Goldendale, Washington (April 21, 2018)
David Higgins and Craig Drew lead the Oregon Trail Rally by just over a minute after two days of competition in the Columbia River Gorge. The Subaru Rally Team USA drivers extend their lead as teammate Chris Atkinson suffers a fire and a hard-charging Barry McKenna falls short in the second half of the day.
Starting the day with a mere 2.6 second lead and acting as sweep by starting first on the road, David Higgins and Craig Drew had their work cut out to maintain their lead. Early morning battles with Barry McKenna and teammate Chris Atkinson implied their position was under threat and a run-in with a herd of cows on Stage 7, the first running of Oak Flat, could have easily ended their rally. Though the cattle cones, acting as a moobile chicane, proved hardly a nuisance for the team. Despite the scare, the pair managed to extend their lead to a full minute by day's end.
Barry McKenna and Leon Jordan had a promising start to Saturday's stages. After finishing Stage 5, Dalles Mountain Uphill, within a second of the rally leaders, McKenna and Jordan struck even harder on the next loop, earning two consecutive stage wins. Not even a broken wheel could slow them down. The performance saw the pair move up to second place overall, a position they held to close out the day.
After taking the morning to settle into the twenty-five year old Escort Cossie, Ken Block and Alex Gelsomino found their pace for the afternoon loops. A minor setback on the second running of Maryhill Loops, Block suffered minor engine troubles and transited the stage, losing 45 seconds. A quick fix saw Block and Gelsomino back up to pace for the day's final stage. The duo now find themselves on the overall podium heading into Sunday's stages.
After a promising start to OTR and a stage win on Friday night, Chris Atkinson and Stéphane Prévot were dealt a harsh setback during the day's second loop. The pair suffered mechanical damage on Stage 7, Oak Flat, resulting in an under-hood fire. The flames were quickly extinguished, but Atkinson's day was over. Fortunately for Atko, an off-season rule change now allows Super Rally Rules at ARA events. Though now out of contention for the win, the Subaru rallycross star will run Sunday's stages with a substantial time penalty.
2017 ARA RO4WD champions Jeff Seehorn and Karen Jankowski hit the ground running Saturday morning and showcased the pace that won their championship last year. Opening up a nearly 4 minute gap to second in the Limited 4WD class, Seehorn and Jankowski find themselves matching stage times with Conner Martell and Robbie Durant in a higher-spec Open 4WD car. In addition to leading their class, the pair currently hold fourth overall 42 seconds back from Block and Gelsomino.
Travis Nease and Danny Norkus continued driving in their signature fast yet conservative style. The newly reunited pair spent the day steering clear of the mechanical issues that have befallen much of their competition. Nease and Norkus now have a large time buffer on both sides of their position, sitting 4 minutes behind first and 4 minutes ahead of third in the Limited 4WD class.
Krystian Ostrowski and Michael Szewczyk hold onto third place in Limited 4WD, just over one minute ahead of Nick Spencer and David Ma. The pair have been battling hard within both National and Regional Limited 4WD entries throughout the day.
O.D.D. Racing's Cameron Steely and Preston Osborn had a rough start to Saturday, breaking the right-rear axle on their car. The bad luck would follow them into the next stage, their day ending early after snapping another axle on Stage 6. Not comfortable with challenging a fast downhill stage with three-wheel drive, Steely and Osborn chose to end their day. The pair are looking to Super Rally tomorrow.
DirtFish drivers Sam Albert and Michelle Miller were forced to retire on Saturday's first stage, Dalles Mountain Uphill. The pair noted their car felt low on power throughout the stage before smoke began billowing from under the hood. The source of the smoke was an ignited front CV joint, resulting from engine mechanical issues. The fire was quickly put out, but not before a red cross had been thrown, closing the stage. The DirtFish team is confident that the car can be repaired before next month's Olympus Rally.
Jason Bailey and Leanne Junnila are proving that even the staunchest enemies can work together to win the day. The Canadian rivals have teamed up at Oregon, and two-third through the event lead their class by 45 seconds in their R2 Fiesta. Throughout the day, the pair have been trading stage wins with Erick Potts and Claudia Pullen. Rounding out the Open 2WD podium are Lucy Block and Krista Skucas. Running their first stage rally together since NEFR 2015, the pair started strong in the morning before their pace slipped later in the evening.
Jordan guitar and Brian Penza are running away with the Limited 2WD lead. The pair's pace has been so strong throughout the day that if entered as Open 2WD, the pair would currently be sitting third in that class. They hold a three minute lead over Hollywood stunt driver Eliza Coleman and 2017 ARA 2WD champion co-driver Rhianon Gelsomino. Third in class are Zach Lumsden and Tin Nyguen.
Photo Credit: Alex Wong (Top, 2, 3), Anonymous Cool Person (1)