Travis Pastrana holds a comfortable lead over Ken Block at the head of the Ojibwe Forests Rally at the end of Friday, well placed to win a fourth American Rally Association presented by DirtFish National round from six starts.
Choosing a cut tire in the wet conditions, coupled to better knowledge of the famous Crossroads stage, allowed Pastrana to carve open a near 40-second lead after just two stages.
While his advantage over Block’s similar Subaru WRX STI has slimmed since those first two tests, Subaru Motorsports USA’s Pastrana is still yet to be headed in Minnesota as he took a clean sweep of the first day’s eight stages, earning an overnight lead of 1m04s.
Block will be a touch disappointed to be so far adrift of Pastrana (although he did get to within 0.9s of a stage win on Thorpe Tower 2) but it’s no travesty as the Hoonigan Racing Division driver isn’t in the mix for the 2021 ARA National title.
Pastrana meanwhile is in the box seat to claim the crown this year, aided by outgoing champion Barry McKenna missing the rally due to work commitments and team-mate Brandon Semenuk crashing in testing and not being able to take the start.
Ryan Booth is third after Friday in the McKenna Motorsport Škoda Fabia R5+, doing well given he missed a lot of recce time due to a delayed flight to reach the event.
Tom Williams is sampling the US stages for the first time at Ojibwe, and he lies fourth overall in his Ford Fiesta Rally2, 2m39.1s down on Booth’s more powerful R5 but comfortably 3m08.1s clear of John Coyne in the same car.
Enda McCormack has began to close in on Coyne in his Hyundai i20 R5, trailing the 71-year-old by a mere 8.7s heading into Saturday; although the gap between the pair was as low as 4.5s before Coyne responded to McCormack’s charge on SS7 and SS8.
Seamus Burke is in control of the two-wheel-drive class, seventh overall in his Ford Escort Mk2, but the epic battle for eighth between Ele Bardha and Mark Piatkowski continues to rage on.
Having trailed Piatkowski after the first loop, Bardha made his move on SS6 Steamboat 2 to steal the position, but with only 1.8s in hand over his fellow Subaru-driving rival, another big tussle is expected on Saturday.
Pro skateboarder and former rallycross racer Bucky Lasek completes the top 10 in another Impreza.
Overall classification after SS8
1 Pastrana/Gelsomino (Subaru) 1:01:38.5s
2 Block/Gelsomino (Subaru) +1:04.0s
3 Booth/Hayes (Škoda) +3:32.9s
4 Williams/McKillop (Ford) +6:12.0s
5 Coyne/Dobbs (Ford) +9:20.9s
6 McCormack/McCormack (Hyundai) +9:29.6s
7 Burke/Brady (Ford) +11:51.1s
8 Bardha/Roshea (Subaru) +12:33.5s
9 Piatkowski/Barbera (Subaru) +12:35.3s
10 Lasek/Dorman (Subaru) +13:22.2s