Salem, Missouri (March 15, 2019)
63 stage miles are in the books at the 100 Acre Wood Rally and the National Rally Championship fights are underway. Friday’s 10 stages showed the raw speed of ARA competitors with its long and flowing gravel stage roads. Much of Thursday recce’s flooding and standing water had subsided overnight, but the road surface was still soaked. The water held the road created a complex grip situation, challenging competitors to manage their pace on the fly.
Here’s how Day 1 of the 100 Acre Wood Rally shook out:
The Top 5:
David Higgins and Craig Drew ran strong on Friday to start their ARA championship title defense. The Subaru Motorsports crew won all but a single stage to end the day holding a 45 second lead to second place Barry McKenna and Leon Jordan. The M-Sport Ford Fiesta S2000 Turbo is quick in the corners, but just a few mph off on top speed. A further 30 seconds back in third are Oliver Solberg and Aaron Johnston.
This weekend’s event is Solberg’s first drive in a 4WD car on gravel, but you wouldn’t know it from his raw pace. The second Subaru held second overall for much of the day, but suffered a tire blowout after hitting a large rock pulled out on stage by another competitor. They lost 1 minute and a fender to the flat.
Fourth overall at the end of Friday, 3 minutes behind the podium positions, were Martynas Samsonas and Ervinas x in their Open 4WD class Mitsubishi Evo IX. The pair had a slow start to the day, taking a stage or two to get up to speed in the unfamiliar car. They also battled an intermittent boost issue. Despite the troubles, the team is 51 seconds ahead of Jeff Seehorn and Karen Jankowski.
The AMSOIL racers ran a fast day to open their 2019 season while battling Sno*Drift winners Piotr Fetela and Dominik Jozwiak. The two teams jockeyed for position throughout Friday. Seehorn and Jankowski hold the advantage by 11 seconds to start Saturday.
A Close Battle:
The fight for the Open 2WD lead between Mike Hooper and Claudia Barbera of River City Rally and Seamus Burke and Darraugh Mullen of JRD Rallysport heated up on Friday. The battle of the Lexus IS350 and the V6 MKII Ford Escort is tight, Hooper’s Lexus took 6 wins out of 10 stages to end the day with a 30 second lead.
But Burke was fighting broken power steering and an electrical problem. The loss of power steering was manageable in the high speed sweepers, but Burke struggled to get the wheels turned in the tighter super special stages. Burke dropped a total of 25 of those 30 seconds on the day’s two super specials.
Keep an eye on this fight going into Saturday.
Ken Block and Alex Gelsomino were running in 4th overall in their newly built Ford Escort Cosworth when they suffered an engine failure on stage 3. The team will not reenter the rally for Saturday.
Sno*Drift second overall finishers Cameron Steely and Preston Osborn drove a strong first loop of the event while in a battle for second in the Limited 4WD class. They came into the day’s service with with an engine issue that they resolved during the allotted time. But the damage became terminal just 3 stages later. They will not reenter the event.
Oliver Solberg – “The last Leg was okay, but the car in front had pulled out a stone on the exit of the corner. So when we came around that corner, I couldn’t really miss it. The tire then delaminated and we lost a minute. And the hood went up on the stage after that, so I couldn’t see anything, but I only lost a few seconds on that one. And the stage after that, we got a really good rhythm on that one and we won it by 3 seconds. On the last one we forgot the time and we checked in too late and checked in behind a slower car and got caught in the dust. Not the best. But It’s okay, I’m learning.”
Martinez Samsonas – “Sitting 4th overall, not good. Well, first is not really realistic, but first two stages I was sleeping maybe, then we could push a little bit more. Of course that’s a little bit tricky, because the surface of the stages is like tarmac, but then everybody cuts the corners and some corners you think you have the grip and others you don’t have the grip. Was kind of difficult to push the same in all of the stage, but fun. Tomorrow I think we will have more soft and slower. We have to fix the car a little bit, we think we lost turbo boost a bit on the last couple of stages. We’ll manage.”
