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Competition Stacks Up for an Exciting Southern Ohio Forest Rally

After a history-making event last month at the Oregon Trail Rally, the American Rally Association National Championship heads back across the US to Chillicothe, Ohio for the Southern Ohio Forest Rally presented by Wagner Subaru.

Joining the national calendar this year for the fifth time, SOFR quickly became a staple event in the championship after forming as a regional rally in 2017 and growing into the three-day, 114-mile, rally it is today.

The Southern Ohio Forest Rally takes after a long line of rallies in the region stretching back into the late 1960s, and it’s been praised as some of the greatest stages in the nation by rally icons, including John Buffum.

While in the decades past Buffum, Rod Millen, and Paul Choiniere have been dominant in Ohio rallies, the past few years have seen the likes of Barry McKenna, the late Ken Block, and 2023’s champion Brandon Semenuk take the top step on the podium.

The 17 stages feature tight, technical gravel roads with steep elevation changes, and even a few tarmac sections just to make things interesting for competitors as they navigate hairpins, hills, and hazards off the side of the road if they get too excited.

The action starts this year as it has since 2021 with the Yoctangee Street Stage Super Special on Thursday night, a 0.96-mile tarmac stage through a public park that ends with a wild jump known for having some of the gnarliest sends of the whole year.

Friday the action takes place in Portsmouth and the surrounding areas with two loops consisting of the Pound the Alarm, Top Gun South Short, Toast, and Hello Hairpin North stages, totaling 70.66 miles overall.

Saturday the action moves to McArthur, Ohio as the competitors take on two more loops, and the Courtneys Web, Irish Ridge, Will Tract South, and Church of the Raccoons stages. National competitors will be treated to an extra running of Church of the Raccons as they battle for Power Stage Points in the 17th and final stage of the rally, before the awards ceremony Saturday evening at Vinton County High School.

Strong RC2 Entry Makes For Exciting Podium Battle

This year a strong entry of 61 cars will take on Ohio’s best roads, with multiple exciting class battles across the field in National and Regional classes. 24 of the cars are entered in the National Rally, while 27 will be battling in the Regional event.

First and foremost, Subaru Motorsports USA is back with a two-car attack hoping for redemption after their day-two DNFs at the Oregon Trail Rally. Championship leaders Brandon Semenuk and Keaton Williams look to repeat their victory from last year while teammates Travis Pastrana and Rhiannon Gelsomino look to take their first SOFR win as a team.

Four RC2 competitors will also join the fight for the SOFR National Rally podium. The technical nature of the rally suits the cars well and has proven to give them the upper hand over larger open-class cars at times in the past.

2023 National RC2 Champion Pat Gruszka will be joined in his Hyundai i20 Rally2 car by Aris Mantopoulos to take on two more i20s piloted by the teams of John Coyne and Eoin Treacy, and Enda and Liam McCormack. Representing the Ford camp, Dave Wallingford and the Savage Rallysport Ford Fiesta R5 will return for their sixth Southern Ohio Forest Rally in a row, with long-time teammate Leanne Junnila co-piloting.

“I’m looking forward to SOFR 2024,” said RC2 points leader Coyne ahead of his fourth ARA National round this year. “It’s always a big challenge with the undulating and technical terrain and the typically high temperature and humidity.”

“I’m also looking forward to having Enda McCormack back out in the other PCRS Hyundai i20 N Rally2. We always have a close race, which adds to the enjoyment. Eoin Treacy, my Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy codriver is looking forward to his second ARA event.”

“Can’t wait to jump into action in Yoctangee on Thursday evening!”

L2WD Gears up for Intense Battle

Of course, while the Open-class and RC2 cars battle it out at the front, a similar battle will be raging further back in the field as nine National L2WD entries continue to duke it out for class points in the most production-based category the ARA offers.

Currently, Richo Healey and Michelle Miller lead the L2WD Championship in their Lexus IS250 by just one point over Mark Tabor and Kathryn Hansen’s Ford Fiesta ST.

“For Michelle and I this year has been great,” said Healey. “A podium in every rally we've started is the beginning of a dream year but with so much competition in L2WD it will be a big fight to keep that streak alive.”

“The Lexus is incredible, Hooper, Caleb, and everyone at RCR absolutely nailed our build and Jolene (named after the Dolly Parton song) hasn't skipped a beat. “

“Driving a long car on the narrow SOFR roads is definitely going to be a change of pace from the open roads of Oregon Trail but I am excited for the challenge. If I'm honest, I'm also pretty excited for about 90 hairpins to chuck the car into and be a little more assertive!”

But if there’s anyone motivated enough to take down Healey this weekend, it’s Tabor.

