Hoonigan Racing Division’s Ken Block ended day one of Lake Superior Performance Rally with a massive 5m04.9s lead, achieved in just eight stages.
The seventh round of the American Rally Association presented by DirtFish National Championship is without Subaru Motorsports USA pair Travis Pastrana and Brandon Semenuk or McKenna Motorsports boss Barry McKenna and his some-time team-mate David Higgins, which meant even before action begun it was expected that Block in his Subaru WRX would win.
In the afternoon loop that kicked off the rally he established a lead of 1m57.4s over Paul Rowley’s Ford Fiesta R5, after Tom Williams destroyed the underside and front of his McKenna Motorsports Fiesta Rally2 by landing on a crest nose-before-wheels.
The first stage of the evening was the 12.4-mile Far Point, on the first run of which Block had picked up a front-right puncture on but still came out on top by 0.2s over Williams. On the second run he showed what a puncture-free time would be: 1m18.3s faster than anybody else.
That took his lead past three minutes, and that became four on the second pass of Passmore while Rowley established himself in second ahead of Joseph Burke who had a problem with his lights in the dark.
It took two more stages for Block’s lead to surpass five minutes, the same gap covering second to eighth.
“I haven’t been at this race since 2013, so I’m basically checking all my notes, kind of adjusting things, experiencing this great race,” Block told DirtFish.
“I don’t have a whole lot of competition this weekend, but it’s been fun.
“It’s a bit disappointing to not have Travis and Brandon and Barry here this weekend, but it is what it is and I’m enjoying it.
“I’m always trying to improve. This is a lot of good data that we’re getting from this event, so when we come back next year hopefully we’ll be quicker.
“And actually tonight I’ve actually had a couple of times in the night stages where I was quicker than in the daytime. Which is kind of hard to do, so that’s a good accomplishment.
“I’m still learning, still kind of changing stuff because I haven’t done that many events with this car so I’m still learning it.”
The battle for Limited four-wheel-drive class honours is also for fourth overall after Williams’ exit, with Grzegorz Bugaj leading Dave Carapetyan after consistently setting top-four stage times. Carapetyan had to be cautious with fuel concerns at first, and then had a faulty transponder. He’s 24.9s behind despite his troubles in his Subaru WRX.
Behind them in sixth is NASCAR and prototype sportscar racer Kyle Tilley in a McKenna-run Fiesta R5.
“This is our second ever rally for both myself and my co-driver Tim,” said Tilley.
“Just working on our notes, trying to perfect what we’re doing. I can’t thank the McKenna boys and Don Buckley RSC enough to get the car here on a day’s notice. We were supposed to be with my [Mitsubishi] Evo, but we had some problems, so we’re here with this thing. Which is fine by me because this thing is amazing.
“My background is professional road racing, [so debuting in an R5] it’s like going from a club race car to a professional level sportscar. That’s the analogy I can describe it with. This does everything I want it to do, when I want it to do it. And it’s just a joy to drive.”
In the Open two-wheel-drive class there were 2.2s separating Ryan George and Al Dantes Jr in their fight for victory going into the evening.
They were both squarely beaten by the Ford Capri-driving Mike Hurst and Mazda RX7 driver Kevin Schmidt on S55, and the gap between the class victory contenders growing to 5.8s.
It was a similar story on SS6, this time Schmidt going fastest and George consolidating his lead as Dantes disappeared with a blown clutch.
Hurst was now second in class in the overall classification, but Schmidt was faster again in SS7. It was Hurst’s turn on the loop-ening lake-bordered Estes Lake stage, and the amount he outpaced George by means he has dragged himself into victory contention and sits just 2.9s off the lead going into Saturday’s stages. Schmidt sits third, a further 11.2s back.
Leading positions after SS8
1 Ken Block/Alex Gelsomino (Subaru) 1h04m04.1s
2 Paul Rowley/Darragh Mullen (Ford) +5m04.9s
3 Joseph Burke/Nick Dobbs (Ford) +5m49.6s
4 Grzegorz Bugaj/Elizabeth Dziubanski (Subaru) +7m06.9s
5 Dave Carapetyan/Ryan Scott (Subaru) +7m31.8s
6 Kyle Tilley/Tim Whitteridge (Ford) +8m17.3s
7 Will Graham/Claudia Barbera (Mitsubishi) +9m11.1s
8 Zachary Jacques/Ronald Jacques (Subaru) +9m15.2s
9 Dylan Murcott/Boyd Smith (Subaru) +10m26.5s
10 Mark Piatkowski/Aaron Crescenti (Subaru) +10m27.7s