Seamus Burke – “The power steering quit at the start of the 10 miles stage halfway through it came back again. The car was overcharging as well. We took a lot of time off Hooper on the first stage then the second stage he took time back and we caught some dust off a Subaru that was having a problem. We aren’t sure where we are right now, but tomorrow is another day.”
Dave Wallingford – “There’s definitely a weight lifted off my shoulders. A big sigh of relief of getting through the first day. I’m exhausted, I’ve been in a loud rally car and my ears are ringing, and I feel right at home. Looking forward to tomorrow, going to push a little harder and keep building up my speed in the R5 and getting faster and faster.”
Matt James – “We had a couple of mishaps on a couple of intersections. Didn’t really lose anything, 4 or 5 seconds maybe tops. Just kind of overshot a little bit. But if my math is right we should be second in class. I mean we aren’t going to catch Jeff and he’s just Jeff so…going to let him do his thing and we are going to do ours. Kind of in no mans land. Tomorrow is a completely different rally. We’re hoping to keep it clean and keep the car in one piece. I think that’s a lot of people’s plans tomorrow after seeing the recce. We’re going to go that route and hopefully secure second.”
David Higgins – “Obviously a tough day, lots of sweeping on the road. Thought the last loop would have had a clear line, with so many cars behind us, but their not doing the same tracks, so almost slippier than it was the run before. Just trying to keep it in the middle of the road. Haven’t got a really good feeling the car just yet getting a lot of understeer which is something we normally get. Need to work with the engineers and the boys and make it better for tomorrow. Basically just try and keep out of trouble and go as fast as we can without taking any risk really."
ARA - “Were you able to recce stage 5?”
David Higgins – "We and the other top guys went in from the other end. Takes more than a tree and a flood to keep us from getting into a stage!"
Barry McKenna – “Don’t know how much Oliver lost. The night stages, only had one in the dark. A bit of dust on it from David and took it cautious. Everything's going okay, but the car just isn’t going fast enough to catch the Subarus. Their cars have more top speed with a higher gear ratio and more stable on the fast sections.”
Jeff Seehorn – “Fetela and I are within seconds of each other on each stage. I think he got us on the last one because Solberg fell back and then we had some pretty bad dust and was hard to see. Been lots of fun, we’re leading our class and roads are fast and they are tricky because there are some pretty tricky crests you have to stay wide open through, but all in all car feels good and we’re picking up speed slowly. The roads are kind of weird, you can feel its kind of spongy with a lot of moisture underneath it. It kind of pulls and tugs the car around on the road and the second passes were slower when we thought they would be faster. I think the roads are kind of soppy and brought up a lot of the moisture. I think we have a hefty lead in class and just keep doing what we are doing and keep it on the road.”
Dave Brown – “We were out tearing up on the stages and then at the end of stage 4 we hit a bump and all of a sudden started getting misfires on the car. Pulled over, couldn’t get it to restart. Brought it back and took off the timing cover and everything off and it turns out there was a nut inside the timing cover that kicked up into the timing belt, skipped a few teeth on the belt, bent some valves, so we got it running and back together, but there is no compression on one cylinder. Better safe than sorry, so we’re going to call it a weekend. The first couple of stages we were absolutely flying, the car felt good, motor felt good. We were looking forward to doing good at this race.”
Mike Hooper – “Been really good . We started out not feeling the car really well. We got in the groove and the sun set and it’s been good. It’s always fun chasing Seamus. I think he had some power steering issues and a spin on the Super Special and that got us a glimpse and we’ve been pushing ever since. Did a massive Scandinavian flick, it was like the one we did at LSPR after the jump, but didn’t screw it up at the end this time. Dried out a ton today. Made it super fast and lots of grip. I think even though some of it is rough and tighter tomorrow I think it’s going to be fast.”
Photo/Video Credit: Subaru Motorsports USA (Top)