Ken Block is already almost two minutes clear of second place after the first loop of the Lake Superior Performance Rally, round seven of the American Rally Association presented by DirtFish National Championship.
The Hoonigan Racing Division driver claimed three dominant stage wins from four, with his run through the 12.4-mile Far Point opener being the only one where he faced a challenge as a front-left puncture left him just 0.2 seconds ahead of McKenna Motorsports’ Tom Williams at stage-end.
Williams, driving a Ford Fiesta Rally2, was a massive 44.9s slower than Block on the next test which was only 0.8 miles longer, and then on the 7-28-mile Bob Lake test he shipped 24.8s to the leader.
It all came undone for Williams on SS4, the even shorter 6.73-mile Estees Lake run that appeared in the World Rally Championship in 1974, as he hit something in the road and damaged the Fiesta to the point where he had to stop at the side of the stage and then eventually drive off it once it proved irreparable.
“It was a weird one. We were having a good time, we were leading the class and just going around, going through the stages, was on a good pace. Happy enough,” Williams said to DirtFish after SS4.
“And then that one, we were having a good run and it was after probably altogether 900 meters worth of straight, so it was a top of fifth gear, on the limiter, and there was not even a big jump.
“It was a small crest, and a bit of a jump, and I went over and the whole thing went really on its toes.
“And apparently what I’m hearing is there was a rock at the bottom of the jump, and the sumpguard’s just touched it, and dug in under the rock, snapped the sumpguard in half and it’s taken the oil pipes off it with it. So the oil pipe’s the killer.”
The impact was said to have been 12Gs to have ripped off the sumpguard, but Williams is feeling fine and said he “hopes so” when asked about the prospect of returning to the rally under Superrally regulations on Saturday.
While his crash didn’t cause too much interruption to proceedings, earlier on there was a big delay and a red flagging of SS1 after the first 10 cars were through because Arek Bialobrezeski had rolled his Subaru Impreza.
Williams’ retirement would have promoted Joseph Burke up to second place in the previous-generation Fiesta R5, but a 10s penalty he earned on SS3 means it’s instead Paul Rowley who takes up that position in an identical car (but entered in the RC2 class rather than Open four-wheel-drive).
Rowley’s hopes of victory are slim as he sits 1m57.4s behind Block. With just 5.9s between second and third, though, there’s certainly a fight going on for the podium positions.
An identical gap splits the Limited four-wheel-drive class leaders, Subaru WRX drivers Grzegorz Bugaj and Dave Carapetyan. Bugaj was fourth fastest on three of the stages to take the class lead and fourth overall, but Carapetyan could have been ahead of him was it not for some major fuel concerns.
“We have E85 (85% ethanol fuel) in this car normally. The last event was the first time that we run E85 successfully, as Olympus last year we ran about E12 and blew the motor up about half an hour in,” he explained to DirtFish, after being surprised to be told he sat in fifth overall.
“At Ojibwe, we were really concerned about fuel consumption. We retuned the car on a new fuel for this event.
“Much better fuel consumption in theory, but we burned about half a tank on stage two, so we were 60% throttle for all of SS3 and SS4 pretty much. There were two or three corners on exit that we leaned on a bit, but we were just really, really conservative because it’s really hard to finish well when you run out of fuel on transit.”
Carapetyan, who has rallied infrequently over the last decade despite his extensive driving experience, added: “My biggest danger is just me, and my notes. It’s been a long time since I’ve been [rallying competitively]. The last time I was rallying was basically a decade ago. For me, notes have been tricky.”
Further down the order was an even closer battle for two-wheel-drive honors, and with Seamus Burke having already secured the title it was some of his rivals emerging from his shadow to shine on the fast stages of LSPR.
Ryan George leads at the moment in his BMW M3, by a slim 2.2s over Al Dantes Jr, and to be ahead of the Mazda LSRX-7 driver means a lot to him even though he’s not thinking about the times he’s setting.
“The first stage was cancelled, so that was a bummer. The second stage, it was a shakedown for us. Getting our legs back underneath us, getting a feel for the car,” George said. “The stages today are really quick, so there’s a lot of straights, 800m straights.”
That didn’t necessarily play to the cars of the O2WD class, but helped George move ahead of Dantes.
“Al is like our rally mentor,” George added. “He was like the first person we ever talked to on the rally scene, and he kind of just took us under his wing. We’re buddies now.
“I always have a competition. Like I’m always trying to beat Al because that’s who I look up to, so to be there with him and sometimes beating him, it feels good.”
A further 11.3s back from Dantes after a slow SS4 is Tim O’Neil, who is still firmly contending for the class win in his AMC AMX.
Leading positions after SS4
1 Ken Block/Alex Gelsomino (Subaru) 32m17.2s
2 Paul Rowley/Darragh Mullen (Ford) +1m57.4s
3 Joseph Burke/Nick Dobbs (Ford) +2m03.3s
4 Grzegorz Bugaj/Elizabeth Dziubanski (Subaru) +2m48.1s
5 Dave Carapetyan/Ryan Scott (Subaru) +2m54.0s
6 Kyle Tilley/Tim Whitteridge (Ford) +3m34.6s
7 Will Graham/Claudia Barbera (Mitsubishi) +3m57.8s
8 Zachary Jacques/Ronald Jacques (Subaru) +3m58.3s
9 George Plsek/Krista Skucas (Mitsubishi) +4m01.1s
10 Mark Piatkowski/Aaron Crescenti (Subaru) +4m21.5s