“Our reason for being out there in the battle is because it is the 20th anniversary of my SCCA ProRally Production class victory,” he explained. “ We thought it would be fun to go back out and compete in a similar class to Production, so L2WD was the choice.”

“It definitely is a Fiesta versus Lexus battle. I think OTR showed we can be competitive on the tighter roads when the car is working fully - we lost the turbo on Sunday at OTR. I’m hoping that my lack of previous SOFR experience is offset by my experience and the car’s natural prowess on the tighter roads!”

Despite their drive, seven other cars in their class will be looking to play spoiler and take the top position. Oregon Trail Rally winners Roberto Yglesias and Sara Nonack also have a chance to take over the championship lead as they currently sit tied for third with Alastair Scully and Alex Gelsomino.

“Overall I think We’ve had a rough start to the season between trying to get the car dialed in again after a few changes we made in the off-season, and bad luck honestly,” said Yglesias.

“The car is still not at 100% for us, we’re still working on things that we wanted to improve in the off-season, but it’s feeling really good, when we’ve needed to push we’ve been able to, and we’ve shown great pace at Olympus and at Oregon and finally at Oregon everything came together.”

“Overall we feel confident that we have the pace to make this a good fight. It’s going to be competitive looking at the L2 line-up, J. Sharps of course is going to be fast, and that Acura is a rocket ship. Richo has been getting really fast throughout the whole season now that he has his new car, I’m convinced we’re going to have to do our best to keep him behind us because he keeps getting faster and faster, and those Lexus cars can be faster on any of the fast sections.

“But I think being how tight and twisty Ohio is, the advantage goes to the more nimble cars, so the Fiestas and the BRZs will be the toughest competition. Santiago Iglesias is coming back, he likes to play spoiler to those doing the full national championship and steal some points, and he’s definitely fast at SOFR.”

Chris Cyr was blazing fast at 100 Acre Wood. He’s been on a tear just improving and pushing that car, and he’s running national so he has the chance to steal a bunch of important points, including PowerStage Points.

Speaking of Cyr, he will be debuting a brand new livery for the Bearly Cyrious Ford Fiesta, which has received some updates since its win at 100AW earlier this year.

“Since my class win at 100AW it has been fun to watch as lots of the L2WD drivers have gotten a few more rallies under their belt,” said Cyr. “I can't wait to see how this weekend stacks up.”

“Our Ford Fiesta was pushed to the limits at 100AW and TRF has put in some work to update the car and we have a brand new livery designed by the kids who created Bearly Cyrious. We will be debuting the wrap this weekend!”

“It is so amazing to see such a huge field of L2WD cars. Last year at LSPR Santiago [Iglesias] and I were neck and neck but I didn't enter national, now it's on! Roberto [Yglesias]’s pace the last few events has been great and seeing Richo [Healey] get faster and faster I hope to see us all battling by seconds over this weekend. [Tabor], [Sharps] and [Scully] will be right there and with a clean rally could bring the pressure.”

Also joining the field, Erich Hopf returns once again in his 1977 Dodge Colt with Calvin Gehlhausen co-driving, and Jason Kodat makes his rally debut in a 2004 Focus with Phil Marsh at his side.

The LN4 class sees a new face competing, as 2018 Norwegian Class 4 Champions Kenneth Johnsrød and Fredriksen Dyre Erling compete stateside for the first time in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX. Their main competition will be class leaders Javier Olivares and KJ Miller in their Ford Fiesta Rally3, who are fresh off a win last time out in Oregon.

“As I am an active rally driver in Norway for many years I’ve always wanted to go to America to see what the scene is like over here,” said Johnsrød. “I’ve always followed Travis Pastrana and Ken Block on their Motorsport endeavors so the ARA has been on my bucket list for so long.”

“Although [Semenuk] and [Pastrana] are in far better cars than me, I’m looking forward to competing with them. I’ve been trying to make it happen now for 5 years, but finally we are here!”

“Thanks to our good friend Paul Ferreira who is so kind to us by providing us with the Fercomp Competitions Mitsubishi Evo 9, we are here to have great fun and compete with the US rally people.”

Also in the LN4 class, Madelyn Tabor and Sophia McKee will be in their NA4WD Impreza 2.5RS, competing mainly with stunt driver Jim York and pro motocross rider Gregg Duffy as they make their ARA stage rally debut.

In O2WD fans will once again be treated to a battle of the Escorts as OTR winners Ryan Booth and Nick Dobbs take on Seamus Burke and Martin Brady, but Michael Hooper and Michael Hordijk look to surpass both with their tried and true Lexus IS350. Keenan Philips and Salina Melotti continue their national tour in their BMW 328i, and Daniel Hayes returns with Boyd Smith to put their 2006 Mustang GT through the Southern Ohio stages.

