Despite a crushing round one win, defending Green APU American Rally Association National champion Brandon Semenuk says he expects the competition will ramp up as the 2023 season unfolds.
The Subaru Motorsports USA star and his British co-driver Keaton Williams won every stage at last month’s Sno*Drift Rally, taking a maiden Michigan win by more than 13 minutes.
Despite that advantage on the opener, Semenuk remained supportive of rule changes implemented in an effort to narrow the gap between his Open class car and the more conventional Rally2 machinery. The Canadian said he expected a closer result on the gravel, starting at this week’s 100 Acre Wood Rally.
“There were definitely good drivers out there [at Sno*Drift],” Semenuk told DirtFish, “but I definitely wish there was that extra level of competition which we’ve had in the last couple of years and especially last year.
“Last year we were all pushing and being pushed to the maximum and that’s kind of the idea. I’m hoping to see more of that through the year.
“It was Sno*Drift and you don’t always see everybody who’s going to turn up for the rest of the season – some people are still sorting out their program and whatnot. We’ve seen some fast drivers turn up on the next rounds on gravel before.”
Last year Semenuk was engaged in a tight title fight with his team-mate and then defending champion Travis Pastrana and Ken Block.
“The championship’s had really good momentum,” he said. “The competition has been really good, I’m loving the car, the team and the roads are amazing and I’m super-happy with the program. It would be a bummer to see the competition fall away and not have that reason to push to the absolute limit.”
Another reason for the competition closing in on Semenuk’s Subaru are linked to the reduced aero on his Open class car.
“On gravel we’re going to notice the [lack of] aero a lot,” he said. “I definitely noticed the lack of front aero even on snow and ice and that tells me we’re really going to notice it even more on gravel.
“And the power of the car has gone down. It’s not like we were running the most aggressive anti-lag maps on snow and ice, but already it feels like you need to carry more momentum.
“You can’t rely as much on the power, you need to be on a clean line and carry the speed.”
Asked about the rule changes, he replied: “I think the rule change is great, but I almost wish they had brought it even closer to where there was one displacement [regulation]. That’s difficult with this championship.
“We still want everybody to come and enjoy these events in whatever car they want to drive. It’s a balance, you don’t want to close out half of the field and the people who want to come in a rear-wheel drive BMW with a three-liter engine or whatever.
“In terms of the R5 cars, I don’t think our car is far superior. On the right rally you could take a stock R5 and show up somewhere like Olympus or [Southern] Ohio, where the roads are twisty and narrow [and be competitive]. You don’t need the bigger displacement there and now the aero’s gone…
“If somebody came with a two-liter engine in a Rally2 car, arguably that could be faster than our car. Look at what Barry [McKenna] did with the Škoda in 2020, when he kicked our ass – back then our car had more power and more aero.
“If somebody came with a car like that now it would be even more competitive.”