Salem, Missouri (March 17, 2019)
Barry McKenna and Leon Jordan of McKenna Motorsport won the 2019 100 Acre Wood Rally this past weekend in an incredibly close finish. The M-Sport Ford Fiesta S2000 drivers bested US rally newcomers Oliver Solberg and Aaron Johnston of Subaru Motorsports USA by a mere 6.8 seconds to earn their first win in American Rally Association competition. David Higgins and Craig Drew rounded out the overall podium in third after overcoming electrical issues late in the rally.
Round 2 of the ARA National Rally Championship Presented by AMSOIL brought intense competition and a lot of surprises throughout the field. 75 rally teams took on 125 miles of Missouri stage road outside of St. Louis this weekend, with stage mileage evenly split between 10 stages on Friday and 6 on Saturday. Rainy weather in the week leading into the event set the stage - soaked road surfaces, big water splashes, and rough dried out sections dotted the racing surface. The conditions made the traditionally fast gravel roads of the 100 Acre Wood Rally tricky to drive by sapping drivers’ confidence through unpredictable grip levels.
The fight for the overall podium steps was primarily between three cars; Barry McKenna and Leon Jordan of McKenna Motorsport, defending ARA champions David Higgins and Craig Drew and their teammates at Subaru Motorsports USA, 17 year old rally phenom Oliver Solberg and Aaron Johnston.
At first, the Subarus had the advantage, Higgins and Drew won 6 of 10 stages on Friday to take a 45 second lead by the end of the first day of competition while Solberg and Johnston took wins on a further 3 of Friday’s stages. Solberg was the first to run into trouble, when midway through Friday he clipped a large rock that caused a tire blowout. McKenna and Jordan took advantage of Solberg’s struggles to finish Day 1 holding second overall with time in hand.
The battle between McKenna and Solberg continued throughout Saturday’s 6 stages and 63 stage miles as the two traded stage wins behind a leading Higgins. But on stage 14, a big shakeup at the front saw McKenna take on the rally lead and Solberg move up to second as Higgins was forced to stop on stage for 5 minutes with an electrical issue.
The McKenna in the Ford entered the final stage loop separated from Solberg in the Subaru by 45 seconds with just 2 stages and 22 miles to the finish. Solberg pushed hard to take 15 seconds on the penultimate stage, putting pressure on McKenna. On the final stage of the rally, a spin for McKenna nearly ended it all, but a quick recovery saw him cross the flying finish while holding a 6.8 second lead.
The win is McKenna and Jordan’s first in the American Rally Association. While they’ve won stages at nearly every event they’ve driven and held multiple rally leads in the past, their best drives have been cut short by bad luck until this weekend.
Sno*Drift Rally winners Piotr Fetela and Dominik Jozwiak of the Fetela Rally Team took fourth overall at the 100 Acre Wood Rally. The pair fought a hard battle against 2017 and 2018 Limited 4WD (L4) champions Jeff Seehorn and Karen Jankowski of the AMSOIL Seehorn Rally Team throughout the Friday and Saturday morning. It was a close fight, but it unfortunately ended with Seehorn’s retirement on stage 13 due to an engine failure. The fourth place finish maintains Fetela and Jozwiak’s lead in the National Rally Championship.
Fifth overall and first in the L4 class were Paddy Brennan and Matt James in the RKT Motorsports Mitsubishi Evo IX. The pair ran a consistent and clean rally while battling sixth overall finishers and second in class Tim Rooney and Anthony Vohs of PMR Motorsport. Brennan held the advantage for much of the weekend, but was almost caught by Rooney on Saturday morning after trying to run at a position maintenance pace. Rooney used the opportunity to gain over 30 seconds on Brennan, but it wasn’t enough to take the class lead.
The battle for seventh overall and first in Open 2WD (O2) was one of the most exciting fights we’ve seen in ARA. Lexus IS350 drivers Mike Hooper and Claudia Barbera of River City Rally brawled the entire weekend with 2018 O2 champion Seamus Burke and Darraugh Mullen in their JRD Rallysport USA prepared V6 MKII Ford Escort.
