Travis Pastrana has taken an early advantage on the third round of the ARA National series, opening up a 19-second lead over Barry McKenna at the head of the Ojibwe Forests Rally.
Pastrana – a five-time winner in Minnesota – is driving a brand-new Subaru WRX this weekend after his Subaru burnt out to a hulk on the previous round in Ohio.
But despite Subaru being forced to change the turbos on both its cars ahead of the Ojibwe Forests Rally, Pastrana and Brandon Semenuk each made a strong start to the rally, setting the top two fastest times on the opening stage, Crossroads.
Pastrana was 20s quicker than team-mate Semenuk on that opener, with ARA points leader McKenna a further 3s adrift in third.
But on SS2 Spur 2, McKenna wrestled second spot away from Semenuk to lie 25s behind Pastrana who took another stage win on his first rally with Rhianon Gelsomini in the co-driver’s seat.
Pastrana – the 2017 ARA National Champion – told DirtFish before the rally began that his freshly-built car feels “amazing” though that his chances of taking a second championship title this season “aren’t zero but pretty much close”.
“McKenna has been driving very, very well,” he added.
“He’s definitely found a way to keep that machine going and it’s definitely going to be tough to beat him at any rounds let alone all the rounds.”
His prediction hasn’t proven particularly accurate so far though. McKenna’s Škoda beat Pastrana to the stage win on SS3 that concluded the first loop, but Pastrana still has breathing space ahead.
McKenna – who suffered a low-speed roll on the pre-event practice stage – insisted to DirtFish that the incident “didn’t shake the confidence” and it certainly seems that way despite the time loss to Pastrana.
Semenuk’s Subaru is however “the biggest threat” for the title according to McKenna, who told DirtFish before stage one: “We’re down to race but we’ll see how we go after the first loop.
“If I can’t get in front without sticking my neck out I’ll probably just look at the championship and try and take a podium or as close to a podium as I can get.”
McKenna added after his loop: “We’re going to make some set-up adjustments now, it was a bit looser than I thought it’d be.
“Tires, definitely the wrong decision but we don’t have much of a choice as we only took mediums where we should’ve took softs.
“Travis destroyed us on the first one but he knows that stage very well. The gaps aren’t as big now, I think I actually won the last stage [SS3] so we’ve some time to make up now.”
It’s so far so good for McKenna halfway through Friday though, with Semenuk behind in fourth place.
That’s because Ryan Booth has had an impressive start to the Ojibwe Forests Rally in his Ford Fiesta R5, lying third just 26s behind McKenna.
Fourth quickest on the opening stage, Booth went 12s quicker than Semenuk on the next to overturn the 11s deficit he recorded on SS1. Incredibly the pair tied on SS3 Halverson Lake, keeping Booth ahead by just a single second going into the first service.
“It’s feeling good, just getting used to these stages and for my co-driver this is only his second one [rally] so it seems that we’re getting into a rhythm a lot quicker than I thought, so we’ll just try and keep plugging away,” Booth said at service.
“I haven’t found the full limit of the car yet. I’ve jumped from R1 to R2 to R5 all within the year so it’s been kind of a sensory overload but it’s been a fun sensory overload for sure.”
Piotr Fetela and Jeff Seehorn are embroiled in a battle for fifth place, and within range of the Booth/Semenuk squabble over the final podium spot.
Fetela – on his first event since January’s Sno*Drift Rally – is a mere 7s ahead of Seehorn’s Subaru in his Ford Fiesta Proto, narrowly beating his rival on every stage thus far.
Patrick Moro’s Chevrolet Sonic is seventh ahead of John Coyne’s Ford Fiesta R5 which occupies eighth at this early stage.
Seamus Burke leads the two-wheel-drive class in his 1977 Ford Escort, just ahead of Chris Greenhouse’s Dodge Neon SRT4.