2022 Sno*Drift, I am going to call it early and rename it Ice*Drift. Wow, what a challenge it will be. I have not seen conditions like this in Michigan in any of my previous trips and I am certain that my driver, Kyle Tilley, a Sno*Drift novice has never seen anything like this before either!
It is our first event on our 2022 American Rally Association presented by DirtFish National Championship campaign but we have been busy with other motorsport in the past few weeks as is typical in the Era Motorsport team.
Being a spotter for Kyle’s LMP2 prototype sportscar in the Daytona 24 Hours and doing a trip to the British Historic Championship where we did our first rally together with a Mk2 Escort were challenges, but none of this can prepare you for Sno*Drift. Buckle up, it is going to be quite the rally.
The conditions on recce were tough, with the snow cover light but the ice thickness stubborn, and it means braking this weekend will be so early it needs to be in another time zone!
SS1/4: Fishlab Greasy (8.16 miles)
New format of a stage familiar to this rally. It starts on a new section and then joisn a stage last used in 2019. There are two critical square junctions here that every year can lose you 20-30 seconds each, and if you try to attack them they are just like putting a washing machine on spin cycle on an ice rink…. you spin 360° or more. Then there are the tricky blind crests which if you are brave in the dark can make you good time, but too brave and your rally can be over early.
SS2/5: Short Rance (3.29 miles)
One of my absolute favourite stages in America, not a popular choice I am sure but I love the challenge of this stage. Ultra-narrow, rough, tight and twisty, this version of it has not been used in quite a few years and for just over three miles there is an epic amount of driving and note calling going on. The times will be slow but the difficulty is turned up to 11 if you are not concentrating. The nature of the stage is so twisty that in the dark it will be hard to follow, so listening to the co-driver and keeping open eyes are the trick to a good effort here, and that is why I love this stage so much.
SS3/6: Sage Orchard (7.09 miles)
Fast stage, big commitment at the start which will be hard to fathom when the grip is so minimal. The last 1.5 miles is much more tight and technical and while the slower rhythm will be a welcome respite there are still some surprise downhill tight corners that offer no escape and will punish even the smallest step over the margin of error. Expect this stage to ruin someone’s day.
SS7/10: Hunters Agren (7.31 miles)
A cruel stage for me, I have retired from good results here so no happy memories, but aiming to change that this year. The start is deceptively tight, some corners look wide open with soft snowbanks but they tighten mercilessly and you must take care in the first mile. Then it gets faster and is broken up by square junctions, but the ice is everywhere and the last 1.3 miles is becoming so polished and icy that I expect the two-wheel-drive cars to have a big challenge here. To finish this stage my well be a victory for many, the ice is that treachourous. Yet a sudden change in the weather and a light covering of snow could just provide a hail mary pass and change the script completely.
SS8/11: Old State Huff (9.05 miles)
A lovely stage with some enjoyable sweeping corners and proper snowbanks to buffer you. It has been run many times before and I have done it in daylight and in darkness and it is equally enjoyable. New this year will be a virtual chicane – a part of the road where you have to slow down to 25mph before accelerating away again – to break up a flatout section just before a return to a narrower tree-lined road. This specific place was always previously a challenge to get slowed down for and to get right, so the chicane is a helpful addition. The stage’s last section is always popular with spectators, and it’s always great to drift out of the last junction to the excitement of the crowds if you get it right!
SS9/13: Mills Meaford (6.72 miles)
This will be ARA National’s inaugural use of a powerstage, so it’s something to look forward to. The fastest drivers on SS13 score extra points, but there will be risk versus reward calculation for that if you have survived this far into the rally.
The stage normally flows well but again the constant ice surface gets more polished with every car and ergo more difficult. Towards the end of the stage some fresh logging has meant there are now tree stumps outside some corners waiting to punch a wheel if you are drifting too far wide. Hopefully that won’t happen to anyone, but with grip being such a lottery there is a rally-ending incident waiting to happen for a car on this stage.
SS12/14: Camp 30 (14.97 miles)
The big one, and it’s two stages joined together this year with two virtual chicanes to pull down the high-speed sections. A difficult stage because there are so many rhythm changes as you switch from wide open to tighter link roads, and as it is this year the ice is everywhere and places that were wet or holding puddles on the Thursday recce have turned to blocks of ice on the Friday recce. These places could mean a ‘Titanic’‑like moment for some crews and I am eager to make sure it is not us in car #18 that runs aground in this stage; even a puncture on such a long stage could sink your rally, not just the icebergs.
SS15: Thunder River (4.90 miles)
A cool stage to finish the rally with and a fan favorite for many years. It is fast and wide but has one tricky slow junction at the spectator point where each year almost every car runs wide and touches the bank.
Perhaps it is in an effort to impress the spectators but at that stage of the rally with about two miles to go I expect us to be neat and tidy and controlled, or at least that is the plan.
This event will be a challenge, but that’s why we are here to take that on and hopefully get all the way to the final control and have a nice haul of points to jump-start the 2022 season.