It’s rare for a third-place finish to strike such fear into a driver’s rivals, but that’s exactly what Barry McKenna managed to do on last weekend’s 100 Acre Wood Rally.
The reasons for this were clear. By all accounts this was McKenna’s rally – eventual winner Travis Pastrana even admitted as such afterwards – and a large factor in that conclusion was his choice of ride. It meant, to some, the rally was McKenna’s before it had even begun.
The 100AW Rally was a landmark event in US rally history as American Rally Association presented by DirtFish National Champion McKenna brought the latest generation of World Rally Car out for a play.
This really was as big as it sounds. The modern WRC car had never been seen in the ARA before and to be perfectly honest, it’s barely been seen anywhere outside of the World Rally Championship before either; particularly in private hands.
An event like 100AW Rally that boasts devastatingly quick average speeds was arguably the ultimate event for McKenna to make this leap too, with the trick aerodynamics on modern WRC cars sure to give him a major advantage. The inherent disadvantage of course was his unfamiliarity with this new ride.
We’ve seen at world level how it can take some drivers a while to get used to this generation of car and in particular the obscene levels of aerodynamic performance they offer, so despite his apparent equipment advantage it wasn’t a walk in the park for McKenna.
The Irishman took to it quickly however, leading the rally from SS3 but the dream result ultimately escaped him.
A front-right puncture on Saturday morning cost McKenna 2m43.8s to Pastrana and although he produced an awesome comeback to claw back over a minute on Pastrana’s Subaru in just five stages, the final spot on the podium was all he could manage.
“[On Friday] I suppose we were still learning the car,” McKenna told DirtFish.
“When we lost 2m45s with the puncture we just went on a full blown attack. We just tried to learn the car under pressure and we managed to get back a lot of time.
“Now that I see what the car’s fit to do, I don’t want to drive it like that all the time if I don’t have to, but we will!
“It was a brand new car so the brakes are good, the suspension’s good, everything’s proper in the car,” he added.
“Confidence with the car definitely [improved over the weekend]. I still want to get a good test.
“I didn’t want to adjust any damper settings here but I believe the car’s not far away from where I would like it. It’s pretty damn good. We’ll get a test before Olympus, see if we can gain any extra out of it.”
Those words will cause all members of Subaru Motorsports USA to wince. The prospect of more time being found from that package could cause it some real headaches from DirtFish Olympus Rally onwards.
“I don’t know if there’s a lot we can do,” said Pastrana when asked about the performance of McKenna’s Ford Fiesta WRC.
“When he decided to really step it up and just hammer down, I tell you what he was untouchable on the stages. He was definitely the class of the field.
“Unfortunately for him, fortunately for the rest of us, he did have a puncture. I felt like we were all really close on day one, we were able to pull off a couple of good stage wins – three wins for me, three wins for Ken [Block] as well – [Brandon] Semenuk is amazingly quick but when McKenna put the power down I don’t think any of us stood a chance this weekend.”
It’s not all rosy for McKenna Motorsports though, as his Fiesta WRC did spark some controversy on the lead up to the event. Series organizers found the car to be outside of O4WD class rules because of its aggressive aerodynamic package – a ruling that would prohibit McKenna from scoring championship points in the vehicle.
McKenna however appealed the ruling, meaning he could compete with the car until the final hearing. The appeal process will last no more than 45 days, but it does mean McKenna’s third place on the 100AW Rally must have an asterisk applied to it – even if his chief rival doesn’t see it that way.
“Everybody has their different opinions on what’s fair and where the grey area is but it’s going to bring the ARA rules to be more specific,” Pastrana explained.
“It’s the driver’s job to figure out where the grey area is and how can I do everything I can to have the best vehicle that I possibly can?
“I was stoked [to hear about it], honestly it keeps elevating the series.”
All of this aside though, it’s important to rejoice in just what a brilliant story this is for US rallying. As fans, we shouldn’t care if McKenna comes first or last but should just simply enjoy getting to see a modern World Rally Car out there on the stages.
Coupled to the return of Ken Block, it’s hard to remember a time when American rallying has enjoyed such a wide-spread appeal as it is right now.