Perfect Semenuk charges into early Sno*Drift lead

Canadian star Brandon Semenuk is untouchable through Friday's opening loop of 2024 ARA action

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The year might have changed, the snow might have disappeared and the team might be twice as big, but some things seemingly never change – Brandon Semenuk and Keaton Williams remain the class of the ARA field.

Subaru Motorsports USA’s defending American champions hit the ground running at the 2024 Sno*Drift Rally, with a clean sweep of Friday’s evening’s six stages. The #1 Subaru built an impressive 1m25.9s advantage over Travis Pastrana’s sister car.

Semenuk nosed the lead WRX out of the Atlanta start towards the stages with some trepidation after what little snow remained on the Michigan roads had turned to deep mud in places. Ideally, he would have mixed snow and gravel tires, but when that wasn’t possible (they’re different sizes) the team sliced great chunks out of the Yokohamas in an effort to clear the surface and source some grip.

It worked.

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The #1 Subaru blazed a trail into the Michigan night, winning all six stages

“I’m pretty happy tonight,” the leader told DirtFish at the end of the evening. “We’ve got a healthy lead and that was a tricky day. Travis [Pastrana] had a couple of teething issues on that last loop, he bled some time and we both had a leaking [tire] – I think we were both pretty stoked to get through.

“The second pass of the stages in particular was difficult, not knowing how the road would develop. For me, it was the first two stages – I pushed and had a really good, fast clean drive. I took it easier on the third, but it’s been a good first day.”

For Pastrana, Friday offered something of a step into the unknown. Yes, he’d driven Nitrocross through last season, but it had been more than a year since he’d sent a Subaru down a stage. And he didn’t get to drive the new WRX until the Wednesday before the start – partly down to knee surgery which had just about healed in time for the start.

A couple of spins in the first two stages weren’t ideal, but the four-time Sno*Drift winner was still smiling, especially when he halved SS3 with his team-mate. Slightly less so when he suffered a fuel pump issue and a throttle problem.

That's the last time I use a porta-potty as a turn-in point again... Travis Pastrana

“We could only get 43% throttle,” he said. “I couldn’t believe it when I looked down and saw that number 43. I thought: “Come on Ken! Couldn’t you have run the number 99!” I had so much fun back in the car, the stages were so much worse than I thought they would be – we were sideways and backwards all over the place. That’s the last time I use a porta-potty as a turn-in point again – somebody moved it and we just sailed past in the second stage!

“Brandon’s on it, he’s driving really amazing.”

Jérôme Mailloux made it two Canadians in the top three as he delivered his Subaru Impreza STi to a consistent third fastest on five from six stages. He’d returned to Michigan in an effort to finish the job he started last year, when he ran in a podium position before an engine problem halted him Impreza.

So far so good for him on Friday.

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Pastrana explains all to DirtFish after a challenging first night back in the ARA

“It’s not possible to follow the big Subarus,” he smiled, “so third place is what I was hoping for. I was driving safe today, I didn’t want to take any big risks.”

Javier Olivares began his defence of Limited 4WD with a solid third overall and class lead aboard the Ford Fiesta Rally3. His only issue had been dealing with the worsening conditions – and fearing that some of the two-wheel drive cars following might not actually make it up the hills.

Former winner Mark Piatkowski (Subaru Impreza) and Enda McCormack (Hyundai i20 Rally2) rounded out the top six, with both admitting the opening evening had been more about survival that setting the world alight.

Sean Donnelly headed up Limited 2WD in his Fiesta, while Doug Shepherd topped Open 2WD.

In the Regional standings, Tayler Hoevenaar and Steve Stewart (Subaru Forester) opened up a 38.9s lead over the Impreza WRX of John and Michael Farrow.

While the conditions looked marginally less changeable for the second day, Saturday is twice as long with just over 70 miles of competition.

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Private Subaru driver Mailloux is chasing the Sno*Drift podium which slipped out of his grasp 12 months ago