Neither team held an advantage of more than 30 seconds at any point during the rally as both drove at their limits for 125 stage miles. The drivers jockeyed for position on Friday morning, until Burke’s Ford Escort lost power steering midway through the day. The advantage went to Hooper, who used the opportunity to take the class lead - a position he fought to maintain for the rest of the rally.
But Burke never backed off, narrowing the gap from 30 seconds at Saturday’s start to 16 by the rally’s final stage. Burke pushed so hard over the rally’s famous Cattle Guard Jump that he damaged his front left suspension on the landing, sending his front left wheel to 45 degrees positive camber. He finished the last mile of stage road after the incident and transited 15 miles back to the podium to finish second in O2 despite the damage.
Ninth overall and winners of the Naturally Aspirated 4WD (NA4) class were newlyweds Nate and Marianna Usher in their Subaru WRX wagon. A recently replaced motor increased the team’s performance while also enhancing the reliability of their car. The new setup returned a fast and trouble free rally for the team to give them the class win.
Rounding out the top 10 and finishing third on the L4 podium were Adam Short and Rebecca Ruston driving a Subaru WRX. This team was also excited to have a newly reliable car; Short had been chasing a fuel delivery issue for 2 years before solving it for this weekend’s event. The team was so confident in the new setup, that Short was excited to have broken an axle on the Cattle Guard Jump by sending it too far.
While 75 cars started the event, 35 succumbed to the challenging conditions of the 100 Acre Wood Rally this weekend. Hoonigan drivers Ken Block and Alex Gelsomino turned a lot of heads with their custom Ford Escort Cosworth build called the Cossie V2. They were running fourth overall after the first two stages, but were forced to retire on stage 3 due to an engine failure.
Also retiring with an engine issue were Cameron Steely and Preston Osborne of O.D.D. Racing. The team was running strong in L4 until they experienced troubles in Friday’s first loop of stages. The team applied a patch fix in the day’s only service, but were forced to retire on stage 9 with a head gasket failure.
Bad luck also befell Sno*Drift Rally third overall finisher Travis Nease and co-driver Scott Putnam of CPD Racing. The team retired on stage 2 due to a mechanical issue.
Pat Moro and Ole Holter of PMR Motorsport showed off what quickly became the fan favorite Open 4WD (O4) class LS3 V8 Chevrolet Sonic. Moro expressed before the rally that he would treat the 100 Acre Wood as an extended shakedown. But even at a controlled pace, Moro still found himself in a battle with Dave Wallingford and Leanne Junnila in the Team O’Neil M-Sport Ford Fiesta R5. Both crews traded stage times throughout Friday, but Moro was forced to retire Saturday morning due to broken tie rods. Even though the team had replacement parts, Moro elected to retire in order to preserve the car and come back with upgraded components. Wallingford and Junnila later retired on stage 14 with a broken radiator after hitting a water splash a bit too hard.
Martynas Samsonas and Ervinas Snitkas were running strongly in fourth overall throughout Friday’s stages, but were forced to retire early on Saturday due to a broken transfer case.
Former US Champions Dave and Mike Brown proved their pace against the ARA competition by running in the top 10 early on Friday, but suffered an engine failure on stage 5 when a loose bolt damaged their car’s timing belt.
For full national and regional results from the 2019 100 Acre Wood Rally, go to americanrallyassociation.org/2019-100aw-scoring.
The 100 Acre Wood is in the books. Next up for the American Rally Association is a trip out west to the DirtFish Olympus Rally. Run outside of Seattle in Shelton, Washington, Round 3 of the National Rally Championship Presented by AMSOIL has a history behind it. A former World Rally Championship round, Olympus gives an opportunity for competitors to drive many of the same rally stage roads that thundered with Group B vehicles in the mid 1980s.
For more information on the American Rally Association, head to americanrallyassociation.org. Interested in seeing the DirtFish Olympus Rally for yourself? Find out how to spectator or volunteer for the event at olympusrally.com.
Photo Credit: Brad Plant | 100 Acre Wood Rally