As the American Rally Association (ARA) season opener drew near last week, the small town of Lewiston, Michigan was overrun with almost 40 racing teams lining the streets preparing for the Sno*Drift Rally’s night stages.
Leading up to the rally, and continuing into the final hours before the event, the teams had been building, repairing, testing, tuning, and modifying their cars in hopes of getting their machines as ready as possible before heading into the difficult Friday night stages that began the 2020 American rallying season.
Piotr Fetela was running his seventh Sno*Drift Rally this year in his Ford Fiesta Proto.
But his new co-driver, Kamil Heller, had only experienced the snowy and icy conditions of the stages while running studded tires, which are not used in ARA events.
They would have to get acclimated to the unique experience and adjust their pace notes accordingly, though an unfazed Fetela declared “I’m always prepared” with confidence.
Zach Whitebread, driver of the number 285 Subaru Impreza WRX, said his preparation consisted of putting a brand-new motor in the car just one week before the start.
After putting in all that effort, Whitebread’s strategy for preparing in the final hours before the first stage was: “just hangin’ out and not worrying about it”.
Other drivers were more focussed on preparing themselves mentally for the rally. Colin Robinson in his 2019 Honda Passport was adked if he would make any changes after testing, “Not to the car, just to my mindset!” he said, “[We’ll be] treating everything like it’s on glass.”
With Sno*Drift being the season opener for the ARA, many brave drivers were undertaking their first rally ever.
David Martell and Lenger Racing prepared by building their 2004 Chevy Aveo in under a month to be able to compete. The press stage ahead of the rally was their chance for a shakedown and to get a feel for it. For them the weekend would be all about getting dialed in and working together on their communication before pushing the car.
Other teams had prepared in smaller ways with regular maintenance.
After running the press stage Mark Rokus decided just to change up the tire pressures on his 1985 Volkswagen GTi and he was ready.
Ryan Dunham and other co-drivers were working on looking over their notes, checking their watches, and making sure everything was correct. Dunham also said he was watching videos and getting his supplies ready for the night.
The teams could do as much (or as little) as they chose to prepare for the rally, but the difficult weather conditions could make anything possible going into the night stages.
Barry McKenna’s team chose to use a lower-powered R5 Ford Fiesta to make maintaining traction on the snowy and icy surfaces easier. It certainly paid off – by the end of Friday night McKenna had comfortably built a lead that he would keep on extending right through to the finish.
The Sno*Drift’s cold conditions were unlike anything else the ARA competitors will experience through the 2020 season. But the pre-rally atmosphere and expectation, and the huge effort put in by every team, will be just as intense whatever the nature of the stages they will tackle during the year.