Subaru Motorsports USA’s Bradon Semenuk won all four stages in the first loop of Friday on the Southern Ohio Forest Rally.
The fifth round of the American Rally Association National season looks to be following a pretty similar pattern to the first four, with Semenuk being the driver to beat on every stage and ultimately winning each rally. SOFR is an event he is yet to win, but he is already over three minutes clear after five stages.
Following Thursday evening’s rally-opening Yoctangee superspecial stage, Semenuk had a half-second lead over Irishman Paul Rowley in a Ford Fiesta R5+.
By the end of Saddle Up, the opening stage of Friday, that gap had grown to 1m14s, with six drivers between Semenuk and Rowley.
Being further back in the running order proved to be a big punishment due to the amount of dust that was kicked up through the 8.27-mile stage, with the reason being a very loose gravel surface.
Tom Williams was the closest driver to Semenuk’s pace, albeit 30 seconds off it in his Ford Fiesta Rally2, and he had a 26.7s gap to the Hyundai i20 R5-driving Patrick Gruszka in third.
The 6.88-mile, catchily named Disco Inferno 50 Cent Remix stage that followed proved a little easier for Semenuk’s rivals, with Williams second fastest again and 15.5s off the pace.
Grudzka dropped almost half a minute in third, and Barry McKenna was a further 7.4s behind in fourth. That would usually be considered a dissapointing drive for the Irishman, but this weekend he is driving a Ford Fiesta RS 1800 Mk2 rather than his usual Fiesta WRC car.
As Semenuk’s lead overall lead extended to beyond a minute on SS4, the multi-surface Top Gun North Short test, McKenna did the same in the two-wheel-drive class with Lia Block now as his closest rival.
The loop ended with Zorn’s Hollow, a 3.48-mile blast between the trees, and the driver who could have challenged Semenuk for the win fell out of contention.
Williams had been 1m13.6s behind after SS4, and on SS5 he lost 7m51s as he spun off after just a few corners and then beached his car before getting it fully back onto the road.
That promoted Gruszka to second, 3m14.5s off the rally lead, while a stellar time from McKenna was not only good enough to be second fastest overall but also lifted him provisionally onto the rally podium.
Martin Spanhel started the day as the ARA Regional leader, but quickly dropped out of contention on the gravel stages. Adam Kimmett won SS2 to take the rally lead, Scott James took it off him by winning SS3, then Philip Wearn won SS4 as Kimmett returned to the front by 11.9s.
Nick Balzer was the stage winner on SS5, with Kimmett seventh fastest but only having his lead reduced by 2.6s.