Barry McKenna clung on to win the second round of the American Rally Association National series, the Southern Ohio Forest Rally, ahead of Ken Block and Subaru’s Brandon Semenuk after clouting a concrete block on the final stage.
Sno*Drift winner McKenna, giving the Škoda Fabia R5 its debut in the US following his maiden outing with the car on Rally México back in March, had looked in total control after comfortably winning the first five stages to hold an advantage of over two minutes.
But on the final test he heavily damaged his car after finding a concrete block in the middle of the road.
The Irishman lost 1m20s to stage winner Block but managed to bring his Fabia R5 back to the finish to land Škoda’s first victory on US soil at its first attempt.
It puts McKenna in a really strong championship position too with the majority of his rivals not contesting the Sno*Drift Rally back in January.
The abrupt early exit of Subaru Motorsports USA ace Travis Pastrana’s in Southern Ohio was undoubtedly a huge let-up for McKenna too.
“Drama in the last stage, as usual,” McKenna joked to DirtFish.
“We were the first car on the road so it was a bit peculiar how the piece of concrete was still there after the sweep [car] went through and the zero car went through. We had to hit the ditch to avoid it and we ended up breaking the rose joint.
“What do you know, we got the win, that’s what we wanted.”
Running as the first car on the road for what was a unique itinerary, beginning on Saturday evening and running into the early hours of Sunday under the cover of darkness, should’ve been a huge advantage for McKenna with hanging dust hampering visibility for his rivals behind.
But torrential weather half an hour before the start of the rally leveled the playing field, with Pastrana acknowledging that the expected dust “would’ve pretty much been game over from the get-go, so this really helped us, and probably everybody, honestly”.
Pastrana’s joy would be short-lived however as he made a fiery exit from proceedings on the second special stage. Both he and stand-in co-driver Chrissie Beavis escaped from the incident unscathed, but the same couldn’t be said for their Subaru WRX STI which was completely destroyed in the blaze.
When Pastrana returned to service, he still wasn’t totally sure what caused the fire but having missed Sno*Drift, the damage it has done to his season is obvious.
He told DirtFish: “We think it was an oil line or something, but it’s hard to tell because, y’know, there’s nothing left.
“Chrissie just flew in literally this morning, she did an amazing job, jumped right in. We kept it where we needed to, tried to make some points and tried to get out of this round, but obviously that didn’t work out so, back to the drawing board. Hopefully we can get a car for the next round.
“[It’s a] huge hit to the championship for us. My job coming in this year with David [Higgins] not here is to make the most of it, and it’s going to be tough.”
Block meanwhile can be happy with second place in his Ford Escort Cosworth ‘Cossie V2’ after a trying Rally México. Overheating issues plagued his WRC outing four months ago, but a rebuilt engine for Ohio did the trick and he did enough to keep Semenuk’s Subaru WRX STI 18.8s behind him at the finish.
“It was one of the best nights of racing for me, but also genuinely one of the weirdest races I’ve ever been involved in,” Block said when asked about his rivals problems.
“It was an insane night, the car felt really good, we made some changes through the event to the Ford Escort Cossie. I kept getting quicker and quicker.
“All I saw was two stages, and they were great, it was a lot of fun, some of the best roads I’ve ever driven in North America. I’d love to come back sometime.”
Semenuk was looking for a “clean” rally before the event, and aside from breaking his suspension on the same concrete block that stumped McKenna, that’s exactly what he had.
Subaru’s latest recruit stuck to his promise of pushing but not going over the limit as he looked to learn the car. A podium finish was greatly received, although it could have been second place were it not for his final stage woe.
“I wouldn’t say it was the smoothest rally for me, a lot of learning, a lot of figuring out the car, and we’re also on extremely technical roads so it’s not the ideal place to do that,” Semenuk told DirtFish afterwards.
“A mile from the end of the last stage, in the middle of the stage is a massive concrete block. I was already kinda sideways so I tried to avoid it by just letting the car go out wide into the ditch, and I ended up hitting another cement culvert that was hidden in the ditch.
“That’s rally for you though.”
Ryan Booth put in a solid performance in a Ford Fiesta R5 that is still relatively new to him to finish fourth, albeit almost three minutes shy of Semenuk ahead. He too spotted the concrete block that caused strife for McKenna and Semenuk, but had already overdriven the corner and missed it, taking to the ditch instead and picking up no damage.
Joseph Burke had held that fourth position for most of the event in his Mitsubishi Evo, and was mixing it with Block and Semenuk before he blew a tire and went off the road on the final stage.
Burke told DirtFish: “Rhianon [Gelsomino, co-driver] said a note and I didn’t hear it, we were slightly fast into an off-camber corner at the end of the second to last stage, we popped down into a ditch and got a flat. It is what it is.”
Jeff Seehorn secured fifth place in his 2015-spec Subaru WRX STI despite brakes that were “getting really soft and mushy” to finish ahead of 2WD winner Michael Hooper, who profited when early class leader Chris Greenhouse lost his power steering on the second loop of stages.
Seamus Burke secured eighth place overall and second in the 2WD class in his Ford Escort Mk2, one spot behind Regional category winner Paul Ferreira. Robert Sanders won the Limited 4WD class in his Subaru while Ryan Sanders took Limited 2WD honors behind the wheel of a Ford Fiesta.
Just 31 of the 60 starters made it to the end of the rally. Overheating engines and dehydration was a constant issue for many in the humid conditions, which were a perennial problem despite the rally organizer’s decision to run the event into the night.
The next round of the ARA is the Ojibwe Forests Rally in Minnesota on August 28-30.
1 McKenna (Škoda) 1h28m41.9s
2 Block (Ford) +58.3s
3 Semenuk (Subaru) +1m17.1s
4 Booth (Ford) +4m51.9s
5 Seehorn (Subaru) +10m06.7s
6 Hooper (Lexus) +16m27.4s
7 Ferreira (Mitsubishi) +18m00.1s
8 S Burke (Ford) +19m01.7s
9 Allen (Subaru) +19m33.9s
10 Kramer (Subaru) +20m31.1s