American Rally Association National series leader Barry McKenna is expecting the Subaru Motorsports USA drivers of Travis Pastrana and Brandon Semenuk to be in “full flight” to catch him over the remainder of the 2020 season.
McKenna enjoys a healthy championship lead after winning the Southern Ohio Forest Rally last weekend and the Sno*Drift Rally back in January – an event Subaru always elects to miss.
Victory went McKenna’s way by 58.3 seconds in Ohio, while Pastrana’s Subaru WRX STI burned to the ground on SS2. His team-mate Semenuk finished third, 18.9s shy of Ken Block and his Ford Escort ‘Cossie’.
Despite his early success, McKenna isn’t carried away with any title talk.
“Anything can happen and I am sure Subaru will be on full flight for the next rounds,” McKenna told DirtFish.
“It was unfortunate to see Travis drop out of the rally like that, I have had some good fun battles with Travis here and I was really looking forward to this one but it did not get to happen.
“It’s still a long way to go [in the championship] and I hope we can challenge Subaru to the end.”
McKenna appeared comfortable as he led by over two minutes heading into the sixth and final stage. However a concrete block that was uncovered from the two previous passes of the stage threatened to derail the Irishman’s bid for victory.
“The last mile of the final stage was Tarmac and when we entered the third corner, there was a piece of concrete culvert in the middle of the road.
“It was a very narrow section so when we tried to avoid it the car slid into the ditch on the outside of the corner and when trying to come out of the ditch we hit a culvert and ended up breaking the compression strut.
“We were fit to drive the car out of the stage and were lucky to only lose the tire 300 yards from the finish. By the time we got to the stop-line, the rim was well shot; we were lucky it was a Tarmac road or it wouldn’t have got to the end.
“We still had a compression strut in the car from WRC Mexico so we managed to get it in for the 20-mile transit and make the finish.”
The rally was a bruising event for all involved, with less than half of the starters making it back to the finish at sunrise on Sunday morning. Due to coronavirus restrictions, the event began on Saturday evening and ran into the dark with just one forest and two stages available to use.
“We knew the schedule would be tough and there is not really much training you can do for it,” admitted McKenna.
“When we did get to it the first two stages were no issue as we would typically rally at those times anyway in the States on the opening day.
“The biggest issue was the wait time until we got back out to the stages as there was a one hour delay from Pastrana’s car burning and the regroup. The waiting around brought on tiredness for a lot of people but once we got going again it all ran smoothly.”
McKenna was also impressed with the performance of the Dom Buckley RSC-prepared Fabia R5, having debuted it on Rally México back in March and giving the car its first ever victory in the USA at the first time of asking.
“I have to say the car is great. I did get a good opportunity to do some testing with the car between now and Mexico and am really starting to enjoy it more. It was at the stage I needed to try something different and it seems to work for me.
“We adjusted very little from our Mexico set-up and this really allowed me to concentrate more on finding the car’s limits. Dom Buckley has really done a great job on having the Škoda set up perfectly and this was proven when I had a WRC driver test the car for me in March and he was very happy with it. When I knew it was right then this helped me drive with confidence.”
Despite gelling with the Škoda, McKenna will be back in his usual Ford Fiesta S2000 Turbo for Ojibwe Forests Rally and potentially beyond “as we will need the top speed that the R5 will lack”.