Twelve months on from celebrating a hard-fought first American title, Brandon Semenuk cemented his place among the Stateside rallying greats with a season of total domination – culminating in another start-to-finish win at the Lake Superior Performance Memorial Rally.
The Subaru Motorsports USA star’s success might have been telegraphed in Michigan, but it still had to be delivered. And that delivery was as surefooted as it was supreme, even through Saturday’s treacherously wet and slippery stages.
Moments after crossing the line to cement a 17th stage win from as many stages, Semenuk told DirtFish: “This was a great year – hats off to Subaru and everybody involved. The car’s been so reliable this season, both the new car and the old car, and that’s a credit to all the technicians and everybody involved in the team.
“I wanted to come here and close the season out on a high and we’ve done that. I can’t speak highly enough of this guy beside me [Keaton Williams, co-driver]. This was a tough event, some great roads, but some tricky ones at the same time.”
Eight minutes behind Semenuk, Pat Gruszka turned in a similarly dominant performance in the RC2 class. Second overall, the Hyundai i20 R5 driver could take credit from a flawless drive to a class win against a busier Rally2 field than usual.
Having secured his class title ahead of the start, Gruszka started LSPR chasing more seat time and more experience of the i20. Mission accomplished.
“We did everything we set out to do,” he said. “We finished without breaking anything on the car. I did run wide on a three-right earlier today, we kissed a tree – but what can I say, I’m a tree hugger!
“I think we’ve progressed well with this car this year, now we need to sit down and make a plan for next season.”
Javier Olivares started this year embroiled in a winner-takes-all battle with Matt Dickinson for the limited four-wheel drive category. The Ford Fiesta Rally3 man needed a powerstage win and class success – he scored both and celebrated a championship title which hadn’t been in his sights at the start.
Olivares’ designs on another impressive overall podium were threatened through Friday’s opening eight stages by Patrick Moro’s outstandingly sonorous V8 Chevy-engined Sonic. Just a handful of seconds behind Olivares, he slid into the trees on Saturday morning.
Local hero Greg Bugaj delivered his Subaru to a fine fourth place for a driver not competing as regularly as his rivals. He was half a minute down on Olivares and the same distance ahead of Dickinson, who was disappointed to miss out on his race for the limited four-wheel drive title.
Dickinson’s Subaru ran well, but like Bugaj, a degree of ring rustiness made it difficult for him to land a knockout punch in the title race.
Irishman Enda McCormack was sharing his Hyundai i20 R5 with his son Sean for the first time – with both on fine form to close out the top six.
Arek Bialobrzeski lifted the National 4WD class and seventh overall, while Lexus master Michael Hooper won Open 2WD. Santiago Iglesias took the Limited 2WD class, but Sean Donnelly landed the biggest prize as he lifted the ARA L2WD crown.
In the regional field, Zach Jacques survived a late scare when a holed radiator drained his Subaru of water. Hasty end-of-stage repairs – naturally the stage had to be Double Trouble – kept the flat four cool enough to win the Regional event overall. Levi Johnson was top Open 2WD in his BMW, collecting a Sisu Challenge victory which also bagged him a half-day course at DirtFish. Dylan Gondyke, John Farrow and Chris Cyr also celebrated class success on the Green APU season finale.