Service Crew to Class Winner: Establishing a Place in the ARA
A maiden win in the LN4 and NA4WD classes on New England Forest Rally marked Arek Bialobrzeski’s first time on top of a rally rostrum since the 2018 Rally America Central season finale, and his first victory in an American Rally Association presented by DirtFish National championship event.
Rather unusually for an ARA round, the highest placed American on NEFR was down in 10th place. Five nations appeared in the top nine, including Poland’s Bialobrzeski. He has been on the US stages for several years but started his rallying involvement in his home country, where 2013 WRC2 champion Robert Kubica and three European Rally champions have also come from.
“I started rallying back in Poland in my town,” Bialobrzeski told DirtFish. “And I was always helping with practices, then a little bit with the crewing for friends.
“Then when I came to America I didn’t find anything for first two years, then I found a local team that I started working with, worked as service crew for multiple years.
“And then I said eventually, ‘OK, I want to build my own car and start running’. So that’s what I did. I collected a lot of money and then built a car, and from that point we started driving and now we’ve [done so] every year.”
In 2016 he came second in the Rally America East regional series, and sixth in the national championship in 2018. That position was also his best result on a national-level US rally, set on the 2018 Sno*Drift and Lake Superior Performance Rallies, which he matched on this year’s Southern Ohio Forest Rally in ARA.
On NEFR last weekend he came seventh overall, but this time there was nobody else in class ahead of him.
“I really like NEFR, I’ve been here a couple of years already,” added Bialobrzeski. “That was actually my first rally crewing when I came to America.
“I’ve always loved it, always loved the neighborhood here, and I knew that from the beginning when I went to build the car, that’s the event that I want to run in. And I really liked the stages, always had fun on them, we always did good. [The NEFR Saturday] was really a fantastic day for us, we really had a blast on all the stages.”
One stage in particular that caught drivers’ attention was Concord Pond, run twice to start the rally, which featured a huge jump.
“The first run on it – I always call the first stage a shakedown for me, so I have to get into the rhythm – but we come through that jump like really flat-out, and at the landing we both decided that was way too fast, too much for us,” said Bialobrzeski of his and co-driver Aris Mantopoulos’s reaction to the jump.
“So on the second one we actually slowed down a little bit, and it was a much better time overall and we enjoyed the stage a bit better.”
Mantopoulos, who competes under the Greek flag, added: “There was a lot of expletives after Concord Pond, especially after the first run, and the second run. I think both times. We had a great time. “It’s been so much fun to develop with Arek, we’ve done approaching 15 events together, so it’s fun to connect and develop together, and learn together, and get first place here at NEFR.”
For other drivers looking at moving to America and establishing a rallying career there, what advice does Bialobrzeski have? “Probably the road I did,” he said. “Start with some teams, come help us – we’ll take everybody, you know. Have fun with us. “We’ll take the crew, and we show how it looks from inside. And then you get hooked, and then all of a sudden you want to drive as well.”