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  • Writer's pictureARA Staff

Martell Captures Kentucky win, Schrage, Hurst Round Out Overall Podium

Photo courtesy of Adam Bachi

McKee, Ky. ~ The Daniel Boone National Forest is spread across 21 counties of eastern Kentucky, and it embraces some of the most rugged terrain west of the Appalachian Mountains. Its steep forest slopes, sandstone cliffs, and narrow ravines are full of winding, narrow gravel roads perfect for an American Rally Association event.

After months of preparation, the ARA and the Backroads of Appalachia brought forth the Boone Forest Rally, located in Jackson County and specifically the highlands of McKee, Ky., on Saturday. The rally is part of the ARA's East Regional Championship. Still, it had a strong national presence, with top national drivers such as the Green APU's Patrick Gruszka, Michael Hooper, and a Vermont Sports Car entry of Connor Martell.

The one-day basic regional was set to feature five stages and just under 50 miles of competition roads, but a crash on SS4 would cancel the fifth stage on Saturday. Nevertheless, the Boone Forest Rally proved as tricky a rally as any on the ARA schedule, with only half of the 26-car field finishing the event.

Atop the leaderboard was Martell, who was driving in only his second ARA event. But Martell has a championship pedigree, winning an ARX Lites championship in 2018. He also brought a championship co-driver along for the ride in 2022 and now 2023 Green APU National Rally Championship co-driver champion Keaton Williams.

Photo courtesy of Mike Trimpe

The pair worked well together on Saturday, winning the first two stages, but Gruszka (co-driver Florian Barral) were up to the challenge. Martell took the SS1 win by 7.7secs but only edged out Gruszka by .3sec on SS2. Gruszka would get the edge on SS3, but only by .1sec. (A lateness penalty on Gruszka after SS3 would add 1min 10sec to his time). Martell would then secure the top time on SS4, while Gruszka was forced to retire after not completing the stage.

With Gruszka out, that put Martell up by nearly nine minutes over Jon Schrage (Nick Balzer) for the overall, with only SS5 left on the schedule. The problem was SS5 was on the same road as SS4, and would not be run due to both time and a competition car impeding the stage. Martell would take home the overall win, with Schrage in second.

For Schrage, it was the second straight rally he has finished on the podium this season. He and Balzer drove to a second in the L4WD class at June's Southern Ohio Forest Rally.

Mike Hurst (Kyle Williams) drove to his first Open 2WD class win of the season while pushing his 1974 Ford Capri to third overall. Hurst was 1min 1sec behind Schrage and had a tight race for the third spot and the class win. Alex and Kaitlyn Larsen were ahead of Hurst after SS1 on time, but Hurst ran faster times on the following three stages, edging past Larsen by 8.7secs for the podium positioning. Adam Brock (Sara Nonack) finished third in class (11th overall).

Photo courtesy of Keith Kreatives/Brian Keith

Kevin Allen (Liz Cordara) drove the second fastest overall time on SS4, securing fifth overall and second behind Schrage in NA4WD for his second podium (Bristol) in 2023. Allen needed the quick drive on SS4 to overtake Nathan Coulter (Bryce Proseus) for second in class and the top-five finish. Allen and Coulter finished 5.3sec apart.

Photo courtesy of Mike Trimpe

Dunker Felix, Sr. (Adolfo Espinosa) won the Limited 4WD class at Boone (seventh overall), ahead of third-place class finisher Michael Tirpak (Nick Luther).

Defending ARA East and Central Regional Limited 2WD champion Nick Bukky (Dustin Yarborough) won their second rally (class). Bukky won the class title at last weekend's STPR and has four straight podium finishes. Erik and Clarissa Votipka finished second in L2WD and 12th overall.

Along with Gruszka, several top drivers were forced to retire early. That included Pat Moro (suspension) and Hooper (KJ Miller), Julien Sebot (Steven Harrell), and Mike and Morgan Engle, who were fresh off their overall regional win at Ojibwe Forests Rally in August.

The Lake Superior Performance Rally will conclude the ARA's Green APU National Rally Championship on October 13-14. Up next for the American Rally Association is the ARA West Regional Prescott Rally in Prescott, Ariz., on September 29-30. Prescott will be run as two single-day events.


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