Olympia, Washington (October 7, 2018)
Patrik Sandell and Per Almkvist won a rain-soaked Tour de Forest Rally this weekend to take the ARA season finale for the yellow Subaru squad. The pair staved off a strong challenge from Subaru Rally Team USA teammates David Higgins and Craig Drew to earn their third victory in three appearances this season. Second overall and winners of the Limited 4wd class in front of their home crowd was the DirtFish Rally Team of Sam Albert and Michelle Miller. Matthew Dickinson and Daniel Piker of the El Diablo Rally Team earned their first-ever overall podium with a third place finish.
Revived after decades of dormancy, the Tour de Forest Rally brought with it a brand new challenge for ARA competitors. Two of its stages were brand new, many stages hadn't been run for more than a decade prior, and none had ever been run in their configurations this weekend. The final event of the ARA season leveled the playing field and made all teams write fresh notes for the event's 115 stage miles and 14 tests.
Adding to difficult of competing on new roads, typical Pacific Northwest weather soaked the stage roads throughout Friday and Sunday, filling large mud puddles and creating a slippy racing surface. Brief glimpses of sun on Saturday only managed to dry out forest clearings; stages under a tree canopy stayed slick throughout the weekend.
Coming into the TdF weekend, four championships had been decided with the Open 2wd trophy still up for grabs. Having already been crowned at last month's Idaho Rally, ARA overall champions David Higgins and Craig Drew set off on Saturday morning with a single goal, win the rally. They struck early, taking wins on three of the day's first four stages before mechanical troubles cost them two minutes, giving the rally lead to Sandell and Almkvist.
Though the issues could only be partially mended during Saturday's final service, Higgins and Drew pushed back on the day's final loop of stages; winning two stages and taking back 20 seconds of the deficit to close out the day. Sandell and Almkvist struck back on Sunday morning to win the day's first stage by 2 seconds. Then Higgins and Drew took it back, and then some, to close out the morning's loop of stages 1 minute 30 seconds behind the rally leaders. But the comeback wasn't to be for the champions, an off on Stage 12 ended their rally early. Sandell and Almkvist finished Tour de Forest at the Washington State Capitol Building holding a well earned first place.
A victory for the hometown team, Sam Albert and Michelle Miller of DirtFish Motorsports claimed victory in Limited 4wd class, their second of the season. Early in the rally, championship rivals Jeff Seehorn and Karen Jankowski seemed to have the advantage after taking a win against Albert and Miller on the rally's first stage. But the battle was quickly decided just a few miles later, when the Seehorn Rally Team went wide in a corner and rolled their car. The off promoted the DirtFish team to third overall and gave them the class lead, a position they quickly solidified over Matthew Dickinson and Daniel Piker of the El Diablo Rally Team.
Both remaining Limited 4wd teams drove consistent rallies in the wet weather to finish the weekend. By midday Sunday, Albert and Miller had a strong lead in the class and a podium position, while Dickinson and Piker staved off a late challenge from behind by Open 4wd class drivers Corey Salsbery and Phil Meyers to sit fourth overall and second in class. Both teams would advance one step on the podium after Higgins' off on stage 12 Albert and Miller moved to second overall, at the same time promoting Dickinson and Piker to third and their first-ever overall podium.
Seamus Burke and Martin Brady of JRD Rallysport earned their fifth win of the season at Tour de Forest and with it, the 2018 Open 2wd championship. The pair hit the ground running on Saturday, taking advantage of the day's dryer weather to earn an early lead over championship rivals Erik Potts and Claudia Barbera-Pullen. The Irish drivers won all eight of the day's stages in O2wd and climbed as high as fourth in the overall standings to close out Day 1 with a 2 minute 30 second lead in class. The story was reversed for Sunday, with Potts and Barbera-Pullen better adapting to the rainy competition day to beat their rivals on all six stages of Sunday's stages, taking 40 seconds back. But the early advantage gained by Burke and Brady was too much of a hill to climb, Potts and Barbera-Pullen finished second in the O2wd class.
The third step on the Open 2wd podium was earned by Dave Clark and Jamie Willets in their brand new E36 BMW M3. The pair fought a tight battle against Potts and Barbera-Pullen throughout Saturday to finish Tour de Forest's first day a mere 11.3 seconds behind. The fight remained tight throughout Sunday's competition. Clark and Willets drove hard to earn two O2wd stage wins, a strong drive to finish third in the class.
Naturally Aspirated 4wd class champions Blake Lind and Tricia Lind showed their championship winning pace this weekend at Tour de Forest. The husband and wife team finished first in class and sixth overall despite some late mechanical issues that nearly ended their rally on Sunday's final stage loop. ARA newcomer Leo Hughes finished second in the class in his second-ever stage rally. Hughes pressed on through the tough weather and a nearly crippling differential issue to finish the event.
David Sterckx and Jerome Humblet reentered Tour de Forest Rally for Sunday with special permissions to trailer the Side-by-Side between stages and service. Originally only slated to drive on Saturday, the pair set such a terrific pace on Day 1 that they were allowed to keep running and measure their pace against the competition in cars. The pair finished Saturday fourth overall and set top 3 times on several stages. All was going well on Sunday until Sterckx's visor fogged up, forcing an off and rolling the Side-by-Side. Both drivers were unhurt by the incident.
That's a wrap on the 2018 ARA National Championship Series. We'll talk more about the championship winners tomorrow and keep an eye on our news feeds Tuesday afternoon for the 2019 ARA schedule announcement. We think you're going to enjoy it.
Full results from the Tour de Forest Rally can be found on RallyData.com.
Photo Credit: Alex Wong