Semenuk and McKenna Locked in on Opening Day of Rally in the 100 Acre Wood
Potosi, Mo. ~ The sun shined through on Friday for the start of the Rally in the 100 Acre Wood, which officially opens up today in Potosi, Mo. The weekend in Missouri marks the second round of the American Rally Association’s Green APU National Rally Championship, and an overall battle see-sawed its way through the first eight stages.
Sixty-seven cars left Potosi’s Parc Expose on Friday, a final salute before those teams tackled the 115-miles of gravel-packed stage roads that wind through southern Missouri and include parts of the Mark Twain National Forest.
Competitors raved about the high-quality of the roads, saying they were in great shape, and coming to a consensus that the roads would be “quick” this weekend. They also discussed the two new stages, specifically the opening stage, Cubb Creek West. The 4.15 mile road offers up a lot of twists and turns, and its speed will be tied to several areas of caution that could bring early trouble to competitors.
Defending series overall champion Brandon Semenuk and co-driver Keaton Williams were in charge of sweeping the stages on Friday and found enough grip and speed to head into the overnight break with a 5.3 second lead over Barry McKenna and Leon Jordan.
It’s a tight lead, and even at just a five second difference, it was a teeter-totter day between the top two drivers. Semenuk controlled the first two stages, but McKenna edged the Subaru driver out by just one-tenth of a second on SS3, and four seconds on SS4. They would end the first loop just five-tenths of a second apart. After the service, Semenuk would tally three-straight stage wins, but McKenna got the last stage of the night to pull back within five seconds of the leader.
“I really thought that the first stage was going to be the stage he would take time from us and then stage four was the stage I thought I'd take time from him,” said Semenuk. “But it was a good race and it’s awesome to have a close battle like that. I felt like we were carrying speed through everything, and I was really happy with how the stages felt. It seemed that when the roads cleaned up, the car seemed to be a little bit quicker.
After an extended time away from ARA competition, McKenna and Jordan were quick out of the gate. Their three stage wins were an indication of the speed and talent the pair holds inside the 2021 Ford Fiesta, as well as a nod that they will have to be equally as clean on Saturday.
“We didn't actually realize how close it would be this morning,” said Jordan. “It was a shock to us after being out of the car for 11 months, but Barry looked good. Brandon knows when to turn up the wick as well so, tomorrow will be a good battle.”
Patrick Gruszka and Florian Barral find themselves sitting third overall, and first in a competitive RC2 field. They used a quick second loop to gain the position, and the edge over fellow RC2 competitor Tom Williams.
“Wed were more in a rhythm, so I decided to push a little bit harder,” said Gruszka. “I was trying to find my limits, and to be honest, I haven't found them yet. So that's a good thing but at the same time it's a little scary because I know there's a lot more in the tank.”
Williams ended day one 18-seconds back of Gruszka, but he and co-driver Ross Whittock did pick up a pair of stage wins on Friday. Much of the early grip he had went away as the rally entered the second loop. As his traction went away, he found himself in no-mans-land over the final three stages.
“Going into the real high speeds stages, we just lost that little edge,” said Williams. “You have to be at the absolute maximum attack on these stages, or not at all. We were in the in-between area which is more like the danger area of course. We were constantly having moments, got sideways and just lost our rhythm.”
Open 2WD driver Micah Nickelson sits about one minute behind fifth place driver Alejandro Pursina. Nickelson wrung just about every last drop of speed out of his 1986 Volkswagen Golf on Friday on his way to a commanding lead in the Open 2WD class. Nickelson, who took the class win at Sno*Drift last month, finds himself two and a half minutes ahead of Michael Hooper, who has won this event twice. Hooper found a rock not to his liking on the second loop, giving him an opportunity to work on his tire-changing skills.
“We found a big rock on the first stage but didn’t on the second loop, and it was like cooler sized,” said Hooper. “We lost some time but we’re climbing back and trying to get up a couple places. Micah is flying. There's no catching him, he’s wide open. We're just going to try to stay there and keep running the speed we are and see where we end up.”
Jacob Despain and Arek Bialobrzeski are in a tight race for NA4WD supremacy at 100. Despain holds a two-second lead heading into Saturday’s action. Chris Sladek holds the edge in Limited 2WD by 58-seconds over Nathan Odle.
In ARA Central Regional action, Ryan Rethy and James Dallman are leading the way towards the overall. They will move into Saturday with aa 25.7 second lead over defending ARA Central Regional overall champion Igo Draganov and his co-driver Vladimir Yanev.
In the battle for third, ARA national event organizers Scott Putnam (Ojibwe) and Stephen Gingras (LSPR) are separated by nine points, with Putnam currently in third overall in regional competition. Nick Balzer and his co-driver Jon Schrage are resting tonight in fifth.
The 2023 Green APU National Rally Championship will feature eight national rounds, starting in February and finishing in October at the Lake Superior Performance Rally. The ARA also offers up three regional championships across 21 events. To learn more about the ARA, go to https://www.americanrallyassociation.org.