Preview: Southern Ohio Forest Rally
After two back-to-back west coast events, the American Rally Association presented by DirtFish National Championship heads back east to the still-fresh Southern Ohio Forest Rally.
SOFR joined the National calendar for the first time in 2020, and each year has expanded by another day - adding more stages, more competition miles and more excitement along the way.
The 2022 running of SOFR sees a full day of new stages to the National championship on Saturday, a dedicated day to the Yoctangee Park super special on Thursday and many of the roads we already know and love on Friday.
With 78 entries planning to tear up the Ohio Valley hollers this weekend, competition is sure to heat up on some of the ARA’s most technical stages.
Here’s what you need to know to follow along with the Southern Ohio Forest Rally.
There are 34 competitors signed up to battle for overall and class wins in the National event.
As always, Brandon Semenuk and Travis Pastrana will be battling Ken Block’s Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC car with their Vermont SportsCar WRX STIs. While the i20 is a more suitable car for this type of rally, Pastrana has made some serious setup changes to his Subaru in hopes of gaining ground.
Ready to spoil a Subaru and Hoonigan podium, Pat Gruszka’s Mirage and Pat Moro’s much beloved LS-powered Chevy Sonic are small, nimble and ready to pounce at a moment’s notice.
Also able to jump on podium, RC2 competitors Dave Wallingford, Enda McCormack and last minute addition Will Hudson are ready to try to hold their own against the Open 4WD monsters at the top of the field on Ohio’s twisty stages.
On the subject of four-wheel-drive cars, we have to look at the LN4 combined class which boasts 10 entries with plenty of favorites to boot. Dave Carapetyan, Mark Piatkowski, Klim Fedoff and Dylan Murcott are all well prepped to battle for first on these stages, but this is easily one of the closest classes in the event, with Tim Whitteridge, Phil Wearn, Tim Rooney and more all so close to each other in speed factor.
In the O2WD class, Micah Nickleson in his humble Volkswagen Golf MkII is looking to regain the championship lead from Derick Nelson who, while absent from SOFR, was able to put in massive points on the west coast.
Nickelson will have his work cut out for him though, as he has to fight three boss battles - one against Seamus Burke’s famed V6 Escort Mk2, one against the IS350 of Michael Hooper and one against the R2T Fiesta of Cam Steely. On top of this, Nickelson has competition from Lia Block’s R2T, Michael Hordijk switching to the drivers' seat for the first time since SOFR last year and of course Tim O’Neill in his stunning AMC AMX among others.
Finally, L2WD has all of the big players ready to go for points in the L2 Cup. Current leader Paul Dickinson looks to hold off Alex Ramos’ Acura Integra in his Fiesta. Ready to run away is Roberto Yglesias’ R2 Fiesta, who showed incredible pace last time out in Oregon.
Nathan Odle and son Elliot Odle are ready to play catch-up in points in their River City Rally IS250, and Santiago Iglesias looks to put his beautiful BRZ above all of them.
The Regional entry has a massive 44 cars - the stand-out of which is Alejandro Perusina who returns in his AP4 Toyota Rav4 after a win in the Dodging Dysentry Regional Rally in Oregon.
While in Oregon Perusina was battling with Sam Albert’s blob-eye WRX, here his five biggest threats are all GC Imprezas.
Jon Kramer’s Impreza 3.0 RS is outfitted with an H6 motor, giving it huge power, and making it ready to take on the Rav4, while Adam Kimmett, Dylan Gondyke and TJ Pullen all trail with the next highest speed factors, placing themselves as the biggest competitors in NA4WD as well. Jordan Harberer sits among them in the starting order, only with an O4WD Impreza rather than a naturally aspirated one.
L4WD will be a tight race between Tony Gearheart, Nick Balzer and Tom Mayer who all have a speed factor within one point of each other. While Gearheart and Balzer each sport 2004 Imprezas, Gearheart’s is an STI, while Balzer’s in a WRX wagon. Mayer will be in a bug-eye looking to take them on and prove his side of the generational Impreza wars.
O2WD has 11 entries, without much more than 10 speed factor separating most of them. At the top is Alexey Kuklov’s BMW 328, followed by Ryan George’s BMW M3 and Adam Vandamme’s BMW 325. Al Dantes Jr and Keegan Helwig return in the LS-powered RX-7 'Rexine' to take down the BMW crowd. As a personal favorite, John Arthurs is debuting a four-cylinder 1979 Foxbody Mustang.
Lastly, L2WD is also a large class with 12 cars entered. The three favorites in the class are very closely matched in very different cars - Luke Horrocks’ 1997 VW Golf GTI takes on Michael White’s 1986 Saab 900, and Chris Cyr’s 2011 Fiesta will be in a close battle as well. Possible underdogs include Chris and Sara Nonack’s BRZ and Michael Eckstein’s River City Rally IS250.
Thursday comrpises just 0.96 stage miles on asphalt for the Yoctangee Park Super Special. The road winds quickly through the park before ending on a smooth jump by a huge spectator area.
On Friday the real action starts as drivers will face over 64 stage miles across two loops of four stages each. SS2, Saddle Up, will start in the late morning at 11.23am and the cars will roll back into service around 1.10pm.
Another run at the same four stages will see them ending at 4.25pm, and getting ready for the day of new stages on Saturday.
Those Saturday stages will begin with SS10, Courtney’s Webb at 12.18pm, meaning plenty of time to fix the car and recover from the previous night. Another one-service day, cars will roll back in at 2.22pm to change tires and reprep before heading out an hour later.
SS16, America’s Best, will be the powerstage for this event. The 13+ mile stage is new to most of the competitors, as it hasn’t been used since the event was a Regional rally. The same applies to most of the stages on Saturday.
Finally, cars will roll back in at 5.52pm to get ready for podium celebrations.