Wellsboro, PA (June 1, 2018)
After a short two week break, the American Rally Association crosses the country for the 42nd running of the Waste Management Susquehannock Trail Performance Rally.
STPR known for its long, narrow, and challenging deep forest stages, that push driver limits and punish lapses in concentration. Trees abut tightly against the twisting roads, creating tunnels through the Pennsylvania Forests where even a small drift wide can lead to disaster. The dense canopy creates bright sunbeams and flickering flashes of light, a constant source of distraction that drives must overcome.
128 Stage miles split between 15 stages separate teams from the finish in 2018. New for this year, the Mine Hole stage has been extended by several miles; the final forest stage now represents a 29.25 mile test of endurance. An additional challenge this year, rains over the last few days have created a partially slick racing surface and moisture is trapped beneath the canopy. Several spots along stage roads have standing or running water, matting down dust, but also wetting the clay surface of several stage roads, making them slick. A difficult combination with many of STPR's downhill braking zones.
Barry McKenna and Leon Jordan return to STPR after a disappointing outing two weeks ago at Olympus Rally. The pair finished Day 1 of Olympus leading the event, their first rally lead in the United States, before a mechanical problem ended their event the following day. McKenna and Jordan have a connection to STPR, last year, the pair achieved their first stage win on the Asaph stage.
David Higgins and Craig Drew of Subaru Rally Team USA come to STPR trailing in the championship behind Jeff Seehorn and Karen Jankowski. With the latter team is skipping this weekend, Higgins and Drew are likely to retake their ARA championship lead. The pair know how to perform at STPR, Higgins and Drew have won this event together on five different occasions and if Higgins wins this year, he will set a new record of eight individual wins at STPR.
Chris Atkinson and Stephane Prévot take back their spot in the second SRTUSA vehicle this weekend from Patrik Sandell and Per Almkvist. The Pennsylvania forests are a big departure from the pair's first ARA event at Oregon; now trading the large, sweeping, and open roads of the west coast for tight, narrow, and twisting stages in the east. But don't expect them to be slow, the former WRC competitors have a full event behind the wheel of the car and experience in similar conditions. Expect a strong performance so long as Atko's gremlins haven't followed him.
Making the trip east from Washington are DirtFish Motorsports drivers Sam Albert and Michelle Miller. The pair are currently down in the championship, but achieved their strongest-ever performance three weeks ago at Olympus, second in the Limited 4wd class and third overall. The performance shows they have the pace to fight for the championship and STPR will be their perfect opportunity to close the gap to Seehorn and Jankowski who are skipping this one.
Sharing the DirtFish stall are Travis Nease and Danny Norkus, currently second in L4wd class. Nease had an uncharacteristically aggressive performance last month at Olympus, trading his usual cautious driving style for a sideways and flat-out one. Will Nease and Norkus return to their old ways or was Olympus the start of a new Nease? Either way, they'll be looking to finish on the podium and a finish of second place or higher will see them take the L4wd championship lead.
Cameron Steely and Preston return to ARA competition after a tough Oregon Trail Rally. There, the pair broke several half shafts on their Subaru STI, forcing their retirement from Day 2 of the event. While they have experience at STPR, this will be the team's first time here in a 4wd car. This weekend will be perfect experience for the pair as they await their faster AWD build to be completed.
Seamus Burke and Martin Brady will be looking for a better STPR than their event in 2017. Last year, the pair lead this rally by several minutes in their V6 MKII Ford Escort, only to lose it all on the penultimate corner of the final super special stage with an off. Favorites in Open 2wd, the pair have a strong chance to win the event, provided they keep the car pointed between the trees.
Challenging them in 2wd are O2wd championship leaders Erik Potts and Claudia Barbera-Pullen. Last month at Olympus, the pair took their first O2wd win in ARA competition. They'll have their work cut for them, this year is Potts' first STPR. Fortunately, Barbera-Pullen is experienced at STPR knows her way through the forests.
Making the step up to Open 2wd is Keanna Erickson-Chang, this time driving with Alex Gelsomino. Erickson-Chang is a strong performer and has experience at STPR, including a win in the Limited 2wd class here last year. Year over year she’s been getting faster and Gelsomino’s experience will help the team fight for the O2wd podium.
Returning to ARA are L2wd class leaders Jordan Guitar and Chris Sladek of the Maxxis Honda HDP Rally Team. Guitar took an easy victory at Oregon, back in April, and will be looking for a repeat performance this weekend at STPR.
Photo Credit: Ryan Stermer (Top), Alex Wong (1,2)
About American Rally Association
A member-driven organization dedicated to the sport of Stage Rally, the American Rally Association provides a transparent, inclusive, and growing sanctioning body to competitors throughout America. A 501 (c)(3) non-profit and wholly owned subsidiary of the United States Auto Club (USAC), ARA is led by seasoned Stage Rally professionals who work hand in hand with an experienced Board of Directors to deliver a framework for safety, competition, promotion, and education for all aspects of the sport. The common goal of our members, volunteers, and organization is a thriving Stage Rally program in America.