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  • Writer's pictureARA Staff

Semenuk/Williams Dust Off Day Two of Southern Ohio Forest Rally


Photo courtesy Trevor Lyden Photography/Subaru Motorsports USA


Portsmouth, Ohio ~ When organizers for the Southern Ohio Forest Rally drew up this weekend's event, they never would have promised competitors such temperate weather. In a region where high heat and humidity can rule the day, the fifth round of the American Rally Association's Green APU National Rally Championship was met with a meager mid-70s and sunny day two of competition.


What wasn't figured into the start of the day was heavy dust, brought upon by a mild drought and discernably no winds on Friday. With 70 cars on the narrow, technical roads near Portsmouth, Ohio, the dust hung in the trees, causing visibility issues for everyone behind the first three cars. That lingering lack of sight forced event officials to institute an extra dust minute, allowing for better vision over the day's eight stages and 64 miles of competition.


Brandon Semenuk and Keaton Williams picked up where they left off at the Oregon Trail rally. The Subaru Motorsports USA tandem was perfect in Oregon and continued to set the pace in Ohio. They came into the day with a half-second lead over Paul Rowley and Darragh Mullen after the single-stage Super Special that was run in Chillicothe on Thursday night. Being first on the road on Friday gave them an incredible advantage, and they took care of business, opening up a 32.1-second lead over Tom Williams and Ross Whittock after Friday's first stage. Semenuk and Williams held that fast pace all day, winning all eight stages and ending the day with a 5m 40sec lead heading into Saturday.


Photo courtesy Trevor Lyden Photography/Subaru Motorsports USA

"It was a productive day with some tricky conditions out there, but we managed it well," said Semenuk. "It was definitely hot in the car, but we enjoyed every moment. Hopefully, tomorrow it will be a little bit better on the sweeping front, and we can carry a good rhythm and pace, just like today."


Williams and Whittock were extremely quick all day, setting the second-quickest stage times in seven of the eight stages. But they had a rough go on SS5 when they spun their Ford Fiesta off stage, where they had to get tugged back on stage before finishing more than eight minutes behind the lead car. They continued to push and climbed back to seventh overall but still fourth in RC2.


That positioning is mainly due to the skilled driving by the three men between him and Semenuk. Patrick Gruszka and Florian Barral fought through the early dust impediment and greatly approved on the second loop, ending the day second overall in their Green APU-backed Hyundai i20.


Photo courtesy Kevin Simpers

"Going out for the first loop, it was very dusty, so it was not very fun," said Gruszka. "We talked to the organizers multiple times before every stage started to increase the gap. We got it back for the second loop, and overall, we can't complain. The car is good, second overall, with a big gap to the front and big gap to the guy behind us. Tomorrow we are just going to come out and manage the rally. I think Tom's our biggest threat right now. I think we have to stay within 27 seconds in order to keep him behind us, so as long as we don't lose more than that tomorrow, we will be fine on every stage."


SS5, and equally important, Williams foray off road, caused several time changes at the end of the day and, thus, several position swaps. An unexpected SOS from a stage marshal resulted in officials giving nominal time to all cars on the stage behind Gruszka.


That was a direct benefit for Allen Dobasu and Jared Hudson, who are having success breaking in their 2023 Ford Fiesta Rally2 this weekend. There is a pack of seven or eight cars running similar times on each passing stage, and Dobasu and Hudson were in the mix all day, capping the eight stages third overall and second overall in RC2.


Enda and Liam McCormack (Hyundai i10 R5) will head into Saturday fourth overall and third in class (RC2). Much like Gruszka, they, too, found faster lines on the second running of Friday's stages to push them into podium contention. Pat Moro has also been part of that aforementioned grouping and will head into Saturday fifth overall.


ARA 2020 National Overall Champions Barry McKenna and co-driver Leon Jordan were storming through the stages in their 1977 Ford Escort Mk2 and were leading the Open 2WD class before they stopped late on SS8 and did not return.


Photo courtesy Kevin Simpers

That temporarily put the Michael Hooper and Michael Hordijk team into the class lead and sixth overall. But the adjustment to SS5's time was a considerable benefit to Lia Block and co-driver Rhianon Gelsomino, moving them into the class lead and sixth overall. The Block House Racing duo found their groove on Friday's second loop, winning the final stage and closing a nearly one-minute gap behind Hooper down to only 14secs, but the new time on SS5 gives them a 52sec lead over Hooper. Seamus Burke and Martin Brady also have their 1977 Ford Escort in the mix, just 12secs behind Hooper in eighth.


In other National action, Tim Rooney and co-driver Michel Rossey lead the LN4 class, while Chris Sladek and John Sharps remain the lone standing Limited 2WD car in the field. In all, 14 of the 30 national cars did not finish the day (Lucy Block/Alex Gelsomino did finish the day ninth overall but have withdrawn from Saturday's competition).


In ARA East Regional action, it's a showdown for the overall between the two drivers that have won three of the past four SOFR regional overalls.


Photo courtesy Kevin Simpers

2022 SOFR winner Adam Kimmett and co-driver Krista Skucas nabbed five stage wins on Friday and headed into the clubhouse with a 58.6-sec lead over Kramer and co-driver Jason Smith.


Kramer did pick up six seconds on the last stage of the day, his only stage win of the rally. The 2023 Sno*Drift winner ran his final four stages roughly two miles per hour faster than the first loop of stages.


Phil Wean and KJ Miller were sitting second overall but were a Temporary DNF on SS9, hoping to return on Saturday. Rally in the 100 Acre Wood Overall regional winner Ryan Rethy and co-driver Dan Zopatti are sitting third overall on their first trip to SOFR. Martin Spanhel and Zuzana Lieskovcova are 19secs behind Rethy, and Kevin Allen and Liz Cordara round out the top five, only 6.1secs behind Spanhel.


In Open 2WD, Ryan George and Heather Stieber are 1.2secs ahead of Daniel and Samantha Downey for the class lead. Matt McGee and Lauren Lampert have their 2008 Volkswagen Rabbit in position for the L2WD class lead. George Georgakopoulos and co-driver Vivin Vimal are atop the regional O4WD class.


The ARA's Green APU National Rally Championship will wrap up the Southern Ohio Forest Rally on Saturday with 11 stages and 58.18 stage miles. SOFR will have a Parc Expose in downtown McArthur at 10 AM.


In conjunction with Green APU, live event coverage of the 2023 Southern Ohio Forest Rally can be found in partnership with DirtFish and its DirtFish Live Coverage. Exclusive content, including rally updates, video coverage, and interviews, can be found all weekend long at: https://dirtfish.com/tag/dirtfish-live-center

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