The 5 main stories to follow on Oregon Trail Rally
The American Rally Association presented by DirtFish National season is quickly gathering pace, and up this weekend it's one of the classics - Oregon Trail Rally.
As the only three-day event of the year, and the only rally to feature any meaningful miles on asphalt, Oregon Trail is a mammoth and diverse test for all competitors.
Running as the fourth round in 2022, championship pictures are beginning to take shape and right now it's last year's Oregon winner, Brandon Semenuk who has stolen an early march on the rest with two victories rom three this season.
But there are far more compelling storylines besides. Here are five reasons to follow this weekend's Oregon Trail Rally.
Can anyone stop Semenuk?
It could so easily have been the perfect start had Semenuk not suffered a mechanical issue on the penultimate stage of the Sno*Drift Rally back in February. But as it is, the action sports star is hardly in a position to complain with his lot having established an early championship lead over Subaru team-mate, and reigning champion, Travis Pastrana.
This weekend could likely be crucial in the race to become ARA National champion for 2022. A competitor's best six scores from a possible nine count towards their final championship total, so theoretically - with six rounds remaining - it's all still utterly undecided.
But with two victories already in his pocket, Semenuk has a jump on the rest. And given his run of form, winning three of his last four ARA starts (including Oregon last year) and leading the other, the Canadian has put the pressure firmly on the rest to respond.
Pastrana's title defense hasn't truly got going yet having missed Sno*Drift through injury and then struggling to match Semenuk and Ken Block on both the 100 Acre Wood and Olympus rallies. Block in his new Hyundai looks the strongest threat, but he must put the memories of his Olympus smash behind him, and fast, to be in the hunt.
Big weekend for the Blocks
Speaking of the Head Hoonigan in Charge, Block's i20 Coupe WRC is sporting a brand-new look this weekend. Will that bring with it a change in fortune?
Block has been fast, devastatingly so on 100AW Rally, but so far, the big results haven't quite come. If it weren't for a stray deer crossing the road on a flat out, blind corner on the last stage in Missouri, he would've won on debut in the car - and how might that have changed his momentum. He must beat Semenuk, which realistically means he must win, this weekend if he's serious about taking the title.
However, it's not just Ken from the Block clan to be keeping an eye on this weekend. Both Lucy and Lia Block are back in action in their respective Fiesta machines, and both are in a rich vein of form right now.
On just her second start in her new, four-wheel-drive Fiesta Rally3, Lucy turned in a standout 11th place overall last time out with her next target to break into the top 10. Fifteen-year-old Lia meanwhile scored a superb 17th in her Fiesta R2T back at Olympus.
Who's to say she can't go even better this weekend? Keep an eye out.
After exactly 12 months on the sidelines, he's back. Jeff Seehorn returns to the ARA in his Subaru WRX STI, but after upgrading it to Open class spec for the past few seasons he'll be back running in L4WD.
That's no bad move, particularly as it'll bring back memories of Seehorn's class title all the way back in 2018.
There'll be no repeat in 2022, simply as Seehorn isn't planning a full season, but despite his layoff it's all but guaranteed that he and Greek co-driver Aris Mantopoulos will be on the pace.
That won't come easily though given the strides in performance Dave Carpetyan has made of late, while Matt Dickinson and British driver Will Graham have also proved quick in the past as well.
One big battle lies in store.
Some asphalt thrown in
It's rare to see the black stuff in ARA, which is all but exclusively a gravel, forest series. So, when there are some stage miles on the asphalt it throws a different dimension into the mix.
Each year the famous Maryhill stage features on the Oregon itinerary - a classic ribbon of Tarmac that climbs with some jaw-dropping views - and is a real sting in the tail of the rally given crews tackle it with gravel tires and a gravel suspension setup.
But in 2022, for the first time in five years, they'll also be faced with the Goodnoe Hills stage on asphalt; meaning 50% of Saturday's eight stages will be held on Tar.
What's intriguing is Maryhill and Goodnoe Hills run in a loop of their own between service halts, so might crews be tempted to fit parts - if service time allows - for these two stages in order to increase performance?
Huge Regional battle
This weekend's Dodging Dysentery Super Regional Rally, running on the same stages as Oregon Trail, is the second round of the ARA West Regional series and a big battle is anticipated.
Having dominated the opening round at Olympus after two years off the stages, Sam Albert starts as the hot favorite in his Subaru but has another of Impreza rivals ready to pounce on any mistake - including Andy Miller, Josh Gierman and Andrew Reavis.
Alejandro Perusina brings a beautiful dose of variety to proceedings in his 2015 Toyota RAV4 and could be a real dark horse given the punishing reality of this rally.
Mark Tabor is another to keep tabs on while Julien Sebot (Ford Fiesta) and Todd Hartmann (Volkswagen Golf) start as the top two-wheel-drive contenders.