Brandon Semenuk has gotten himself and navigator Keaton Williams into an early lead at the New England Forest Rally in round six of the American Rally Association presented by DirtFish National championship.
The Subaru Motorsports USA star found himself leading the rally after SS1 Concord Pond, but then fell back to second behind Ken Block by a few seconds on the second running of the famed stage.
Luck would turn in his favor, however, when the Hoonigan Racing Divison driver was met with an intercom failure that lasted through the remaining three stages of the day.
“Our day started really well for us,” Block’s navigator Alex Gelsomino told DirtFish after the final stage.
“Unfortunately our lead became a deficit when we lost the intercom on Beaver Pond and on some parts of Icicle Brook, but it’s OK, it’s part of the game.
“We have a spare intercom in the car, but both units were OK, the issue was in one of the helmets, so in that case the spare intercom is not going to do anything.”
Relying on hand gestures, Block and Gelsomino would keep a respectable pace, but fall back to second place, 22 seconds off of Semenuk.
“We started the day great, and ended the day great.” Semenuk told DirtFish.
“We’ve got a big day tomorrow obviously, the stages get a bit rougher and it’s going to be managing the car a bit, anything can happen at this point.
“I think the rally really starts tomorrow, but it’s always good getting a good feeling in the car.”
Semenuk’s team-mate Travis Pastrana is sitting in a close third behind Block, the two old rivals separated by eight seconds.
“If we didn’t see the times I’d tell you it’s going awesome,” Pastrana said after the first loop of stages in which he had swept the roads.
“I got to the end of the first stage and I thought it was a really good stage, but I thought ‘you know, I didn’t really scare myself one time on that stage’.
“So we were much more aggressive the second time through, and must’ve overdriven the exits.”
Pastrana found more pace periodically throughout the day, but still lost time to the top two with almost every stage and is looking for a big push on Saturday.
Behind the lead pack, O2WD leader Seamus Burke started off the day in great form by sitting in fourth place after two stages, and only dropping a position to Martin Donnelly’s Fiesta R5-based Open class car later in the day to end Friday in the overall top five and with a huge lead in the two-wheel-drive battle despite cooling fan failures causing his car to start overheating midway through the day.
Fortunately for Burke his main competition has fallen away, as Cam Steely found himself in a ditch just a few corners into the first stage, having to already compete in super rally, while Tennessee native Michael Hooper has fell out of contention after losing time on SS4 and then not starting the final stage of the day.
This leaves Erik Potts and his Subaru BRZ as the second-highest two-wheel-drive entry in the National classification, 2m21.9s behind Burke and in 10th place overall. Tabitha Lohr’s Toyota Yaris completes the class podium but is 18 minutes off of the leader.
The LN4 class had some interesting action, as one of the pre-event favorites Dylan Murcott found his car arriving to the event only 10 minutes before he had to hit the road.
Put back together after a devastating jump in the Southern Ohio Forest Rally, the car arrived with no wing, mismatched panels, and bad alignment. Combined with penalties for missing parc exposé and starting about 12 cars back from where he was supposed to, Murcott is facing an uphill battle for the rest of the rally as he is in fourth place in class behind US rallying newcomer Vincent Trudel.
Trudel has competition experience in Canada, and in his first rally south of the border is already on the class podium. He sits ninth overall and is two minutes off of the tight battle between NA4WD leader Arek Bialobrzeski and LW4D leader Klim Fedoff.
Bialobrzeski was ahead through the first two stages of the day, while Fedoff took the advantage back for SS3 and SS4, but a push on the final stage of the day by Bialobrzeski has left him 10.4s ahead, and ready for more tomorrow.
In the Maine & New Hampshire Regional Rally, part of the ARA East championship, TJ Pullen leads Dylan Gondyke in a tight battle. The two have been friends and rivals for years, and now with 70 harsh stage miles ahead of them only 30s separate the two.
Alex Kuklov led their classification for the first three stages in his rear-wheel-drive BMW E26, but the four-wheel-drive Subarus of Pullen and Gondyke had caught him by the end of the day and his real detriment was 1m40s of penalties colleted for being 10 minutes late to the final time control.
Derek James’ Fiesta R2 is now the top two-wheel-drive car in the Regional rally, with next-best Anthony Burden sitting 18s back.
There’s still plenty to play for across the board on Saturday, with some of the roughest roads in the ARA. Expect high attrition rates, and a very high risk versus reward factor.