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Semenuk Leads After Slick Friday at Southern Ohio

Chillicothe, Ohio ~ The first two days of the Southern Ohio Forest Rally presented by Wagner Subaru have drawn to a close after high-flying action at the Yoctangee Park Street Stage on Thursday Night, and a full day of tight, technical, and tricky stages in the Shawnee State Forest on Friday.

While rain earlier in the week has helped keep dust levels on stage to a minimum, the skies have been clear ever since the first car set off on SS1 Thursday night, and temperatures in the upper 70’s have made for a relatively temperate Southern Ohio compared to years past.

The action started as always at Yoctangee Park in Chillicothe, Ohio as the field of 61 competitors tackled the 0.96-mile Yoctangee Park Street Stage, and the stage-ending jump affectionately nick-named “The Yoctangle” at the packed viewing area outside of Chillicothe High School.

Cars competed not only for the fastest time on the short stage but also the biggest air possible, with Subaru Motorsports US drivers Brandon Semenuk and Travis Pastrana leading the way not only with two of the night's longest leaps but also the two fastest times to start off the rally, taking first and second respectively.

A Tale of Two BMWs

Per usual though, the first stage wasn’t without its casualties. This year two BMW E36s would go for maximum airtime, both cresting the top of the jump at over 80 miles per hour, and both pulling off the stage after finishing with oil coming from the newly formed cracks in their oil pans.

The first car was the M3 of Mike Cessna and Jamie Lambert, and the second was the 328i of Keenan Phillips and Salina Melotti.

Both crews would spend all evening commiserating and collaborating as they repaired both cars overnight to be ready for SS2 Friday morning.

Christian Laprad, crew chief for Phillips explained, “There was a crack in the oil pan kind of up high, so we were considering swapping the pan, but thankfully it was so high up on the pan, and such a simple a small crack that we ended up just JB welding it.”

“We didn’t lose much oil even with the crack, so as long as it’s sealed up and can keep some pressure it’ll probably be fine. He did more damage to the road than he did to the car, for sure!”

All in, the Phillips’ crew called it a night just after sunrise and got a few hours of sleep before heading back out to Friday’s service park at Portsmouth High School, but Cessna’s crew was up all night repairing their damage.

Cessna told ARA, “I went to bed about 2:00 am and got up at 6:00 am and the guys were still out there getting it ready, finishing the last few things. I couldn’t get the car to start afterward, we ended up finding a short on one of the cam sensors, but they ended up getting it running, so we sent it!’

Thankfully, both teams were able to help each other mend their machines, as Laprad said, “[Cessna’s] crew helped us a little bit and helped us assess the damage, we helped them where we could. So it’s pretty nice having two cars with the same problem, an unfortunate problem, but at least we could be side-by-side and deal with it together. It helped, it definitely made things quicker and easier!”

Slick, Tricky Roads Cause Issues for National Competitors

So with both cars fixed, and a full field ready to start, Friday’s stages kicked off, and the tricky roads of the Shawnee State Park set about causing close calls, motion sickness, and retirements.

Last year’s flowing stages were reversed and rerouted leading to what one competitor described as a “chunky” momentum that was hard to get used to. Slick and slippery conditions from rain earlier in the week mixed with a lot of marbles on the roads also threw multiple teams off as they fought to keep the car on stage.

Despite this, Semenuk and co-driver Keaton Williams started strong, pulling further ahead of the competition with each stage despite a broken windshield from an improperly latched hood flying up on a transit.

“It’s been a fun start,” said Semenuk at the Friday service after SS5. “Ohio always brings out the spectators, and this year even more so. [The stages are] quite loose today, but I feel like we managed it as best as we could. We had some other dramas on the first loop, but we managed that as well and now we’re here.”

“Hopefully we can get the car fixed up in service, and the stages should be a little cleaner for the next pass.”

Behind him, teammates Pastrana and Rhiannon Gelsomino were fast but had trouble with some of the higher commitment areas of the rally.

“I’m having a lot of fun,” Pastrana said. “I feel like we’re really good where we’re good, but with the downhills, slick pavement, and a lot of really slippy surfaces, I’m just not committing to the fast stuff on the downhill. There’s just big, big cement blocks on the inside, big cliffs on the outside. I haven’t gotten the confidence to really go, and it’s either you’re all in or you're not, so I’m losing a lot of time on those downhill sections, especially the tarmac stuff.”

Despite the time lost, Pastrana still sits second behind Semenuk at the end of day two of the Southern Ohio Forest Rally and is in a good position to stay on the podium after tomorrow's stages.

The RC2 class suffered heavily on the first loop with the PCRS Hyundai i20 Rally2 cars of John Coyne and Enda McCormack both having big offs that forced their retirements.

Pat Gruzska and co-driver Aris Mantopolous lead the class and currently sit third overall despite entering the rally just earlier this week.

“The car is handling everything like a champ,” Gruzska said, “and Aris, thankfully I called him on Monday, and in 14 hours he had a plane ticket to Columbus. So we have a few less guys than normal but thankfully we’re still competing.

