THE HISTORY OF ARA’S UNIQUE SEASON-OPENER
It’s not uncommon for a rallying season to get underway with a classic event. Certainly, the World Rally Championship does so with the Monte Carlo Rally, and the American Rally Association is no different with its own winter challenge: the Sno*Drift Rally.
Based in Atlanta, Michigan near the Great Lakes, the Sno*Drift Rally is a true staple of the American rallying calendar and each year tests the mettle of the country’s best drivers, who duke it out on stages akin to those of WRC Rally Sweden as temperatures plummet below 0°F. As the rally’s name implies, snow and ice is guaranteed although this can vary from lake-effect snow to packed snow, wet snow, dusted ice or sheet ice.
But crucially, as Michigan state law doesn’t permit studded tires to be used on the public highway, the crews have to thread their rally cars down the snowy lanes without specialist studded tires. You can learn more about that particular challenge later this week on DirtFish.
Running in the winter is unique for an American rally, but Sno*Drift also has another unique selling point in that it’s the only event conducted within a single county – Montmorency. This makes it one of the most compact on the calendar, which pleases competitors who never overly enjoy long transit sections in their rally cars.
While Sno*Drift can trace its roots all the way back to 1973, the event as we know it first ran in 1997 as the opening round of the American stage rallying season – and was won by Canadian ace Frank Sprongl.
It has proved a strong stomping ground for Canada’s finest, with Antoine L’Estage, Patrick Richard and Sprongl both winning the rally twice in their careers with Andrew Comrie-Picard and Jean-Paul Pérusse also bettering the challenge over the years.
But, perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s David Higgins who tops the roll of honor with four victories in Michigan. Of this year’s runners, Travis Pastrana has the chance to join his former Subaru team-mate Higgins on four victories while reigning ARA Champion Barry McKenna will be aiming for back-to-back Sno*Drift successes after his first win on the event 12 months ago.
The 2016 running in particular will live long in the memory however, as Piotr Fetela edged the similar Subaru Impreza STI of Troy Miller by just 0.6 seconds after close to two-and-a-half-hours of rallying.
Sno*Drift has long been a rally for the underdogs, as the lack of grip brings driver talent to the fore. You don’t need to have the fastest car to win the rally but, instead, a patient right foot and impeccable car control. It levels the playing field for the privateer entrants, meaning just about anybody on the entry list is in with a chance of winning.
Like all good rallies, Sno*Drift has an iconic stage that characterizes the event: Bonfire Alley. Held under the blanket of darkness, as the name of the test suggests, the sides of the road are littered with bonfires started by the spectators which creates a truly mesmerizing atmosphere that you have to see to believe.
The rally is a truly unique challenge and is more than befitting of its position as the curtain raiser to the American rallying season.