American Rally Association presented by DirtFish National Champion Barry McKenna has won the Southern Ohio Forest Rally for a second year in succession, and in doing so claimed his first win with his latest generation Ford Fiesta WRC.
McKenna finished over two minutes clear of Travis Pastrana’s Subaru, meaning the championship leader’s streak of victories is over. Subaru Motorsports USA team-mate Brandon Semenuk came home third after a mechanical issue.
SOFR was a tough rally that was blighted with issues; both for the competitors and organizers.
Five of the rally’s scheduled 15 tests had to be canceled amid communication issues between marshals and the emergency services in the stages and rally HQ.
That meant there was a period of eight hours on Saturday where only one competitive stage was run as the problem was rectified, and also necessitated a change to the schedule with Saturday afternoon’s planned three stages scrapped in favor of a third and fourth pass of the morning’s tests.
McKenna was immune from the mayhem though. While he couldn’t quite match the pace of Semenuk early on, the Irishman streaked clear once the rally properly got underway on Saturday and built a lead as his rivals hit trouble.
Pastrana’s rally kicked off disastrously with a stall off the very first start-line that left him outside the top 20 due to the brevity of the first test.
Another stall on stage two left him almost a minute down and from there he knew his chances of victory looked slim.
However the five-time US rally champion kept it on the island on Saturday and profited when Semenuk ran into strife on the third-to-last stage when an electrical connection came loose and cost him over 2m30s.
Ken Block had been the quickest on that opening street stage at Yoctangee, but the Subaru driver’s challenge unravelled on the first forest test, Sunriser Vista.
Approaching a left-hand bend too fast because of an “overly optimistic” pacenote, Block ran his WRX STI wide, clipped a rock and damaged his suspension, causing him to retire for the day.
He restarted on Saturday and took another stage win, but in failing to register any championship points, his American title dream looks to be on hold for at least another year as he missed the opening round and will miss the season finale in Oregon too.
Ryan Booth was another to bow out of the contest early. Driving the McKenna Motorsports Škoda Fabia R5+ (that won this event last year) for the first time on an ARA National round, Booth was setting some encouraging stage times and lay third after Friday’s three evening tests.
But he would get it wrong on SS12 Top Gun North Short 3, crashing his Fabia out of what was fourth place.
Booth’s exit was a gift for John Coyne who assumed fourth place and held it until the end, taking a superb result on his debut with the Ford Fiesta Rally2.
Perhaps the star of the rally was Will Graham though who brought his Mitsubishi home in fifth place after a good dice with fellow Lancer driver Gary Donogue that was settled when Donogue retired three stages from the end.
However a post-event penalty sanctioned because his car was found to be 29lbs underweight demoted Graham to seventh behind Mark Piatkowski who was just 6.6s clear of Arek Bialobrzeski’s similar machine. Ele Bardha was eigthh in his Subaru.
Dylan Murcott scored a superb ninth place that defied his seeding, edging two-wheel-drive winner Seamus Burke who propped up the top 10 leaderboard in his Ford Escort Mk2 after dropping over four minutes and falling from sixth on the leaderboard on the final stage.
1 Brandon Semenuk/John Hall (Subaru) 11m39.7s
2 Ken Block/Alex Gelsomino (Subaru) +18.3s
3 Travis Pastrana/Rhianon Gelsomino (Subaru) +22.6s
4 Barry McKenna/Leon Jordan (Ford) +28.7s
5 John Coyne/Nick Dobbs (Ford) +2m04.9s
6 Dylan Murcott/Troy Miller (Subaru) +2m09.2s
Leading positions after SS15
1 McKenna/Jordan (Ford) 1h17m34.6s
2 Pastrana/R Gelsomino (Subaru) +2m06.4s
3 Semenuk/Hall (Subaru) +2m30.4s
4 Coyne/Dobbs (Ford) +10m30.7s
5 Mark Piatkowski/Aaron Crescenti (Subaru) +13m41.7s
6 Arek Bialobrzeski/Aris Mantopoulos (Subaru) +13m48.3s
7 Will Graham/Cameron Carr (Mitsubishi) +13m48.6s
8 Ele Bardha/Corrina Roshea (Subaru) +14m44.8s
9 Murcott/Miller (Subaru) +14m49.9s
10 Seamus Burke/Martin Brady (Ford) +15m04.2s