Semenuk leads SOFR as Block crashes out
Brandon Semenuk leads the Southern Ohio Forest Rally from Barry McKenna after Friday evening’s three stages, but rival Ken Block is already out of the contest.
Block led the rally after the opening 0.96-mile Yoctangee Street Stage in his Hoonigan Racing Division Subaru WRX STI, going over a second quicker than next-best Semenuk despite the brevity of the stage.
The Californian, contesting his second rally with the Vermont SportsCar-built Subaru, was quickest at the midway split point on SS2 – the rally’s first forest test – too but failed to make it to the finish as he crashed out.
It’s a devastating blow for Block and Alex Gelsomino’s fading American Rally Association presented by DirtFish National title hopes, as the pair have already missed one round and will miss the finale too due to a clashing commitment; therefore a non-score or bad start was precisely what they didn’t need.
Semenuk was the chief beneficiary, and despite being beaten by Subaru Motorsports USA team-mate Travis Pastrana to the stage win on SS2 Sunriser Vista, the Canadian racer held a 2.1-second lead over McKenna’s Ford Fiesta WRC and repelled the reigning champion’s advances on SS3 Brutus West to head to bed with a 2.9s advantage at the head of the pack.
“I feel like we had a pretty solid go, I wouldn’t say we were overall the quickest but probably overall the most consistent,” Semenuk told DirtFish.
“It was really slippery, obviously a lot of gotchas and Ken got caught out so pretty lucky to be back here tonight.”
McKenna, who missed April’s DirtFish Olympus Rally, was third fastest on both of the opening two stages and second quickest on the final of Friday’s three to remain well in contention, albeit somewhat surprisingly consistently a touch off the Subaru’s pace.
“I had a couple of just silly mistakes trying to settle back into the car, I haven’t been in it in a while but just looking forward to tomorrow,” admitted McKenna.
“The stages they were very good – slippy, I guess them roads don’t see a lot of traffic so tomorrow’s stages will be a lot better.”
Championship leaders Pastrana and Rhianon Gelsomino have suffered a difficult start to their weekend in Ohio.
Winners of all three of the National rounds thus far in 2021, Pastrana stalled his WRX STI off the start-line on SS1 which immediately cost him 10.4s to early leader Block and left him 24th overall.
But a gritty response on Sunriser Vista – where Pastrana beat everyone by 5.9s – launched him back into contention and left him just 3.4s behind Semenuk before SS3 in third spot.
However, things went away on SS3 as Pastrana lost 50.4s to his team-mate to trail by almost a minute in fourth overall ahead of Saturday’s 12 tests.
“Well we won the only stage we didn’t stall, but I’ve spent 45 seconds of my rally stage time trying to start the car,” Pastrana said. “That’s frustrating. We’ve got an awesome new motor, awesome new aero package but I’ve got to figure out how to drive it.”
His demise elevates Ryan Booth into third overall on his first ARA National event in the McKenna Motorsports Škoda Fabia R5+. In four ARA starts with McKenna and Block, that chassis is yet to finish off the podium.
“We’re just figuring it out, getting used to the new car,” said Booth.
“It’s awesome,” he continued. “We tested one day in the dry last week and it’s been raining ever since so it’s hard to get a good judge of it but we’ll see how the rest of the weekend plays out.”
John Coyne is an impressive fifth on his debut with the latest-generation Ford Fiesta Rally2, 13.3s up on Gary Donoghue’s Mitsubishi.
Two-wheel-drive leader Seamus Burke is seventh overall in his Ford Escort Mk2, narrowly ahead of Mark Piatkowski’s Subaru who has Ele Bardha just behind him. Dave Wallingford completes the top 10.