Boise, Idaho (September 14, 2018)
Idaho Rally International kicks off tomorrow morning as a brand new challenge for drivers in the championship. Round 6 of the ARA championship also sees the introduction of a new type of vehicle to the competition, Side-By-Sides.
Run annually as a regional event since 2007, Idaho Rally has long been a favorite in the region for its challenging roads and forested desert scenery. 2018 marks the Idaho's first year as part of the national championship series, a distinction that makes the event an unknown for many competitors.
The roads of Idaho Rally are different than any other event on the ARA calendar. A strong departure from other rallies, the stages in Idaho are mostly tight and narrow, following mountain access roads and county highways that wind their way up mountains, along ridge lines, and through river valleys. Turns are tight, with minimal runoff, and dozens of hairpins are scattered throughout its 125 stage miles.
Handbrakes will be getting a workout this weekend though sliding will need to be kept in check. In many places, the racing surface is only 1.5 cars wide and lined with danger. Tall embankments on one side and a steep drop on the other are the norm and, in many places, trees that press directly against the road. Crests, kinks, and kicks are a constant challenge and will require careful driving to navigate.
Situated 30 miles northeast of Boise, Idaho Rally takes place in the dry foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Without significant rain during the summer months leading up to the event, dust will likely be a factor in the competition. Two minute dust windows for the field and three minute gaps for the top seeded drivers will be in effect throughout the weekend.
Forty Four teams from around the country will take on challenging Idaho stage roads this weekend. Several Pacific Northwest based teams have competed in Idaho before, an advantage they will hold among the competition. But the event is brand new for many competitors, an added challenge to an event full of it.
The big addition to the roster with ARA's return to the western US are Side-by-Sides. The specialized vehicles have taken the off road racing community by storm and will now take their first stage miles with the American Rally Association. Several drivers are entered in the SXS classes, most notably Brandon Semenuk and Stephane Verdier, two fast and highly-experienced drivers.
In Open class, David Higgins and Craig Drew come to Idaho as class champions and with the opportunity to win the overall championship. A finish of eight place, or higher, will see the Subaru Rally Team USA drivers mathematically lock up the championship. On the other side of the Subaru camp, Patrik Sandell and Per Almkvist return for the first time since their win at Olympus Rally ready to fight for the rally win.
The battle for the Limited 4wd class rages on in Idaho as the national class sees its strongest attendance since STPR. Jeff Seehorn and Karen Jankowski extended their lead in L4wd at Ojibwe, but the fight in the class is far from decided. Travis Nease remains within striking distance, despite a tough round at Ojibwe, while his DirtFish teammates Sam Albert and and Michelle Miller have the opportunity to capitalize on any of their competition's mistakes.
Cameron Steely and Preston Osborn of O.D.D. Racing will jump right into the middle of the L4wd fight, and returning for the first time since their third place finish at Oregon Trail are Krystian Ostrowski and Michael Szewczyk. Both teams are capable of disrupting the status quo in the class.
The Open2wd class sees an interesting battle developing in the latter part of the ARA season. Current class leaders Erik Potts and Claudia Barbera-Pullen are under direct threat from Seamus Burke and Martin Brady of JRD Rallysport. The teams are in similar positions coming into the weekend, both drive small higher powered cars driven at the rear wheels and neither team has competition experience here. Pace notes, commitment, and smart driving will make the difference here.
Podium regular Keanna Erickson-Chang comes into Idaho with a last minute co-driver change. Alison LaRoza will be sitting in for Rhianon-Gelsomino, who recently injured her shoulder.
Blake Lind and Tricia Lind come to Idaho fresh off a win in Ojibwe, both nationally and regionally. The dual entered team will likely solidify their championship this weekend.
Also solidifying their championships is Honda Maxxis HPD Rally Team driver Jordan Guitar. The single point garnered from starting the weekend will earn him his first ARA class championship. Co-Driver Brain Penza also has the opportunity to solidify his championship with a strong finish by the team.
Photo Credit: Tedrick Mealy