One man who has had a hard job this year has been Preston Osborn. As competition director for the American Rally Association presented by DirtFish National championship, Osborn has been working hard behind the scenes to ensure equal competition between Hoonigan Racing Division and Subaru Motorsports USA among his countless other jobs for the series.
While Osborn obviously can’t control what drivers do on stage, it’s hard to say he and his team didn’t have a bit of a hand at minimum in creating the tight battle we see before ourselves this weekend in Marquette, Michigan on the Lake Superior Performance Rally.
Balancing the power of Block’s Hyundai World Rally Car against the cars already in ARA, adding powerstage points for the first time and several other factors have all contributed to the story unfolding between Brandon Semenuk and Ken Block for the title, as well as the four-way battle in the LN4 class.
DirtFish spoke with Osborn ahead of the 2022 season finale for his thoughts on the championship.
“Just like I said at Susquehannock Trail Performance Rally, I’m not going to pick sides!” he laughed.
“From my perspective, it really comes down to pretty much winner-take-all between Ken and Brandon, which I think for any championship, and certainly one that I’m involved with, is really exciting to see.
“A few years back championships were decided seemingly halfway through the season. So to have it coming down potentially to the powerstage at this [rally] just makes for a nice storyline.
“It’s been great to see with how different the Subaru car and the Hyundai car are as far as development goes, and obviously differences between drivers, eight races later and hundreds of stage miles, here we are coming down to the end.
“One thing that’s worth mentioning is depending on what happens to Brandon, Travis can actually still take second place from him, which is kind of a crazy thing to think about.
“Obviously, the big story coming into this year was Ken Block competing in that Hyundai. Doug Nagy [ARA technical director] and I and our team put in a fair bit of effort to try and make that car as fair competition as possible and, at least coming to the end like this, it seems like we did, so that’s good news!
“I think especially going to next year, it was [a] similar team putting the thought into the new rules because we obviously want competition like this every year. That hopefully means that we get the formula right and certainly makes us excited for next year and to see where the Open cars fall when compared to the RC2 cars.”
With such a tight title battle, Osborn has to make sure everything goes right. And with that, there’s a few extra precautions to make sure the championship decider runs as smooth as possible, with a big emphasis on ensuring the powerstage runs as planned.
“There are several scenarios where the powerstage is going to make a difference in who ultimately is the winner,” Osborn explained. “So we’ve been working with LSPR for contingency planning around the powerstage.
“We’re going to do things like have a second zero car at the start so that if there’s a situation where we need to re-clear the stage we’re able to do that quickly, we’re going to have additional sweep vehicles available so that if we need to clear something we’re able to do that, and then still maintain sweep at the beginning of the stage.
“There’s a lot riding on it. and our team and LSPR are understanding of that, we don’t want it to be decided by a force majeure situation.”