Barry McKenna leads the New England Forest Rally overnight after he and Leon Jordan won four of Friday’s five stages in their Ford Fiesta WRC.
After two runs of the famous, flatout Concord Pond test, the rally moved into new territory for Friday’s final loop of three stages: South Arm, Beaver Pond and Icicle Brook.
Reigning champions McKenna and Jordan set the pace again on SS3 but were beaten to the stage win on SS4 by American Rally Association presented by DirtFish National points leaders Travis Pastrana and Rhianon Gelsomino.
That stage win had drawn Pastrana level with the returning David Higgins and Craig Drew who are driving a McKenna Motorsport-run Fiesta for the first time this weekend.
However, McKenna restored order on the day’s final test by winning it to head into Saturday with a 12.6-second lead over Hoonigan’s Ken Block.
Uncharacteristically, Block never won a stage all day but was second-fastest on three of them to keep his Subaru WRX STI in touch with McKenna’s Fiesta, enjoying a decent 13.5s advantage over Higgins who’s third on his first rally since 2019.
Pastrana gave up 3.4s to Higgins on SS5 Icicle Brook to trail by that same margin overall, but has moved past his Subaru Motorsports USA team-mate Brandon Semenuk into fourth overall by just one second.
Semenuk and John Hall had been tucked right behind Block and Alex Gelsomino after the first loop but struggled on stages three, four and five, dropping down from third to fifth on the day’s last stage as they managed no better than fourth quickest on any stage across the loop. They’re therefore 30.5s adrift of McKenna’s lead.
Incredibly, neither of the two Subaru Motorsports USA cars are currently set to record a podium finish – something which has never happened since Idaho 2019.
Marty McCormack hasn’t been able to match the searing pace of the leaders but, in turn, has managed to pull comfortably clear of the rest of the pack.
The Northern Irishman, making his American rallying debut this weekend in McKenna’s Škoda Fabia R5+, has been sixth fastest on all of Friday’s five stages to hold that position on the leaderboard – 1m39.9s behind Semenuk’s Subaru but 2m21.7s clear of his nearest rival Joseph Burke.
Burke was enjoying a close-run battle with Paul Rowley in their Ford Fiesta R5s. Rowley was quicker on SS3 but lost out to Burke on the next two stages to trail by 12.7s overall.
An inspired Jax Redline has interrupted this all-Irish battle though, storming up from 18th to eighth across the loop in Block’s Ford Escort Cossie V2.
Sixteen-year-old Redline is starting his first ever stage rally this weekend and is adapting quickly to the unique demands of the discipline, setting two seventh-fastest times and eighth-quickest on South Arm to firmly apply the pressure onto Burke’s seventh spot.
The off-road racer is just 1.1s behind overall, with 10.6s in hand over Rowley. John Coyne, 55 years Redline’s senior, completes the overnight top 10 in his Fiesta Rally2, 12.7s behind Rowley.
Seamus Burke, father of seventh-placed Joseph, is 11th overall and leading the two-wheel-drive chase in his Ford Escort Mk2.
Nine stages lie in wait on Saturday.
1 Barry McKenna/Leon Jordan (Ford) 11m37.3s
2 Ken Block/Alex Gelsomino (Subaru) +2.5s
3 David Higgins/Craig Drew (Ford) +7.0s
4 Travis Pastrana/Rhianon Gelsomino (Subaru) +10.4s
5 Brandon Semenuk/John Hall (Subaru) +13.6s
6 Marty McCormack/Barney Mitchell (Škoda) +42.4s
Leading positions after SS5
1 McKenna/Jordan 30m45.8s
2 Block/A Gelsomino +12.6s
3 Higgins/Drew +26.1s
4 Pastrana/R Gelsomino +29.5s
5 Semenuk/Hall +30.5s
6 McCormack/Mitchell +51.2s
7 Joseph Burke/James Fulton (Ford) +4m32.1s
8 Jax Redline/Michael Hordijk (Ford) +4m33.2s
9 Paul Rowley/Dominik Jozwiak (Ford) +4m43.8s
10 John Coyne/Nick Dobbs (Ford) +4m56.5s