Semenuk leads LSPR, Block can’t restart

Brandon Semenuk is in control of LSPR – but engine damage to Block's Escort rules her out of restarting

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Brandon Semenuk is all set to achieve a 100% win record in the 2023 Green APU ARA season, leading the Lake Superior Performance Memorial Rally by almost five minutes – but Lia Block won’t return from retirement on Saturday.

There was a noticeable sweeping effect on LSPR’s fast, sandy roads, as Semenuk was one of the few drivers to be faster in the afternoon than in the morning, once the surface had become rougher and more rutted.

Block had shown some promising pace on the first loop of stages before a technical problem on her Ford Escort Cosworth forced her to park and retire just before stage four.

Block House Racing team manager Derek Dauncey outlined to DirtFish just how bad the problem was – and that it would force her to miss out the rest of the rally given the significant engine damage sustained.

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“She changed out of first, the car stalled, went to restart it and it shredded the cambelt. That took an exhaust valve out. So, a really strange one. But she was flying.”

“It’s done and dusted. We’ve had a borescope in and it’s destroyed. Yeah, unfortunate; we had a cambelt and other bits ready but it’s not going to work.”

Pat Gruszka was back with a “vengeance” after breaking his hand in an accident on LSPR last year.

“We’re either going to get a good result and have some fun, or we’re breaking the other hand!” he said. Luckily for his other hand, he’s running second and with a cushion of almost two minutes to those behind.

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Most National titles were wrapped up before the season finale but the LN4 crown is still up for grabs – and thus far Javier Olivares has been doing everything right to snatch it right at the end.

Olivares started LSPR six points adrift of Matthew Dickinson in the title race. But the former’s Ford Fiesta proved effective on the fast, flowing roads that dominated Friday’s running, gradually establishing a solid 31.4s lead over the chasing pack.

Dickinson realistically needs to finish second and then make the difference on the powerstage if he’s to convert his slim points advantage into the title. But series returnee Greg Bugaj has made that task much harder, occupying second and extending the gap to Dickinson in third to 24.8s.

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Bugaj, as many of his rivals predicted, made hay after the sun fell, putting in big times in the Friday evening darkness. Dickinson meanwhile conceded that he’d briefly felt “stressed” midway through the day.

Behind the L4WD trio, Arek Bialobrzeski leads the way in NA4WD with his Subaru Impreza, though he’s quickly being caught in the overall standings for seventh by Enda McCormack, whose young son Sean is making his rallying debut in the co-driver’s seat.

Michael Hooper and Lucy Block round out the top 10 in the National standings. Zach Jacques was rapid on his return to action, dominating the Regional classification to lead by 2m29s.