Travis Pastrana has made a strong start to the American Rally Association presented by DirtFish season, establishing an early lead over Subaru Motorsports USA team-mate Brandon Semenuk on the Sno*Drift Rally.
For the first time since 2015, Subaru has made the trip to Atlanta, Michigan after its absence immediately put the team on the back foot last year in a season reduced by the coronavirus pandemic.
Pastrana has made his presence count over the first four stages of 2021, opening up a narrow 9.9-second advantage over Semenuk after three stage wins with defending ARA National Champion Barry McKenna restricted to third in his Ford Fiesta R5+.
Although Semenuk nicked 1.5s from Pastrana on the third stage and has been keeping pace with his team-mate, it’s been a good start for Pastrana – who admitted he’s been “all out” on the stages – on his first Sno*Drift Rally since 2010.
“This rally, it’s far from over,” Pastrana told DirtFish.
“It’s still a tire gamble. Is it going to polish over? Is it going to dig down to the gravel? We made a good choice with the Yokohamas on this loop and I think we’re going to stick with that specific tire going forward but time will tell if it’s the right choice.”
Despite being beaten by his team-mate, Semenuk is content with second place.
“Travis is having a good go but I kind of figured he’d be fast here,” he said.
“He’s always been fast and he’s very good on the ice and snow. He’s got a bit of a lead on me but we’ve got an even bigger gap on Barry and that’s what we want so the goal is to keep it Subaru one-two.
“Obviously I’ll keep making a bit of a push and keep the pressure on Travis but I’m not looking to make any hero moves on him.”
McKenna has chosen to run his less powerful Fiesta R5 instead of his WRC-engined machine in the hope that it would produce less wheelspin on the snowy stages – with crews of course banned from used studded tires.
But McKenna hasn’t been able to keep up with the two Subaru WRX STIs and was third quickest across all four of the first loop’s stages. Pastrana is now already 28.5s ahead of him out front.
The Irishman suspects the Yokohama rubber his Subaru rivals are using is better suited to the conditions than his Michelins.
“We went with a milder ALS [anti-lag system] setting on the first few stages and it wasn’t working,” he told DirtFish. “On the test it worked but when we gave it more ALS it was working better.
“The tires we’re running are a different tire to what Subaru’s running, their tire seems to be softer so I think they’re seeing an advantage on that. But we’re going to run the same again as that’s all we have and just see can we be steady.”
Behind the leading trio is Ryan Booth, who heads a trio of R5 cars. Enda McCormack is the second of those – debuting the Hyundai i20 R5 in the US and doing so in fifth spot.
McCormack had tied with Booth on the opening stage but has since dropped back, lying 42.1s in arrears as sixth-placed Joseph Burke began to outpace him.
Burke, on his first event in an R5 car, was only 10th quickest on SS1 but is now just 5.9s behind McCormack in his Ford Fiesta after a string of top-five stage times thereafter. He heads his father Seamus Burke, who holds seventh in Joseph’s usual Mitsubishi.
Portuguese driver Paulo Ferreira was lying eighth in his Mitsubishi E9 but didn’t take the start of SS3, elevating Ele Bardha into eighth place of the National runners ahead of Jimmy Pelizzari and John Coyne.
Leading positions after SS4
1 Pastrana/Gelsomino (Subaru) 25m29.0s
2 Semenuk/Hall (Subaru) +9.9s
3 McKenna/Jordan (Ford) +28.5s
4 Booth/Dobbs (Ford) +2m52.5s
5 McCormack/McCormack (Hyundai) +3m34.6s
6 Burke/Jozwiak (Ford) +3m40.5s
7 Burke/Brady (Mitsubishi) +4m22.9s
8 Bardha/Roshea (Subaru) +5m24.7s
9 Pelizzari/Stevens (Subaru) +5m30.7s
10 Coyne/Quirke (Ford) +5m34.3s