Semenuk leads but McKenna is flying at 100 Acre Wood

Barry McKenna dominated the timesheets on day one, but Subaru star Brandon Semenuk still leads in Missouri

McKenna 100 AW

Vermont SportsCar owner Lance Smith zipped up his jacket as the chill of the Missouri night set in. He smiled. The factory Subarus were sitting first and third, but day one at 100 Acre Wood was more about Barry McKenna.

The Irishman, back in frontline ARA action for the first time in a year, won all but one of the day’s stages aboard his Ford Fiesta WRC – only a puncture kept him off the top on Friday night.
Looking across to the Irishman’s corner of the service park, Smith grinned: “We’ve got ourselves a rally on now.”

He wasn’t wrong. He rarely is.

The 2020 American champion has spent more time aboard a Ford Escort Mk2 than his Fiesta WRC in the last 12 months. His last outing in the modern car was on this event 12 months ago, when a spin cost him the win. Ahead of his maiden 2024 ARA outing, McKenna’s thoughts were very much about playing himself back into the car. A day testing a Fiesta Rally2 in February had helped get his eye back in, but the WRC was on another level.

McKenna muggy
We’re going fast here… we really need to concentrate! Barry McKenna

“I’ll spend the first loop of stages getting used to it again,” he predicted.

Back up to speed quicker than he thought, he went fastest on the first two stages (the third was cancelled after some spectator issues) to lead defending champion Brandon Semenuk by 2.3 seconds as the cars returned to service.

“I was surprised at the speed I found,” McKenna told DirtFish. “I haven’t been in the car for a while, but we were halfway through the first stage and Leon [Jordan, co-driver] and I were like: “Wow, we’re going fast here… we really need to concentrate!” So we pulled our heads out and we kept going.”

And kept going and kept going. The Fiesta was fastest on four of the five stages completed on Friday, with just that left-rear deflation keeping them out of an overnight lead.

“The puncture dropped us around 40 seconds to Brandon,” he said. “We’ll have to be flat out tomorrow. Maybe this rally owes me one, but every time I bite it, it seems to bite me back harder.”

Semenuk 100AW

Subaru star Semenuk leads overnight, but knows he has a fight on his hands going into Saturday's final day

Leader Semenuk was cautious ahead of the event – he knew how hard McKenna had pushed him for the win in Missouri last year. Running first on the road, he’d hoped Thursday’s heavy rain might offset the worst of the loose gravel. It didn’t. Unseasonably warm conditions, with temperatures approaching 80 degrees (26 Celsius), dried the stages quickly.

“The road was crazy loose in places,” said the overnight leader. “I felt we’d had a pretty good day – there were a few moments when we were trying to find the pace with Barry. It was one of those days where you’re just trying to find tenths, but if you mess it up, you lose seconds. Barry got the puncture and that’s given us the edge with a 30-second lead, but our day wasn’t without drama. But we’ve had a lot of fun today. We had an awesome fight here last year and it’s great to have that back and bring Travis [Pastrana] into the mix.”

Friday’s roads around Potosi were generally wider and faster than those planned around Salem on Saturday.

“Tomorrow’s less about the power,” said Semenuk, “so hopefully that suits the car more.”

The Canadian was right about how close the battle had been. Yes, McKenna had the stage wins, but the WRX driver was never more than 3.6s slower than his rival.

Pastrana, however, was 12.8s down on McKenna and 44.1 off the front. The American admitted he was struggling.

“I got no excuses right now,” he said. “I just got to push that right foot to the floor. And it’s, yeah, it’s just, it’s… I don’t know. I don’t even know what to say. I’m at a loss for words right now.”

The charismatic all-action star’s never lost for words for long.

“Did you see the lines they’re taking? Semenuk broke his mirror, he hit it on the ground sideways – like a boat! He missed a tree by an inch and made the corner – just like Ricky Carmichael, on the gas, Colin McRae style. I love it! I’m watching the lines and I’m giggling, but I need to do some homework and I need to find some guts tonight. I don’t know, Hail Mary, whatever we got to do. We’ve got to send it tomorrow, because we’re not going to get it done this way. We’re going to come out swinging in the morning.”

Olivares 100 AW

Olivares continues his domination of the L4WD category, picking up in Missouri where he left off in Michigan last month

Hyundai driver Pat Gruszka is the leading Rally2 car, sitting fourth on his return to the series. Paul Rowley’s Ford Fiesta S2000 Turbo is fifth with just 10 seconds separating him, Pat Moro (Chevrolet Sonic V8) and Javi Olivares (Fiesta Rally3) at the end of Friday.

Ele Bardha’s Subaru is seventh with John Coyne second in RC2 and ninth overall with former British Junior Champion driver Josh McErlean co-driving him in the i20 N Rally2.

Nick Allen rounds out the top-10 after an impressive debut day in his Ford Fiesta Rally3.
Micah Nickelson (VW Golf) and Seamus Burke (Ford Escort V8) are separated by just nine seconds as the pair battle it out for the O2WD lead, while Chris Cyr (L2WD) and Jacob Despain (NA4WD) are the other National class leaders.

Ford Fiesta Proto driver Todd Hartmann heads the Regional standings and sits 12th overall. Subaru man Ryan Rethy is second Regional and first up in the Naturally Aspirated 4WD class. The other regional class leaders include Mike Hurst in his fabulous Capri, Robert Dupree and Calvin Cooper.

Tomorrow’s second and final day includes eight stages and 68 competitive miles.

Hartmann 100AW

Hartmann leads the Regional runners in his Ford Fiesta Proto