“It’s really tough out here compared to last year. With everything reversed you just have to fight to keep the car on the road, and the marbles on top of it after it got resurfaced definitely doesn’t help, but we’re having some fun!”

The Savage Motorsport Ford Fiesta R5 of Dave Wallingford and Leanne Junnila sit second in the class entering day three.

Of course, the most anticipated battle of the national rally has without a doubt been that of the Limited 2WD class, as part of the field fights to take the lead in the L2WD championship, while the other part fights to play spoiler and steal away as many points as they can.

Coming into the rally it looked like the battle between Mark Tabor and Katheryn Hansen’s Ford Fiesta and Richo Healey and Michelle Miller’s Lexus IS250 as the two teams sat one point apart at the top of the leaderboards, but tragedy struck the Tabor camp when the Fiesta lost brakes on SS2, forcing a retirement. The team plans to return for Saturday’s action but will be unable to make up the gap caused by the retirement.

Healey and Miller aren’t in the clear yet though, A full field of competition isn’t going to let up, and the Lexus currently sits fourth after a long day of tight roads better suited to the Fiestas and BRZs of their rivals.

Chris Cyr and Glen Ray currently lead the class with an impressive performance that saw them over 30 seconds in the lead after SS6.

“This is a slick one,” Cyr said after the first loop. “We knew it would be slick, but it’s slicker than we knew. There were some guys off the road that were in front of us, one guy was in a tree in the middle of the road still, I could barely make it by them, it was a really sketchy part of the rally, I hope no one hit them on the way down, but its definitely slick, and so we’re trying to see what we can do to the setup to try to get some more grip out there, and get a chance to try it again.”

After winning the class at 100AW, but not having competed in other events yet this year, Cyr sits in the spoiler category this time around, but behind him, Championship hopefuls Roberto Yglesias and Sara Nonack are clawing seconds back heading into the final day.

“The rear end wasn’t really rotating in the first loop,” Yglesias explained after SS5, “so I didn’t feel confident. I was a little bit out of focus and out of rhythm, I was struggling with being in sync with the notes. I had to take it kind of easy and then drive a lot of the corners when I couldn’t throw the car in. We made little setup changes over the stages and finally, I think by the last one it felt better.”

Yglesias and Nonack are currently 27.5 seconds off of Cyr and Ray, but with more confidence in the car they’re putting more pressure on the current leader, and have a good shot at battling for the lead on Saturday's stages.

Third in class and also playing spoiler, Santiago Iglesias and Robert Kassel’s BRZ are fighting to take as many points from championship hopefuls as possible. Currently sitting third on the podium, they are in a good position to throw a wrench into not only Healey’s plans but also fifth place Alastair Scully and Alex Gelsomino’s fight as they currently sit tied in the championship with Yglesias and Nonack.

The Ford Fiesta Rally3 of Javier Olivares and KJ Miller sits fourth overall and first in the LN4 class. Their closest competition entering the weekend looked to be the Evo IX of Kenneth Johnsrød and Dyre Erling Halse Fredriksen, but despite being within just a few seconds of each other on the first two stages, Johnsonrød and Fredriksen retired due to mechanical issues before the start of stage three.

In their absence, Olivares and Miller are taking the time to learn the roads and enjoy themselves.

“Yeah, we’re sort of in no-mans-land again which is kind of okay,” Olivares said at the end of day two.

“[Right now] it’s mostly about getting to grips with the stages. There’s a lot to learn out there, lots of hairpins and a lot of slower stuff, real twisty and you don’t always get a lot of that so it’s good to go out and get as much of it under your belt as possible.”

Jim York and Gregg Duffy sit second in the LN4 class currently, with Madlyn Tabor and Sophia McKee in third.

Ryan Booth and Nick Dobbs have put their MkII Ford Escort in fifth place overall and first in O2WD at the end of day two.

“It’s been a steep learning curve,” Booth said of the switch to O2WD after a few years of RC2 cars. “The car is treating me well, but I haven’t treated the car very well.

“It’s mostly trying to know how much confidence I can have and how much speed I can carry through a corner, I’m still learning that. So the tight and twisty stuff, the kind of technical stuff, I’m really just learning where I can push it, and where I can’t, but as a driver, I’m definitely more confident in the technical stuff.”

Behind them, Micheal Hooper and Micheal Hordijk’s Lexus IS350 has been powering through the SOFR stages with a new differential that not only allows but requires Hooper to throw the car hard into each turn.

“I’m having a lot of fun,” Hooper said. “This year I’ve been trying to clean it up and be tidy, and we can’t drive the new diff that way so I’ve got the pass to do whatever the hell I want so we’re throwing it sideways every chance I get!”

The fan-favorite V8-powered MkII Escort of Seamus Burke and Martin Brady enters day three on the final slot of the O2WD podium.

