Barry McKenna has grabbed an early lead of the New England Forest Rally over Ken Block after the first two stages.
McKenna is the form man in the American Rally Association presented by DirtFish National season right now, having won the preceding Southern Ohio Forest Rally.
And the reigning champion has brought reinforcements this weekend in the form of 10-time US rally champion David Higgins, as McKenna looks to topple the might of Higgins’ old team Subaru Motorsports USA.
McKenna, driving the latest-generation Ford Fiesta WRC he debuted back in March, was untouchable across the first loop of stages which comprised two identical runs of the famous Concord Pond stage.
Quickest by 3.8 seconds on the first run, McKenna couldn’t even match his own pace the second time through – setting a time one second slower than SS1 – but was still 2.5s faster than his nearest rival to establish his early advantage.
Hoonigan Racing Division’s Block was second on SS1 but was edged by Subaru’s Brandon Semenuk on SS2, however it’s Block’s WRX STI that holds second place overall after two stages, albeit by only 0.4s.
“It was a lot of fun, didn’t make too many mistakes and put in two consistent times so I’m happy,” admitted Block.
Rally leader McKenna is eight seconds up on Block, with Higgins 15.1s adrift of his new team-mate.
“Feeling good, that’s a crazy stage, crazy stage!” McKenna said.
Driving an older generation Fiesta than McKenna, the returning Higgins was fourth fastest on SS1 and fifth fastest on SS2 to head current ARA points leader Travis Pastrana – who endured a sluggish start to his rally – by 3.2s.
“We stalled it on the [SS1] start so we lost 11 [seconds] and pretty much knocked us both out over a big jump,” said Pastrana.
“I need to get my driving sorted but we’ll be back.”
Higgins added: “Still the car’s certainly driving me a bit, got to get used to it and things but the top speed and the gear ratios are quite different so we’re just trying to get used to what we’re doing with the notes and things, but it’s going alright.”
As expected, a gap has already begun to open up between the leading runners and the best of the rest. Currently, the rest is led by US rallying debutant Marty McCormack in the McKenna Motorsport Škoda Fabia R5+.
McCormack, a regular in Britain and Ireland, is already 32.1s behind Pastrana but does have 10.9s in hand over Joseph Burke who’s making his third start of the season in his Ford Fiesta R5.
John Coyne had beaten Burke in his newer Rally2 model on SS1 but dropped 3.3s to him on SS2 to trail by 2.8s overall heading into service. Paul Rowley is just another 4.2s behind in his Fiesta while two-wheel-drive leader Seamus Burke completes the top 10.
Off-road racer Jax Redline, making his stage rally debut in Block’s Ford Escort Cossie V2, is an early 17th overall, 1m37.6s down on the lead.
1 Barry McKenna/Leon Jordan (Ford) 3m47.9s
2 Brandon Semenuk/John Hall (Subaru) +2.5s
3 Travis Pastrana/Rhianon Gelsomino (Subaru) +3.9s
4 Ken Block/Alex Gelsomino (Subaru) +4.2s
5 David Higgins/Craig Drew (Ford) +6.3s
6 Marty McCormack/Barney Mitchell (Škoda) +20.2s
Leading positions after SS2
1 McKenna/Jordan 7m34.8s
2 Block/A Gelsomino +8.0s
3 Semenuk/Hall +8.4s
4 Higgins/Drew +15.1s
5 Pastrana/R Gelsomino +18.3s
6 McCormack/Mitchell +51.2s
7 Joseph Burke/James Fulton (Ford) +1m02.1s
8 John Coyne/Nick Dobbs (Ford) +1m04.9s
9 Paul Rowley/Dominik Jozwiak (Ford) +1m09.1s
10 Seamus Burke/Martin Brady (Ford) +1m20.6s