Opening the door just made it worse. The dust at the end of the Starveout stage on Sunday afternoon was unreal. Sitting behind the wheel of Subaru #307, Spencer Crabb searched for something. Anything.
The sleeve of his racesuit, his gloves, top of the nomex vest… there was nothing. Everything had turned a sandier shade of khaki. He went with the sleeve. A swift wipe removed some of the dust and grit from eyes and mouth and revealed the biggest, broadest smile.
“It’s crazy in here,” he grinned. “It’s everywhere!”
Did he care? Not a bit of it. He’d lost his bumper in the water crossing first time around. Second run took care of a blinker (indicator if you’re reading this on the Atlantic’s east side).
They could wait.
The car could be rebuilt on Monday. The weekend was for racing.
Having only just dried out from my wettest rally in years at Olympus four weekends earlier, I wasn’t prepared for what met me south of the Columbia River and over the state border into Oregon.
With winter still vaguely recognizable in the rear-view mirror, summer landed and smacked Green APU American Rally Association regulars between the eyes last weekend. It wasn’t just hot, it was absolutely baking. Like a toasty 90-plus.
And that was outside. In the cars, as transmission tunnels approached temperatures similar to those experienced on the surface of the sun, the crews were faced with typically horrible dilemma: cook themselves or the engines sitting ahead of them.
Overheating issues were the talk of the service park, unless you were in Jennifer King’s car with the air conditioning on. The M3’s snowflake button was arguably the biggest carrot to get to the end of the stage as quickly as possible as cabin soared way north of 100.
This being a rally, the crews were absolute heroes and without hesitation sacrificed themselves, cranking heaters up to the max in an effort to haul as much warmth as they could out of the engine bay.
Opening the door of a rally car at the end of a stage is always a pleasure, but last weekend was a stretch as the inevitable dust cloud rode the heat wave from inside out.
I’m really not a fan of the heat, but I couldn’t get enough of Oregon Trail Rally.
My second Green APU ARA round in a month and OTR was absolutely as enchanting as Olympus.
The geography was something of a challenge with half of Oregon’s championship qualifier taking place in Washington, but who cared? With a route split by a river sourced in Canada’s Rocky Mountains and running for 1,243 miles, the scenery either side of the Columbia River Gorge was a sight to behold.
Having spied Bald Eagles scudding across Lake Nahwatzel just four weekends ago, it was hard to imagine how round four could possibly top round three. Yet somehow it managed it.
The very south of Washington offered more barren, almost Argentina-like vistas, while the apparently more heavily farmed top of Oregon brought more rolling colour as wheaty beiges blended into deep grass greens all topped with the biggest and brightest blues.
And then, seemingly around every corner, 4000 meters of volcanic mountain stopped you in your tracks, sending jaws south once more.
On the road from Snoqualmie to The Dalles, my DirtFish colleague Brenten Kelly had confidently informed me Oregon Trail Rally was the most picturesque of all Green APU ARA rounds.
I get it.
Mounts Hood and Adams offered a towering presence most regularly visible from the stages, with well-wintered white coats still in place and, astonishingly, ski fields still open despite rally cars being roasted beneath them.
The place was just sensational. And so was the occasion.
From a packed park expose at Portland International Raceway on Friday night all the way through Saturday and Sunday, the fans were out in force to celebrate this festival of rallying.
America does sport properly
Nothing changed out front as Brandon Semenuk and Keaton Williams once again wiped the floor with the best of the rest in their Subaru. The absence of Rally2 cars highlighted the gap between Semenuk’s stunning Vermont SportsCar-run WRX STI and those chasing, with Jeff Seehorn’s more stock Subaru almost nine minutes down.
Seehorn himself suffered a plethora of issues throughout the event – with the #56 driver himself pointing out: “If we didn’t have issues, we wouldn’t have anything!”
I’m not going to be delving into the debate of regulations again (stay tuned to DirtFish for some exclusive insight into that story in weeks to come). For me, one of the biggest and most important aspects of OTR was the sense of community – something I’d noticed in Olympia, but questioned as a possible one-off.
America does sport properly. From an emotional and unanimous appreciation for the national anthem at PIR on Friday through to the rumbustious appreciation for Regional winners Andy Miller and Shaun Tracy in downtown Dufur on Sunday. Admittedly, we’re not talking tens of thousands of people, but the folk who were there were as brilliantly noisily impassioned by as they were committed to our sport.
The sense of togetherness was demonstrated nowhere better than at the end of the final stage, where Chris Miller edged Julien Sebot for the final Regional podium spot (and O2WD) by just two tenths of a second – the closest class-winning margin in ARA history.
Miller waited on his rival to come through, before they celebrated together. Both had given it everything.
“We were bouncing up banks and off everything,” smiled the Lexus-driving Frenchman.
“Me too!” beamed Miller, who had suffered a pair of punctures, tightening things up at the last moment.
The sense of camaraderie was beyond anything I’ve seen at this sport of the level anywhere else in the world.
There was, and is, so much more to talk about. There’s Team DirtFish, with Sam Albert (Subaru Ferrari), Jason Cochell (Subaru Impreza), Josie Rimmer/Michelle Miller (Subaru BRZ), Sean Edwards/Kendra Miller (Volvo 240) Romain Beaulieu (BMW E36) and Eric Schofhauser (co-driving Lexus) – all of them were superstars once more.
Albert’s howling Subaru ran second only to Semenuk for a while before a rear diff failure cost him a podium. If you haven’t done so yet, you must check out the DirtFish YouTube channel for a unique view on his run through the rally’s opening Portland test.
Cochell was leading the Regional field before he re-arranged the car’s left-rear and dropped down the order with a superally Sunday.
Edwards and Miller could fill cyberspace with their tale of starting but not starting on Friday night then starting and stopping on Saturday before starting and staying through Sunday. Rimmer and Miller gelled beautifully for Josie’s second event. Our head of strategy has hurled herself headlong at this sport aboard an edgy and unforgiving racecar. Good on her.
Beaulieu and Schofhauser both starred, just as they did in the Pacific Northwest rain last month.
For the second event in succession, we ran DirtFish Live Center stateside, this time in partnership with Green APU ARA, to huge acclaim and appreciation. Our social and digital content is going ballistic as the season progresses – and that’s thanks to people like you.
And Lia Block.
You didn’t think you were going to leave this page without us talking about the 16-year-old Subaru BRZ driver, did you?
She’s turned in some fairly special results in the last 12 months, but fourth overall – and back-to-back second fastest times on Sunday afternoon – was something genuinely special.
We’ll take a closer look at Lia and her options before the next ARA round in Southern Ohio, but suffice to say she and co-drover Rhianon Gelsomino were one of the true highlights of the weekend. For all the talk of Tennessee and future WRC rounds, KB and Lucy Block’s daughter’s pace is arguably the most positive thing about American rallying right now.
Truly fearless in her approach, Block’s lot in that direction was probably helped by not being in the Team DirtFish car, listening to Brenten’s talk of North American rattlesnakes and scorpions. Both, apparently, were doing their thing, just over there at the side of the road.
Fortunately, I didn’t see them for dust.