Salem, Mo. ~ Two of the sport's heavyweights went toe-to-toe this weekend at the Rally in the 100 Acre Wood. What started as a feisty Friday turned into a Saturday showdown in round two of the American Rally Association’s Green APU National Rally Championship.
After a spirited opening day in Missouri, only five seconds separated Subaru Motorsports USA’s Brandon Semenuk and Barry McKenna, who was making his season debut in the cockpit of his 2021 Ford Fiesta. Day two brought a similar narrative, with Semenuk setting the fast time on the first two stages, increasing his lead to more than 12 seconds.
But McKenna stormed back, picking up 14 seconds over the next three stages and overtaking the defending champion. But his spot atop the leaderboard was short-lived, as McKenna stalled out on SS15 causing him to lose 18 seconds. He would grab another four seconds on SS16 and win the Power Stage by 5/10ths of a second.
In the end, Semenuk was up nearly seven seconds over McKenna, thanks to his eight stage wins. It marks the defending champion's second win to open up the 2023 ARA season, and he enjoyed the pressure put forth by his 100 Acre Wood challenger.
“Barry had us on our toes the whole time,” said Semenuk. “We pushed like hell every stage from start to finish so it didn't come easy and his pace at the end of the day was pretty incredible. To be within basically 10 seconds the whole rally is just wild.”
McKenna’s mistakes may have cost him his first overall since the 2021 Southern Ohio Forest Rally, but he was energetic about his performance in his first event in 11 months.
“We stalled and dropped about 18-20 seconds,” said McKenna. “We only had nine miles to try and take it back. I think we got it down to about six and a half seconds and then we got the power stage by half a second.”
Patrick Gruszka would join the top two on the podium, his first trip to the national overall top three in his career. Gruszka also took hold of the RC2 points by pushing his Hyundai i120 to the class win. He and Tom Williams spent the weekend swapping positions in both the overall and class standings, but Gruszka was able to jump back into the third spot after Williams was unable to finish SS16 with a mechanical issue.
“Tom had a little bit of an unfortunate series of events when his engine decided to go,” said Gruszka. “But we managed to stay right behind him and managed to take that third place. It’s really nice to finally be on that third step on the podium after a long time being fourth, fifth, or sixth. The rally gods were on our side for this one so I'm super happy about that.”
Micah Nickelson sent a minor shockwave through the rally world by finishing fourth overall and winning the Open 2WD class. Nickelson pushed an amazing amount of speed through his 1986 Volkswagen Golf to reach the top five spot.
“We’ve been building this car for three and a half years and just developing it slowly over time,” said Nickelson. “We are finally getting something that's actually reliable and quick, that has a nice all-around package to it. Everything went well I mean it was perfect this weekend.”
Matthew Dickinson made his inaugural voyage to Missouri a success. Dickinson topped a talented LN4WD field that saw several different class leaders over the weekend. He saved his best for last, picking up 37 seconds over the final two stages to earn a ten-second class win.
“Just barely,” said a breathless Dickinson as he got out of his car. “It was a battle. I see why people love 100 Acre Wood so much. The roads are fun, and it was a tight battle between me and five other people. I'm at a loss for words. It's just great. It's fabulous.”
Chris Sladek took home the Limited 2WD honors at 100 Acre Wood. Sladek, who normally drives a 2022 Honda Passport at ARA events, got behind the wheel of his team's 2017 Honda Civic in Missouri. He has raced in this car in the past, including a winning co-driver run at STPR in 2018.
Defending ARA Central Regional champion Igo Dragnov was looking to open up his 2023 title defense with a win in Missouri, but Ryan Rethy paired a spectacular first day of competition with a strong showing on Saturday to win his second 100 Acre Wood regional (2021).
“It was my most adventurous rally,” said Rethy. Typically, I have no issues and come back to service, eat some snacks, and maybe check the oil. But every time we had something to fix. Today, our comms went out and we did two stages with James yelling. But we got everything fixed and we're able to push through.”
Draganov put the pressure on Rethy on Saturday, winning four stages to close the gap to 11 seconds at the end of the rally. Despite a fantastic drive, Draganov was appreciative of the close battle and friendly competition Rethy provided over the weekend.
“He had a fantastic pace all day and we tried to do what we could to catch him,” said Draganov. “We got a few seconds on him here and there, but in the end, he was a better driver. We are so happy to see that close battle unfold in front of us and to be part of it. I’ve never had such a close rally before.”
In the battle of ARA National organizers, Scott Putnam (Ojibwe) and Stephen Gingras (LSPR) also had a nice showdown for third overall. But a transmission issue pushed Gingras out of the third overall spot and Putnam was in a position to get it back. The podium, plus a runner-up finish at Nemadji Trail in December, puts Putnam atop the 2023 ARA Central Regional points.
Steve Bis finished fourth overall at 100 Acre Wood, followed by Michael Miller in fifth. Eric Patysiak took home the regional Limited 2WD win. Jordon Haberer won in Open 4WD and Levi Johnson picked up his first career class win by taking home Open 2WD honors.
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.