Three-way Battle for First Expected in Regional Rally

The Southern Ohio Regional Rally will be no different in terms of excitement as the battle for the win will likely be one of the most exciting so far this season.

Three NA4WD GC Imprezas will be battling at the front of the field as Adam Kimmett, John Kramer, and Dylan Gondyke fight for the top spot.

Kimmett and co-driver Bryce Proseus may not have the most horsepower in their 2.5 RS Impreza, but that hasn’t stopped Kimmett in the past as he’s won the previous two SOFR Regional Rallies with the same setup.

“I’m excited to return to SOFR for the 7th time this year,” said Kimmett. “Kramer and I are good friends and always enjoy battling, but [Gondyke] has been getting faster each year and now brings some high horsepower to the class.

“If we can share any step on the podium with those guys I’ll be stoked. I have a new co-driver in Bryce [Proseus] this year so it’ll be interesting to see how things shake out.”

Long-time friendly rival Jon Kramer and co-driver Jason Smith bring their H6-swapped Impreza Coupe to Ohio looking to take his second regional win at Ohio after last winning in 2021 and placing second to Kimmett both years after.

“I love that it’s a battle of the antique Subarus this weekend,” said Kramer, “Which one will blow a head gasket first?”

“[Kimmett] and [Gondyke] are great dudes so I hope we all end up on the podium spraying grape juice on each other. Those guys are both claiming a full send over the Yoctangle jump to get the party started!”

Of course, three-time Eastern Regional Champion Dylan Gondyke and fun-loving co-driver Ben Chuong don’t plan to go down without a fight. Southern Ohio will be the debut of their new motor for their Impreza, and a perfect testing ground for the upgrade as they battle for the win.

“Adam and Jon have always been very, very good at SOFR in particular,” said Gondyke. “It seems like each year they take a step forward here. SOFR to me is like the season litmus test of our pace. We've come close to, but never beaten them here and I'll be trying to keep the gap close enough to put the pressure on.”

“I’m looking forward to trying to measure up!”

If you thought that was it for the NA4WD class though, you’d be mistaken as 11 entrants look to fight for the class lead this weekend, including Ryan Prybylkowski, Logan Siegel, Greg Healey, Nathan Coulter, and many more.

Limited 4WD sees six entries this year. Nick Balzer and Jon Schrage look to take the win in their 2004 WRX Wagon this year after their second-place finish in the class in 2023, but to do so they’ll have to fight off the 2002 WRX of Tom and Karl Mayer, as well as the 2005 Mitsubishi Evo of Josh Girtain and Dustin Yarborough. The teams of James Pryzbylkowski and Ethan Curtis, Andrew and Ben Zapsky, and first-time driver Nick Luther and Christopher Rotolo round out the L4WD entries.

The Open 2WD category sees some of the most unique vehicles entered, as the BMW M3s of Ryan George and Heather Stieber, and Mike Cessna and Jamie Lambert battle for the top spot in the class.

To do so they’ll have to stop the RCR Lexus IS350 of Brian Katz and Matt Vaught, the 2003 Dodge Neon SRT4 of Doug and Douglas Shepherd, the 1966 Porsche 912 of Scott James and Michelle Donovan, the 1989 Volvo 244 of Adam Brock and Sean Costello, the 1979 Ford Mustang of John Arthurs and Noah Cochenour, and more!

Limited 2WD will be likely just as exciting in the regional rally as it will be in the national, as 2022 LN4 National Champion Chris Sladek hops behind the wheel of the HART Rally Team 2017 Honda Civic to take on the field. That said, rally newcomer Casen Pederson and co-driver Oliver Smith will be ready to attack in their RCR Lexus IS250 after winning the class at Oregon Trail in Pederson’s second-ever rally.

2023 SOFR L2WD Regional Winners Matt McGee and Lauren Lambert also return to fight for their title in their 2008 VW Rabbit, but with a field of 10 cars, it will be a hard-fought battle.

Possibly the most exciting entry is that of Alexander “Sandy” Liversidge, a rally veteran with roots going back to the 1970s, who even has experience in the Sunriser 400 Forest Rally which used to run in the Southern Ohio area.

Liversidge returns to stage rally for the first time since 1997 after competing in a few Team O’Neil Gravel Trials earlier this year and is piloting the 2008 Mazda Speed 3 used by Wyatt Knox to win his 2011 2WD National Championship. Liversidge is joined in the car by Joshua Zapsky, making his ARA debut.

Finally, Jordon Haberer and Andrew Staples stand out as the only O4WD entrant in the regional rally in their 1994 Subaru Impreza.

To follow along with the 2024 Southern Ohio Forest Rally, stay tuned to our social media channels and website, and follow along with DirtFish, our media partners!

For more information about the American Rally Association, and to get involved, visit our



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