What Brandon Semenuk Learned from New England
Rallying is a very long learning process that requires years of dedication to understanding everything about your car, the stages, and the competition to really succeed. It’s not uncommon for an entire first season to be dedicated to learning, before using that information to start competing more seriously in later seasons.
One competitor still learning the ARA’s National events is current second place overall, Brandon Semenuk.
The second-year Subaru Motorsports USA driver may as well be re-living his rookie ARA year with the amount of new experience he’s getting. While he was able to get four events under his belt in 2020, that left out over half of the usual ARA National Championship, and even then a lot of the events were different than how they would be run this year.
Southern Ohio Forest Rally, his first event with Subaru, was only run as a one-night rally utilizing only two stages run three times each. His first victory at Show-Me Rally 2020 was hugely impressive, and even called “Higgins-fast” by team mate Travis Pastrana, but when it came time for the 2021 Rally in the 100 Acre Wood, almost none of the same stages were used.
The only full rally we’ve seen Semenuk return to this year has really been Olympus, where prior to an unfortunate off resulting in a retirement, he was trading first place times with Pastrana.
It has been both frustrating and exciting to watch Semenuk this year as he continues to impress, but the growing pains are necessary, and already starting to show their benefits.
DirtFish caught up with Semenuk after his podium finish at New England Forest Rally to discuss some of the learning process and how he has been improving.
“It seemed like any stage we went on to for the first time, like we haven’t been there before, so that first inaugural send through the stage was definitely a bit looser,” Semenuk explained. “Then if we had a second pass through those stages it ended up being a way cleaner drive and the times were getting quicker.”
The times back Semenuk’s claim up, stages that he was able to run twice he typically knocked somewhere around at least five seconds off from the first pass despite the far more torn up roads of the second loop, even managing to set the fastest time of the rally on Wilson Mills!
“Everyone was absolutely sending it so I’m really happy with my pace, and there were some stages where we were right in there, and then there were some stages where we were kinda off the back.”
“It was just really challenging to be on the exact pace of the other guys, I just felt like I was falling behind in some places. We were close, but I think that little bit of experience is going to really help next year.”
The biggest lesson learned by Semenuk from New England is the intense amount of precision and trust you need to have in your notes. Second-guessing will cause you to fall off pace, and sloppy driving will end your rally all together.
“(NEFR is) like a mid-summer rally but it’s also fast and kind of technical so everything’s really grown over and there’s a lot of gotcha’s and rocks and ditches and things on the insides and outsides of the corners.”
“You have to know exactly where to turn in and what corners are flat and not flat, and where to kind of be careful.”
“Those little hesitations throughout the whole rally is what I really struggled with and once it was like I got one stage out of the way, I could go back into that stage and I could start to find myself figuring out those areas where it was all good, and we could be more committed and change the notes a bit and things like that.”
Already looking to the future, Semenuk is hoping to have a better chance next year, and has confidence that after his first run at the rally he’ll be poised to put in faster times at his second time on the stages.
“Honestly I’d love to come back into this event again, and I think have a better chance to battle for top stage times,” he said”
“I think I just really needed that first experience here and I learned a lot this week so I’m stoked.”
Apart from Olympus, the most complete and similar event from last year will be Ojibwe Forests Rally coming up in just a few weeks. We’ll definitely be watching Semenuk to see how well he can hold a candle to the competition with the experience he gained from last year under his belt!