up on our roof or fly off the course, only to miraculously pull through the turns. We didn't know that this level of traction was even possible on dirt.

The next day, we headed down to Pala, CA to make time with the Subaru camp. We arrived hoping to spend a full day seeing the Subies tear up the makeshift rally course, but unfortunately, the team was burdened with the difficulties of dealing with brand-new race cars for most of the day – engines needed to be broken-in and suspensions needed to be fine-tuned before any of the drivers could plant themselves in the driver's seat for any real testing.

When the time finally did come, we hopped into the passenger seat next to the legendary Travis Pastrana, motorcross champion, four-time Rally America champion, winner of 16 X Games medals, and all-round good guy. After a few turns, it's easy to tell that Pastrana has one of the more entertaining driving styles, using the e-brake liberally and consistently driving at the absolute limits of the car. For some reason, our ride we experienced in the Subaru was much more intense. The sound of the turbocharged motor is insane, and the transmission can bang off shifts in a jolting fashion. Dust seems to be everywhere, both inside and out of the car, and even little rocks and pebbles shot up from nowhere out of the floorpan to pelt us everywhere. By far the highlight of the ride was hitting the good-sized jump in the course, which launched the car about three feet in the air. The feat is actually less dramatic from inside the car as since the suspension handles the impact with astounding ease, but it's thrilling nonetheless.

With just a few practice sessions in the books, the day ended with Pastrana flying away in a helicopter back to Los Angeles to practice for his Moto X events (Spoiler: He won the gold, his seventh in the Moto X Freestyle competition). Such is the life of an extreme sports superstar.

Tune In

The Rally Car and SuperRally events will air live tomorrow (Saturday, July 31) on ESPN. The elimination rounds for Rally Car will be from 4:00 to 6:00 pm EST and the SuperRally final will cap off ESPN's X Games coverage from 7:15 to 8:00 pm EST. You can also check back here on Autoblog this Sunday for a full recap of the events and plenty of photos. Until then, check out three different videos from this week's practice sessions, including one from our friends over at The Smoking Tire who were on-hand for the Ford team practice session.

Photos copyright ©2010 Drew Phillips / AOL

Share This Photo X