Barry McKenna leads the final round of the 2020 American Rally Association National season, the DirtFish Olympus Rally, halfway through the first day but is being pushed hard by both Subaru Motorsports USA drivers.
McKenna was crowned champion last month on the Show-Me Rally, making the Olympus in Washington State a gloves-off affair between McKenna, Ojibwe Forests Rally victor Travis Pastrana and Show-Me winner Brandon Semenuk.
Reverting back to his Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo after using a Ford Fiesta WRC on the previous round, McKenna was pipped on the opening 7.14-mile Kennedy Creek test by Semenuk, who proved his breakthrough win was clearly no fluke.
But on the To the Towers stage, McKenna hit back and turned his early 1.2-second deficit into a 21.2s advantage over Pastrana at the head of the pack as Semenuk slipped to third, 24.8s adrift of the lead on just a 6.55-mile stage.
McKenna softened his Fabia by a couple of clicks in between the two stages which seemed to have paid off, and he reckoned the To the Towers test played to the strengths of his car which is considerably shorter than the Subarus.
“McKenna, he’s on fire,” admitted Pastrana at first service where both Subaru drivers made significant changes before the repeat loop of the same two tests.
“We kept it [ride-height] high to avoid the rocks, we went hard compound [with the tires] so we don’t get flats but we don’t have a choice at this point,” Pastrana continued to DirtFish. “We’re giving everything she’s got and we’re going to go.”
Subaru’s changes made a difference, with Semenuk’s pace in particular on SS3 and SS4 giving plenty for McKenna to worry about.
Semenuk again won the Kennedy Creek stage, taking 1.5s from the rally leader and 3.4s from his team-mate. And although he was beaten by McKenna on To the Towers 2, it was only by 0.4s – indicating that Subaru’s set-up changes had been a success.
After four of the rally’s 14 stages, McKenna leads Semenul by 23.7s with Pastrana – who stalled on the startline of SS4 – a further 5.1s back in third.
“It’s been pretty good so far,” Semenuk told DirtFish. “Stage two we lost a bunch of time which sucks because we let Barry get ahead. We had a stall and thought we had a flat for a little bit, just trying to manage the car and too safe so lost some time.
“The stages we’re about to do will be a bit quicker in places but still some really slippery bits and tight bits so I don’t think Barry’s going to have a hard time putting down fast stage times, but we’re definitely going to chase him down.”
Pastrana, despite not quite being able to match the two ahead of him, believes “he’s still in hunt”.
“Definitely tomorrow’s stages will suit the Subarus a little better so we’ve got to keep the pressure on the rest of today,” he said. “Honestly, to have a chance we need to be within 20s so we’ve got to have a pretty big push here.”
Jeff Seehorn has found himself in his familiar position of best of the rest behind McKenna and the works Subarus – already 3m50.5s adrift of the lead.
Tucked behind him is John Coyne alongside a new co-driver for the weekend, Nicholas Dobbs. Coyne’s Ford Fiesta R5 trails Seehorn by 57.1s but has Matthew Dickinson’s Subaru close behind. Only 19.3s separates the pair.
Sam Albert had been battling with Seehorn and Coyne on the first three stages, beginning the second pass of To the Towers 14.9s ahead of Coyne’s R5. But a broken front differentiator in that stage put him out of the rally for good.
Dave Carapetyan is seventh, vaulting up from the 10th place he held going into SS4. That was at the expense of 2WD leader Derik Nelson (Subaru BRZ), Cameron Steely (Subaru STI) and ARA Regional leader Dan Clark (BMW M3).
US rallycross star Cabot Bigham is currently 25th on his stage rally debut in a 2008 Subaru.
Ryan Booth was expected to be a frontrunner in his Ford Fiesta R5 but pulled out before the rally got underway with an illness.
Leading positions after SS4
1 McKenna/Jordan (Škoda) 29m38.6s
2 Semenuk/Hall (Subaru) +23.7s
3 Pastrana/Gelsomino (Subaru) +28.8s
4 Seehorn/James (Subaru) +3m50.5s
5 Coyne/Dobbs (Ford) +4m47.6s
6 Dickinson/Ray (Subaru) +5m06.9s
7 Carapetyan/Amato (Subaru) +5m19.2s
8 Nelson/Newell (Subaru) +5m30.3s
9 Steely/Holter (Subaru) +5m42.7s
10 Clark/Willetts (BMW) +6m14.4s