Semenuk delivers no-snow Michigan masterclass

Returning team-mate or not, Subaru's Brandon Semenuk continued his domination of American rallying at Sno*Drift

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All-action American hero Travis Pastrana was back in business at the Sno*Drift Rally, which ended in Atlanta, Michigan on Saturday night. But it was business as usual for Brandon Semenuk who took his 10th straight ARA win.

The Canadian started the second day of this snow-turned-gravel event with a 1m25.9s lead over team-mate Pastrana, but was quickly reminded why the Maryland driver was a four-time Sno*Drift winner. The #199 Subaru scorched through the weekend opener, 1.9s faster than anybody. Having halved the third stage with Semenuk on Friday, he was chuffed with a maiden stage win aboard the new WRX.

Talking to DirtFish at the end of the stage, Pastrana grinned: “I haven’t seen the times yet, but if Brandon is faster than me through there, he deserves it. We were pushing. It was maximum attack.”

It all came undone for Pastrana on the next test. The Subaru got out of shape on a downhill section halfway through Old State-Huff and dived into a snowbank – a snowbank topped up by some light flakes falling overnight and into the morning.

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The 2021 American champions' names were back on the door of a factory Subaru in Sno*Drift

Pastrana takes up the story: “Man, we hit just about everything in there. Everything happened! The front of the car was packed with snow, so all the gauges went red and then we took out a stop sign. We stopped and cleared the snow out and the temperatures went down straight away.

“We cruised to the end of the stage. I think the team is going to tell me to back down and bring bluey home now.”

Stopped for almost four minutes, Semenuk’s lead mushroomed to more than five minutes, bringing a more measured approach to the afternoon for the defending champion. The leader did, however, suffer a scare of his own going into final stage of the middle loop. An oil catch tank loosened causing a small amount of smoke under the hood. Semenuk and co-driver Keaton Williams solved the problem with a handful of cable ties, got through the next stage (fastest again) and let the Vermont SportsCar team offer a more permanent fix.

The event provided a sting in the tail in the shape of two runs at the 13-mile Camp 30 stage, split by the legendary Bonfire Alley – renamed Thunder River for this year.

We were behind two cars built by Vermont SportsCar and one from M-Sport – and this is a car I built in my garage. Tayler Hoevenaar

Semenuk mastered all of it to win by close to six minutes.

“I’m stoked to start the year like this,” he said. “After Travis had a couple of issues this morning it was really about making the finish. Yesterday was quite tough, the roads were tricky with a real mix of conditions, but today was really a gravel rally. It’s good to be back in the car and winning – Keaton’s done a great job and thanks to the team.”

Second-placed Pastrana admitted the event had been messy in places, but he’d played himself back into the team and into a new car. There’s more to come from the six-time champion as the season progresses.

Javier Olivares drove a faultless event in his Fiesta Rally3, delivering the perfect start to his L4WD title defence.

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Defending L4WD champion Javier Olivares scored his fourth ARA podium on the bounce on Saturday

“I was in a bit of an odd space today,” he said. “I wanted to push on and to learn a bit more by driving a bit faster, but I wanted to finish and bring home the podium. It’s been a lot of fun with some really nice stages today.”

Former winner Mark Piatkowski took the naturally aspirated four-wheel drive category after another surefooted drive through the Michigan stages.

Ele Bardha and Tim Wickberg scored solid top-six finishes in their Subarus, with John Sharps (Acura Integra)  and Doug Shepherd (Dodge Neon) took Limited and Open 2WD glory.

In the Regional event, Impreza WRX driver and DirtFish alumni John Farrow edged early leader Tayler Hoevenaar for the win. Hoevenaar contented himself with the NA4WD class win on what turned out to be his maiden gravel event.

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Brothers John and Michael Farrow powered to their maiden Regional win aboard their Subaru

Farrow was delighted with his first ARA Regional win, telling DirtFish: “It’s a great result. We were super-excited to be here, when we signed up we were expecting a snow rally, but it didn’t turn out that way. Bonfire Alley was incredible, what an experience!”

The second run of Mills -Meaford was where the big shift came, with Farrow taking 15s out of Hoevenaar to move to the top of the Regional timesheets.

Hoevenaar explained the time loss, saying: “I started thinking about the car and thinking more about some car sympathy!”

Like Farrow, the run through Thunder River (Bonfire Alley) made a great rally unforgettable.

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Mike Cessna made very good use of a new engine aboard his BMW M3, winning his class in the Regional event

“We were fourth fastest overall through there,” said Hoevenaar. “I’m just so happy about that. We were behind two cars built by Vermont SportsCar and one from M-Sport – and this is a car I built in my garage! I’d never done a gravel rally, yesterday was full mud, but today it was proper gravel. I think I’m going to have to do more of them.”

Gabriel Jacobsohn rounded out the Regional podium in another Impreza, while Chris Nonack (Subaru BRZ) and Mike Cessna (BMW M3) won the Limited and Open 2WD categories respectively.

Cessna dedicated his win to his team after they performed an engine change, working on the car until the early hours of Friday morning.

That kind of commitment and dedication is what makes a result like this one all the more memorable. Ultimately, everybody left the first snow-less Sno*Drift for two decades with memories of a great event – maybe there’s a future in a gravel rally in Atlanta. Maybe run it in the summer. Now there’s an idea. Bring it back.