Last weekend’s 100 Acre Wood Rally featured some very exciting debuts for the American Rally Association presented by DirtFish National Championship. From the debut of Ken Block in a Hyundai i20 WRC car to the five-car assault of the Black Rifle Coffee Company Rally Team, there was plenty to keep an eye on.
One of the most exciting stories going into 100AW was Mark Piatkowski’s big break in ERA Motorsport’s R5 Fiesta. The 2021 LN4 champion was given the opportunity after taking an unexpected, and highly celebrated, overall win on Sno*Drift Rally last month.
ERA Motorsport’s Kyle Tilley was unable to make 100AW and decided to give Piatkowski the opportunity to protect his points lead, while also taking points away from other members of this year’s RC2 class.
So how did the class debut go for the rallying prodigy? DirtFish checked in with Piatkowski throughout the weekend to get his thoughts at each step of the way.
The weekend started off well for Piatkowski, with he and co-driver John Hall second in class at the end of the “baptism of fire” of a first loop. Dealing with a fogged windshield, the duo still landed a stage win in the RC2 class on SS3 despite the fact he was up against drivers with more experience in their cars.
Come the second loop, however, the skies opened, and stage conditions took a massive change for the worst.
“The first loop went really well for us,” Piatkowski told DirtFish. “I was driving well within my limits, but I had confidence in the car and then the second loop the conditions completely changed on me. I spun, that’s completely my fault, but I guess when the conditions changed, I just needed to learn how to drive the car.
“When it was drier it was OK, but then when things got slick it probably doesn’t suit my driving style at all, and I just had zero confidence. But again, I’m here to learn, and every type of condition I can interact with, it’ll be better.
“I’m a bit down on myself but I’ll have to hit the mental reset button tonight, and it’s a new day tomorrow. Still smiling, but just not as much as the first loop.”
Luckily for the second day of the rally, the mental reset seemed to work, and Piatkowski was back attacking the stages competitively. Having fallen to fourth in his class by the end of day one, he had plenty of time to make up.
Over the course of the next six stages, Piatkowski not only gained his confidence back behind the wheel of the R5, but also quite a lot of time.
Competitor Johnny O’Sullivan retired from the rally on SS8, meaning Piatkowski’s main goal was to battle and overtake 2021 RC2 class champion Enda McCormack in his Hyundai i20. And after making up time on him five stages in a row, he managed to gain the position, and earn second place in class in his RC2 debut.
I brought the car home in one piece, we had a good battle with Enda, and ended up getting second just on the last stage, I’m so so happyMark Piatkowski
“If you look at this weekend as a whole it was quite honestly a squiggly oscillation line,” Piatkowski said of his self-described up and down performance, “but if I ever have this opportunity again I now know how to kind of smooth out that oscillation line and be faster.
“I mean, what can I say? I brought the car home in one piece, we had a good battle with Enda, and ended up getting second just on the last stage, I’m so so happy.”
Veteran co-driver John Hall had words of praise for Piatkowski as well.
“Seriously, we spent three hours testing in the car, that was the limit of the previous driving. We spent, about a day out in Ohio doing some recce practice to kind of change his notes, to be able to accommodate the speed that he’s going to be going.
“Blistering pace [on day two], so really, really good. I think Mark could easily now, pick up in an R5 and compete with the guys no problem.”
Having covered the ARA for a few years now, I have to agree. My eyes have been on Piatkowski for a while after seeing him beat R5 cars seemingly with ease on the tight roads of Southern Ohio Forest Rally last year in his Impreza 2.5RS.
While it would have been great to see Piatkowski debut with a class win, driving a car unlike anything you’ve ever driven before, on roads you’ve never rallied before, in a rally that often comes down to horsepower and commitment is an extremely difficult task.
Piatkowski’s debut was more than impressive. If the opportunity presented itself for him to take the car out on a rally he knows well, like Susquhannock Trail Performance Rally or New England Forest Rally, we’d likely see him be much more competitive against benchmarks like Tom Williams, who won 100AW’s RC2 division this year.
As far as his performance at 100AW goes? Not perfect, but it would be unrealistic to expect anyone in the same position to hop in the car for the first time and run away with a class win. Keeping the car on the road and his team on the podium is probably the best he could have asked for.
There’s still plenty of rallying success left in Piatkowski’s future.