There’s no better feeling than the building anticipation that manifests on rally week. The third round of the ARA National season beckons, and it’s one of the best rallies of the season that lies in wait: the Ojibwe Forests Rally in Minnesota.
Don’t just take our word for it. 10-time US rally champion and six-time Ojibwe winner David Higgins thinks so too. While Higgins won’t be back to fight for another victory this weekend, there isn’t a better man to ask about the nature of the stages.
“It’s a very demanding rally with lots of grip changes in different sands,” Higgins explains to DirtFish.
“They’re very fast roads and the soft surface allows you to carry way more speed [than on some other events].
“It’s one of the best events for sure and you have to be mega committed all the time. There are lots of crests and close tree lines so it’s not very forgiving.
“And if it rains, it can be mega slippery. I have great memories from this rally and it’s always a drivers favorite.”
But despite how nice the stages are and his success in Minnesota, Higgins’ memories of the rally are bittersweet. Drivers often remember their lows more than their highs and for Higgins, he will never forget the 2017 event.
He says: “I have great memories from this rally but I will always have the memory of the only championship I didn’t win [since 2011].
“The team put a GoPro on the windscreen and then in the heavy rain and mud on the windscreen, the wipers got jammed on the GoPro, costing us over two minutes and the championship.”
That year, Ojibwe was the final round of the season and Higgins was locked in a brawl for supremacy with Subaru team-mate Travis Pastrana. Higgins’ unusual problem pegged him back, and Pastrana ultimately nicked the inaugural ARA title from him at the eleventh hour.
This year’s rally could be crucial in dictating the destiny of the championship too, even if it is round three of a now six-round season following the cancellation of the Lake Superior Performance Rally (LSPR) which was scheduled for October.
That’s because a Barry McKenna win could crush Pastrana’s hopes of a sixth US rally title. Points leader McKenna – who’s yet to win an American rally title – has won both the opening two rounds of the season while Pastrana skipped the opener and retired from Southern Ohio Forest Rally after a fire took hold of his WRX STI and destroyed it.
Pastrana would appear the favorite to win the tussle this weekend if you consult the history books. While he’s a five-time winner in Ojibwe, McKenna is yet to win – although it’s worth noting that McKenna finished ahead of Pastrana last year, second to only Higgins.
But an all-out assault is expected from Pastrana, who simply has to win considering his 44-point deficit to McKenna after just two rounds. Subsequently, McKenna could theoretically elect to take it easy and simply bank solid points this weekend.
But one thing is sure about the Irishman despite his advantage in the points. He’s not entering this rally just to mess about.
He told DirtFish after the Southern Ohio Forest Rally that he expects the Subaru drivers to be in “full flight” to catch him.
The pluralization of driver there is key, as Subaru’s other man Brandon Semenuk is an interesting proposition. The Canadian is low on stage rally experience but immediately took a podium place on his first round of the season, almost beating renowned star Ken Block too.
An ideal scenario for Subaru would be for Semenuk to muscle his way in between Pastrana and McKenna and boost Pastrana’s points haul. It gives Subaru a potential tactical advantage as opposed to McKenna, who is a lone wolf.
But Pastrana isn’t planning to rely on his team-mate’s support. After what he calls “a rough start to the year” he’s looking forward to “finally” being back “at an event that I know well and have won in the past.” Bullishly, he has promised to “be pushing from stage one this weekend, looking for a strong showing to kickstart our season.”
The battle will be held over six stages on Friday and a further eight on Sunday, offering 138 competitive miles in what is a much more traditional rally format than July’s Southern Ohio Forest Rally. That ran two stages three times in the one evening, continuing into the small hours of the morning.
Make sure you’re glued to DirtFish over the weekend – and not heading out to the stages as strictly no spectators are permitted – as we bring you all the latest from the latest chapter in the 2020 ARA National’s developing story.