The competition between the top three drivers at last week’s Southern Ohio Forest Rally was as intense as it was captivating. A couple of them have been around for a while; then there was the new kid on the block.
And Lia Block is very much the rookie.
Oh, you thought I was talking about the KB-Travis-Brandon battle up front? No. I’m on O2WD. For the less acronym-minded, that’s open two-wheel drive. Front or rear? Doesn’t matter and nor does it matter what you’ve got under the hood. I love this class.
It delivered Michael Hooper’s Lexus IS 350, an epic Escort and a chip off the old Blocks.
Hooper’s black Lexus was largely untouched, offering a shade over 300bhp and the faint whiff of cologne lingering from the mid-level exec who had used it to power-chat his way through the rush hour eight years ago.
Hooper’s found a much, much better use for it now.
Seamus Burke’s Escort Mk2 is a monster with 370bhp usually found driving the rear wheels of a Mustang. Both men, both machines had me riveted.
It’s the sort of eclectic approach which has been missing from the World Rally Championship for decades now. These cars, these crews are the backbone of the ARA presented by DirtFish.
And a championship is nothing without its backbone.
But the real O2WD (open two-wheel drive, sorry…) spark came from third place. No disrespect to Hooper or Burke, but what Block Jr achieved was something very special.
Third in class and ninth overall in a car that was already up, running and rallying when Hooper’s car was just rolling off the Lexus production line.
And that three-cylinder, one-liter Fiesta (admittedly with a decent sized blower bolted on) was a hand-me-down from her mom.
Mrs B has, you see, stepped up to a Fiesta Rally3 – a car with a few more horses and a couple more driveshafts. Lucy’s speed and commitment has improved tremendously this season, but she didn’t see her daughter for dust in Ohio last week.
Lucy beat Lia on the opening street stage in Yoctangee and one more stage on the loose. Otherwise, it was all about Lia in the all-family, all-Fiesta Block race.
“I’m a little bit embarrassed,” Lucy smiled when DirtFish talked about Lia’s achievement. “But I’m a lot more proud than I am embarrassed!”
The sentiment is the same from Pappa B.
“It’s pretty incredible what she’s done,” said Ken. “She’s only been in the car for a few rallies and to come and show this speed is amazing.”
The icing on the cake? The final stage of Saturday morning: the 3.60 miles of Will’s Tract South.
It wasn’t the longest stage of the weekend, but it had a bit of everything. Looping through the woods south of Zaleski to and from Highway 278, a fast section off the line turned twisty following a square left.
It stayed twisty to the flag. A stage win here demanded commitment, precision and the ability to find grip out of the loose in the slow corners.
Lia found the perfect formula to land her maiden stage win.
“That was something special,” said class winner Hooper. “She’s clearly got a bright future ahead of her. To look at the car she’s in and the difference in the power is incredible.”
And what about the 15-year-old herself? (And yes, you’re right, you did hear that right… 15.)
“I really enjoyed it,” she told DirtFish. “It was cool – definitely the best result yet.”
The search for a wider explanation of exceptional speed was typical of a Kalle Rovanperä, an Oliver Solberg or a Max McRae.
A shrug, a grin and four words. “I was just driving…”