American Rally Association competition director Preston Osborn believes this month’s DirtFish Olympus Rally will offer the first real indication as to whether the ARA got its revised ruleset right this year.
In a bid to close the gap between the RC2 and the Open 4WD classes – which welcomed the final generation of World Rally Cars via Barry McKenna and the late Ken Block in the past few years – the O4WD regulations have been pared back for 2023 to bring them in-line with Rally2 cars and therefore create a more competitive championship.
But reigning champion Brandon Semenuk has won both of the first two events in his O4WD Subaru Motorsports USA WRX STI, and an RC2 car is yet to win a stage of either the Sno*Drift or 100 Acre Wood Rallies.
The closest an RC2 car has finished to the winning O4WD machine was Patrick Gruszka’s 8m20.2s deficit to Semenuk on 100AW Rally.
Before the season began, the ARA declared it was open to tweaking the regulations if there proved to be disparity between the two classes.
But Osborn told DirtFish that no such discussion will happen until at least after Olympus (April 21-23) which he expects to suit the Rally2 cars more than either of the first two rounds did.
“Sno*Drift and 100 Acre Wood are two of the more unique races in our calendar – Sno*Drift being on snow and ice without studs and so that’s a great equalizer, but then even 100 Acre, that is typically our fastest rally on the calendar, at least one of our fastest rallies on the calendar,” Osborn said.
“On our end that makes it difficult to pull really usable data from the first two races
“And as we started this project or this change of bringing Open cars more in line with the RC2 cars, we always knew that in the flat out fast stuff the Open cars are still going to have a bit of an advantage.
“As we’re trying to balance this, the idea is OK the flat out stages the Open cars have a bit of an advantage, but in the tight and twisty stuff with the chassis of the Rally2 cars, those should have an advantage.
“And so it’s going to be a little bit of give and take.”
Asked if Olympus should be a better test of where the performance levels of the two classes are at, Osborn replied: “Yeah.
“Kind of our plan coming into this season was we wouldn’t really make any changes or any discussions until after Olympus, just because that, at least in our opinion, is kind of the first true test of the car, more than the horsepower like you see in 100 Acre Wood.”
Osborn confirmed that any decision to alter the regulations would be in consultation with competitors but ultimately made by the ARA.
“I think we are going to be leading the changes,” he said.
“We’ve tried to be very clear in what our intention with these rule changes are that the Rally2 cars and the Open cars over the course of a season are in an equal playing field.
“The challenge you have, you take Subaru specifically and that’s a professional team, they’re a professional outfit and Brandon is an exceptional driver. As we see some of these teams coming up in Rally2, the reality is they’re still relatively immature teams in the sense of they’re not as established as Vermont [SportsCar].
“So I think we’re going to see, over the course of a season, these newer teams getting more experience, getting more speed in the cars, and really make it easier for us to compare apples to apples.”