Ken Block has continued his command over his American Rally Association presented by DirtFish National championship rivals on the Southern Ohio Forest Rally, edging out a 33-second lead after the first full day of action.
Block, who won last month’s Oregon Trail Rally in his Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC, was quickest on the Yoctangee Street Stage on Thursday evening – which turned out to be a precursor for what was to come when the rally hit the gravel on Friday.
Quickest on all but one of the stages, Block heads to bed with a comfortable advantage over Subaru Motorsports USA’s Travis Pastrana after what has been another ominous and flawless display.
“The car just felt really good today,” Block told DirtFish.
“Alex [Gelsomino, co-driver] and I worked really hard on the notes to get things perfect for today because we did these stages last year, so we just nailed it today.
“I’m going to be playing it pretty safe [tomorrow],” he added. “We’re in here for the long game this year.”
Pastrana was the driver who denied Block a clean sweep of stage wins, setting the benchmark time on Disco Inferno 50 Cent Remix.
But other than that small success, the reigning ARA National champion has been forced to play second-best to his old rival throughout the day, despite changing his setup for the first time in years ahead of the rally in a bid to find more performance.
Pastrana is at least ahead of his championship-leading team-mate Brandon Semenuk, who endured a troubled Friday in his WRX STI.
Running as the first car on the road had worked for Semenuk in the past in Ohio, but this year he struggled – a feeling that was compounded by a spin and a bad tire call.
Semenuk was already a minute down on Block at the leg’s halfway stage and although his times were considerably more competitive in the afternoon – faster than Pastrana on three of the four tests – he knows with a 1m14.7s deficit, he’s relying on drama to befall his rival if he wants to claw back the time.
Pastrana is 41.7s up the road so even he could be difficult to catch.
Despite a one-minute penalty for arriving too early for the time control at stage five, Will Hudson impressed to lie fourth overall overnight in his McKenna Motorsport Ford Fiesta Rally2.
Hudson, who usually drives a far more modest two-wheel-drive Fiesta, was a late addition to the entry. But driving the car the absent Tom Williams usually pilots, he’s been bang on the pace to head the RC2 class.
Overall he has just 8.9s in hand over Dave Carapetyan’s Subaru which leads L4WD, while Enda McCormack lies sixth and second in RC2 on his first rally since March.
Patrick Gruszka sits a lonely seventh in his Mitsubishi Mirage ahead of O2WD leader Seamus Burke, who has reunited with old co-driver Martin Brady for this weekend.
Mark Piatkowski was overhauled by Burke on the final stage of the day, after a somewhat muted return. He returned to driving the Subaru Impreza 2.5 RS he sensationally won the Sno*Drift Rally in earlier this year and picked up where he left off in NA4WD, leading the class.
Dave Wallingford completes the top 10 in his Fiesta R5 ahead of the impressive Lia Block in a fine 11th place.
In the Regional event, Alejandro Perusina held a dominant four-minute lead in his Toyota Rav4 after winning every single stage bar one – an impressive feat given he still managed to top Thursday’s street stage despite a 10s jump-start penalty.
But after putting in all the hard work, Perusina’s rally came to an end after Friday’s final time control, retiring with a mechanical issue and handing the lead to Adam Kimmett.
Adam Kimmett is his closest chaser in second and has a minute over His closest chaser is fellow Subaru driver Jonathan Kramer, over a minute behind.
Daniel Downey leads the two-wheel-drive class in his BMW.