The stages for the Lake Superior Performance Rally are in the best condition they have been for many years. In 2018 there was ice and hailstones and it was so so tricky and in 2019 it was muddy and slippy so to find the stages in bone dry solid condition on recce this year was exciting.
Friday’s loop, based near Sidnaw, is a group of four stages run twice with a 60-minute service splitting the action. With a 4pm start that means that many cars will tackle SS4 Estes Lake in the dusk and that can prove quite the challenge.
The second loop will be in full darkness for everyone and that will level the playing field but not lessen the challenge.
Saturday’s stages are based initially around L’Anse with an evening trip to Marquette for the city stages.
SS1/5: Far Point (12.4 miles)
In reverse compared to the last two years, Far Point is a fast and ferocious stage with sections of flat out and corners that sweep long and flowing.
One tip I can say is to watch the section with the lake on the outside at the six-mile mark, I have stood on the side of the road there reflecting on retirement. You can be too brave ahead of that section and arrive at an end of rally trip to the scenery or even the soft swamp!
SS2/6: Passmore (13.2 miles)
Again a stage that has been seen many times before as a version of the TP Tower stage so again a fast flowing stage for the most part. In the dark it is quite the challenge as long straights and many crests can be overwhelming at night, but good notes and a keen eye reward fast drivers on this stage.
The big game-changer in the stage this year will be the virtual chicane which is a GPS monitored ‘corridor’ of the stage where the driver must get the car down to the target speed of 25mph before accelerating again. Heavy penalties apply for being faster at this point so it is important to manage it correctly.
SS3/7: Bob Lake (7.28 miles)
A familiar stage but with a new start section this year, a diverse stage that starts fast but suddenly switches to a narrow more clay-based surface with lots of slippy corners and ‘gotcha’s.’
The technical sections are quite tight and switchback and there is also a railroad crossing that looks quite tame but if you catch it wrong then there is a tight left waiting after it to suck you in.
SS4/8: Estes Lake (6.73 miles)
This one is a classic and in fact, it appeared on the 1974 Press-On Regardless Rally for the world championship crews. It is a fun stage and it goes quite quickly. If you are fast through it then it feels short compared to the previous stage, even if it is only a mile shorter.
Usually, it is quite a soft clay surface that can rutt up as each car passes, but this year I expect it to be different as the surface is so dry and some sections have fresh gravel laid. If you get to SS8 in a good place and can afford to cruise and make the end of the day then that might be a good plan.
SS9/12: Silver Arvon (9.5 miles)
Such a challenging stage that hasn’t been used in this direction for some years. It will start in a narrow, slippy tough bumpy surface and in places it is hard to read the road as some of the trees have been harvested and notes are important over the crests in this area so you trust your note and not try to follow an uneven tree line as a marker.
That makes it tough, but the fast, wide flowing section to the finish is nice, just watch out for the section where the cars loop into an old quarry for a short arc that will give the waiting spectators a treat. It is racetrack wide and fast before that section so it is quite the change.
SS10/13: Herman Nestoria (7.34 miles)
Good stage, again a classic from the world championship 1970’s era. The interesting thing about this stage is it seems to climb slightly all the time, not very steep hills, just a constant succession of slow rise for most of the stage, which maybe lends it to the cars with more horsepower, but as always a classic enjoyable stage.
SS11 Menge Creek (7 miles)
Just seen once this year but is has been featured in previous years and formats, it is a very sandy surface mostly but it has a lovely section in the middle of the stage where we hook under the trees and the leaves give a wonderful canopy, it is as photogenic as it is enjoyable to rally.
SS14: Mount Marquette (1.32 miles)
SS14 and 15 are the stages in Marquette with Mount Marquette first, a stage that is so hard to properly describe other than to say it is wildly different and challenging. A hard black gravel surface and without doubt a mountain stage with big elevation changes, the drop down the flying finish is particularly tricky and folklore claims it caught out many of the stage stars when it was an opening stage for the WRC in the ’70s.
SS15: Marquette Mountain (1.21 miles)
There’s then a short distance to the similar-sounding but totally different SS15 Marquette Mountain. This stage is at a ski-slope facility and has again elevation changes but it is a rougher and bumpier clay stage that even nips around some service buildings and into open areas that look fast but have some bumps and jumps you need to slow for and respect, particularly when it is the last stage and the final 1.2 miles of the event.