Barry McKenna laid down a blazing fast pace on the freezing Friday night stages of the American Rally Association’s 2020 season-opening Sno*Drift Rally in Atlanta, Michigan.
The unusual weather in the area proved to be a challenge to the 39 competitors as they attacked the stages.
Temperatures going above and below freezing with varying amounts of snow, sleet, and rain caused unpredictable road conditions that were ever-changing and difficult to master.
McKenna led this set of unpredictable stages in his 2011 R5 Ford Fiesta with Piotr Fetela, Jimmy Pelizzari, Zachary Jacques, and Blake Lind rounding out the top five.
Despite already being ahead of second place by nearly two minutes, McKenna ended Friday looking ahead and thinking about how to keep that lead.
“It’s very slippy out there,” said McKenna, “We’ll probably end up going to snow tires [for Saturday].”
Fetela is trailing in second place with his Ford Fiesta Proto car by 1m50s, but is still setting a very quick pace and remains in with a chance on Saturday in the changeable conditions.
Though it is co-driver Kamil Heller’s first time running these surfaces without the use of studded tires, it doesn’t seem to have held the duo back from contending for the podium.
Pelizzari is in third place in his 2001 Subaru Impreza 2.5 RS. Pelizzari is currently the fastest car running in the Regional category, and is only a little over a minute off Fetela’s pace.
Pelizzari plans on running with the same strategy on Saturday, saying, “It’s gonna be good, just stay on the road.”
He described the stage conditions as treacherous, inconsistent in grip, and slippery in braking zones, but also added: “it’s exciting!”
Jacques is running happily in fourth place with his 2015 Subaru Impreza.
He entered into the night stages with the mindset of “get through it, don’t have to work on the car tonight,” which worked well in his favor.
The team plans no changes for Saturday other than adjusting tire pressures, with Jacques confident in his machine and having no complaints.
“The car feels amazing,” said Jacques. “It’s pretty big but the handling is absolutely incredible.”
Rounding out the top five competitors at the end of Friday is Lind in the Primitive Racing 1996 Subaru Impreza.
Lind is tackling his first Sno*Drift rally this weekend and is already putting on a great showing.
Despite not knowing what to expect with the tricky conditions, Lind believes his team is in a good place.
“Everything happens slower, it’s a little bit harder to get the confidence, but it’s going well,” says Lind.
Most of the drivers after running the night stages said they would consider switching tires or changing pressures, but likely not much else. Traction is proving to be a vital commodity for teams in the conditions.
Saturday should also prove difficult for the drivers with 11 more stages and guaranteed unpredictability.
Leading positions after Friday night
1. McKenna (Ford)
2. Fetela (Ford) +1m50.0s
3. Pelizzari (Subaru) +2m20.7s
4. Jacques (Subaru) +5m04.4s
5. Lind (Subaru) +6m07.8s