Shelton, Washington (April 26, 2019)
One of the most storied stage rallies in the US is set to begin. This weekend, 59 competitors will take on the third round of the American Rally Association National Rally Championship Presented by AMSOIL - DirtFish Olympus Rally.
Based in the logging town of Shelton in Washington state, DirtFish Olympus Rally is one of the most widely recognized American rallies in the world. This year’s field of 59 will take on the a perfectly balanced 134 stage and 134 transit miles in the forests of the Olympic Peninsula. Many of the event’s current stage roads saw Group B competition in 1986 and, in keeping with the WRC endurance mentality, Olympus has some of the longest stage roads in the US. All but two stages at this year’s event are over 10 miles in length and the event’s longest test, Nahwatzel, sets the bar at 20 miles of twisting turns in the deep forest.
Olympus is a rally of attrition, the stages are fast and sections deep in the forest get to be somewhat narrow. Drivers will battle through roads that snake their way up and down mountains, where turning a wheel the wrong can send them into trees or over cliffs. The racing surface is composed of a rough gravel and deep potholes dot the rally from start to finish.
Conditions at Olympus also play a key role in how the competition evolves. Last year, dry and dusty roads caught many competitors in a blinding cloud of dust kicked up by cars on the road ahead, forcing them to slow down or crash. The year before, rain moved through the region midway through the event, drenching some stages, but not others. Those who best adapted to the dynamic surface and grip changes were the ones who found success that year. Forecasted conditions this year show overcast, but dry, weather in the region, but local rainfalls can move in quickly.
59 teams from around the world will start Olympus Rally on Saturday morning. Here’s who will be competing for the Olympus podium:
ARA championship leaders Piotr Fetela and Dominik Jozwiak come into Olympus with a 12 point lead in the standings after winning Sno*Drift Rally and placing fourth overall at 100 Acre Wood Rally. They’ll need to mount a strong defense in their Proto Ford Fiesta in order to maintain their points advantage.
Leading the charge against the championship leaders will be McKenna Motorsport drivers Barry McKenna and Leon Jordan, fresh off their win at last month’s 100 Acre Wood Rally in the pair’s venerable M-Sport Ford Fiesta S2000 Turbo. But they won’t be alone in the paddock, this weekend the team will field a two car effort for the top step of the podium as Seamus Burke and Martin Brady step into M-Sport Ford Fiesta R5 that McKenna first showed off at Sno*Drift. The rally will be Burke’s first behind the wheel of an R5-spec machine and his first time competing in 4WD car since 2016.
For the first time since 2011, the factory Subaru team will start Round 3 of the national championship without having scored a win at the previous two. After skipping Sno*Drift and placing second and third at 100 Acre Wood, Subaru Motorsports USA will come out of the gate looking to earn their first rally win of the 2019 season. Leading the charge will be defending ARA champions David Higgins and Craig Drew while young star Oliver Solberg will look for his second podium in as many events. Due to travel issues for Solberg’s usual co-driver Aaron Johnston, the young driver will be paired with 40 year veteran of the sport and 5 time WRC winner Denis Giraudet.
Last month, Team O’Neil driver Dave Wallingford and co-driver Leanne Junnila competed together for the first time since Wallingford’s 2018 season ending back injury. The pair are ready to get back into podium battle in their M-Sport Ford Fiesta R5, but Wallingford is still nursing his back. How fast the pair drivers may end up directly tied to how well he feels in the car.
Defending Limited 4WD champions Jeff Seehorn and Karen Jankowski of the AMSOIL Seehorn Rally Team are back in the 2019 championship hunt after blowing the motor in the 2016 Subaru WRX STI at 100 Acre. A return to form with a class win and an overall podium at the pair’s home event would be the ideal way for them to get back into the championship fight.
The El Diablo Rally Team of Matthew Dickinson and Daniel Piker will premier a brand new car at Olympus Rally this weekend, a Limited 4WD spec 2015 Subaru WRX STI. Last year on these roads at Tour de Forest Rally, the team scored their first overall podium in an older 2007 WRX STI.
Sno*Drift Rally L4 class winners Cameron Steely and Preston Osborn of O.D.D. Racing are reporting that they’ve solved their long-time engine issues. The team is always a threat for the podium, but their reliability issues have forced several retirements over the past year. And Travis Nease is back in his DirtFish Motorsports 2017 Subaru WRX STI this weekend, this time competing with Oregon Trail Rally Clerk of the Course Rebecca Rouston.
2018 third overall championship finisher Sam Albert will drive his 2004 Subaru WRX STI in his first 2019 ARA event. Co-driving for him in the Open 4WD class car will be veteran co-driver Krista Skucas.
Open 2WD championship runners up Erik Potts and Claudia Barbera will compete together in their first rally of 2019. The pair will compete in their freshly-rebuilt supercharged Subaru BRZ this weekend. Last year, Potts and Barbera earned their first-overall ARA class win here and they’ll be looking to match the performance.
Competing against them in the O2 class will be Keanna Erickson-Chang and Alex Gelsomino in a brand new M-Sport Ford Fiesta R2 after their recent move to the McKenna Motorsports team. Premiering a new wrap on their 2003 Ford Focus ZX3 is the husband and wife team of Chris Miller and 2018 ARA third overall co-driver Michelle Miller.
Local favorites Dave Clark and Jamie Willets will compete at Olympus Rally in the 1999 BMW M3 they premiered at Tour de Forest Rally. The team earned an O2WD podium at last year’s season finale and will be looking for a repeat performance.
Brad Morris and Doug Nagy have made the trip west in their 2002 Mitsubishi Lancer. The team found early success with an O2WD podium finish at January’s Sno*Drift Rally. They’ll be competing against the Maxxis HPD Rally Team of Jordan Guitar and John Sharps in their 2017 Honda Civic hatchback.
Brandon Semenuk and John Hall will lead the Side by Side contingent this weekend in a new 2019 Yamaha YXZ1000R. The Pro Mod class vehicle is in a faster class than the SxS the team drove at last year’s Idaho Rally International to a fourth overall finish.
FloSports.tv will host two DirtFish Olympus Rally shows this weekend, a recap of Saturday’s action beginning at 8 Pacific followed by a rally recap show Sunday at 5 Pacific. ARA will also continue to host several live streams on our Facebook and Youtube channels at Parc Expose and several Service sessions.
Updates will also be available through ARA on the official ARA Rally App and its social media channels. Rally teams such as DirtFish Motorsports, Subaru Motorsports USA, and Fetela Rally Team also post frequent updates online.
Olympus Rally is also a perfect getaway for rally fans living in nearby Seattle. For those heading out to the event this weekend, there’s a free spectator guide available that gives you a full event viewing schedule and directions on how to get around.
Photo Credit: Alex Wong (Top, 1, 3), Brad Plant (2)