National Classification after SS9

  1. Semenuk/Williams (Subaru) 1h04m16.9s

  2. Pastrana/Gelsomino (Subaru) +1m26.8s

  3. Gruszka/Mantopoulos (Hyundai) +3m02.7s

  4. Olivares/Miller (Ford) +7m08.4s

  5. Booth/Dobbs (Ford) +8m31.9s

  6. Wallingford/Junnila (Ford) +9m35.2s

  7. Hooper/Hordijk (Lexus) +10m33.5s

  8. Cyr/Ray (Ford) +11m58.2s

  9. Yglesias/Nonack (Ford) +12m25.7s

  10. Burke/Brady (Ford) +12m27.1s

GC Impreza Battle for Regional Win Heats Up

In the regional rally, Mike Cessna and Jamie Lambert’s BMW M3 led after the first stage despite the aforementioned damage done over the Super Special’s jump, but once the gravel stages came on Friday morning the four-wheel-drives found their way to the top and battle emerged between the NA4WD cars of Adam Kimmett, Dylan Gondyke, and Jon Kramer, as well as the lone O4WD entrants, Jordon Haberer and Drew Staples.

Gondyke would be the one surging ahead as he and Ben Chuong jumped into the lead Friday morning and have defended their position ever since.

“The first two stages, it’s hard to get any flow in them, Gondyke explained at service Friday. “There's a lot of ones that break things up, it’s not nice, so we felt like we were really pokey through that, and then stages three and four kinda opened up, you get a little bit more flow, a little bit of zen going through that.”

While their car has been mechanically flawless, it’s missing a fan favorite attribute; the musical horn often blasted by Chuong over jumps and through spectator zones.

“We were kind of devastated about the horn,” Gondyke admits, “we worked on it, no joke, two and a half hours between today and yesterday trying to salvage it and get it working somehow, and couldn’t get it, so Ben is a sad guy today.”

With three of Friday’s available seven stage wins Kimmett and co-driver Bryce Proseus sit just 20.3 seconds behind in second place.

Likely the most disadvantaged car in the battle, Kimmett’s Impreza 2.5 RS still has a standard motor making significantly less power than his competitors, but what he may lack in power, he makes up for in driving ability, as he is constantly keeping Gondyke on his toes with every stage finish.

Kramer and co-driver Jason Smith sit third overall and in class in their H6-swapped Impreza at the end of Friday’s stages. The pair suffered a small issue in the first loop when a small cut caused a big vibration to occur around 80 MPH on stage. While Ohio is a relatively slow rally, this made for some issues on the more open parts of the stages where top speed is vital.

Despite this, the pair is still in a good position to make the podium, or even move up in position the moment one of their competitors makes a mistake.

Lone O4WD entrants Jordon Haberer and Drew Staples have thrown their hats in the ring as well, spending a lot of their day in the top three before falling to fourth on SS6. Their 1994 Impreza is poised and ready to battle heading into Saturday’s stages and only sits 20 seconds off of third place.

Ryan George and Heather Stieber’s BMW M3 overtook that of Cessna and Lambert on SS2 for the lead in the O2WD class Friday Morning, but Cessna responded quickly, regaining the lead and maintaining it throughout the day despite a few overheating issues and suspicions of a head gasket letting go.

For Saturday, the team plans to take it easy and manage their now 1m31.6s gap over George and Stieber as they look for a win.

Third place in the class is currently held by Doug E. Shepherd and Doug B. Shepherd who kept the same pace as the leaders on the second loop in their 2003 Dodge Neon SRT4.

Josh Gitain and Dustin Yarborough currently lead the L4WD class in their Mitsubishi Evo IX, followed by the second-place team Nick Luther and Christopher Rotolo, and third-place James Pryzbylkowski            and Ethan Curtis.

Finally, Matt McGee and Lauren Lambert’s VW Rabbit leads the L2WD field by four minutes over the BMW 323i of Calvin Cooper and Michael Claiborne, but the 2017 Honda Civic of Chris Sladek and Charlie Discoe currently sits just 13.9 seconds behind them looking to overtake Saturday in the morning.

Follow along with us as we head into the final day of the Southern Ohio Forest Rally! Follow us on social media and on our website, and watch for our Media Partners DirtFish for updates as well!

Regional Classification After SS9

  1. Gondyke/Chuong (Subaru) 1h14m31.0s

  2. Kimmett/Proseus (Subaru) +20.3s

  3. Kramer/Smith (Subaru) +1m10.9s

  4. Haberer/Staples (Subaru) +1m44.1s

  5. Pryzbylkowski/Trajkov (Subaru) +2m47.8s

  6. Cessna/J. Lambert (BMW) +4m24.3s

  7. Coulter/Rogers (Subaru) +4m44.4s

  8. Girtain/Yarborough (Mitsubishi) +4.45.9s

  9. McGee/L. Lambert (Volkswagen) +5m26.4s

  10. Healey/Barnes (Subaru) +5m43.9s

~ Mason Runkel for the ARA

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


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