Brandon Semenuk has taken the lead of the DirtFish Olympus Rally from his Subaru Motorsports USA team-mate Travis Pastrana after the latter incurred a 10-second time penalty.
Pastrana has been irresistible so far in the 2021 American Rally Association presented by DirtFish National season, winning both of the opening two rounds ahead of the third event in Washington.
The five-time US rally champion had shown no signs of letting up on Olympus either, starting the second loop of stages with a 6.8s advantage at the head of the field.
But Pastrana and co-driver Rhianon Gelsomino were hunted down throughout that loop, despite a stage win on Deckerville Reverse by a strong 4.4s that had increased their lead advantage into double figures.
The decline began on SS5 when Pastrana dropepd three seconds to his team-mate on Plug Mill Reverse, and then lost another 4.6s to Semenuk on Stillwater Reverse meaning the two Subaru drivers now share three stages wins apiece after six of the rally’s 12 tests.
The time loss shouldn’t have been enough for Pastrana to lose his lead, but the 10s time penalty for arriving one minute late to the time control of the heavily delayed SS6 did the damage. Semenuk therefore leads by 6.4s; heading an event for the first time this season.
Ken Block, who’s running a Subaru in competition for the first time since 2009, has fallen away from the lead battle but remains in a safe-looking third position.
The latest-spec WRX STI from Vermont SportsCar is an all-new machine to Block, so despite some pre-event testing, he and Alex Gelsomino are taking some time to bed into the new ride.
The pairing were third fastest on all three of the second loop’s stages to lie 30.7s adrift of the lead and 24.3s behind Pastrana’s second spot.
“Learning a new car I got to test it on the dry and it’s been kind of frightening driving in the wet today,” Block told DirtFish at the end of SS6.
“Doing the best I can, learning, trying to do a few set-up changes to get some confidence but yeah, it’s coming but a little too slow for me. We’ll get there.”
Hyundai Motorsport junior driver Josh McErlean is running a solid fourth on his first rally of the year and maiden event in America, reducing his stage deficit to the leading Subarus across the loop in the i20 R5 Enda McCormack usually drives.
European Rally Championship podium finisher Callum Devine has picked up his pace however, outpacing McErlean by 7.6s on Deckerville Reverse 2 on his first event in America and first with the Ford Fiesta Rally2.
Devine, in fifth, was beaten by his Irish compatriot by 4.1s on the final stage before service but largely thanks to his blistering SS4 pace has eroded his deficit to McErlean from 19.1s to 16.6s.
Ryan Booth remains sixth in the second of McKenna Motorsports’ Ford Fiesta Rally2s and despite beating Devine by 0.2s on SS6, has struggled to stay in touch with the two Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy drivers up ahead of him. The McDonalds-backed driver is over a minute shy of R5 class leader McErlean and now 2m59.8s down on Semenuk.
Jeff Seehorn and Paul Rowley’s remarkably consistent run in seventh and eighth places respectively continued on stages four, five and six as Seehorn set seventh-quickest times on all three stages and Rowley stopped the clocks just behind him; exactly like they had done on the first batch of stages.
Seehorn’s Subaru is 58.5s ahead of Rowley’s Ford. The overall top 10 is completed by George Plsek’s Mitsubishi and John Coyne Ford Fiesta R5. Plsek currently holds an 8.3s advantage over Coyne.
Friday’s action is completed by two runs of the feared Wildcat stage. The first will be run in the daylight before a service break and then a second attempt of the test in darkness.
Leading positions after SS6
1 Brandon Semenuk/John Hall (Subaru) 42m53.3s
2 Travis Pastrana/Rhianon Gelsomino (Subaru) +6.4s
3 Ken Block/Alessandro Gelsomino (Subaru) +30.7s
4 Josh McErlean/Keaton Williams (Hyundai) +1m53.1s
5 Callum Devine/James Fulton (Ford) +2m09.7s
6 Ryan Booth/Andy Hayes (F0rd) +2m59.8s
7 Jeff Seehorn/Glen Ray (Subaru) +3m53.7s
8 Paul Rowley/Dominik Jozwiak (Ford) +4m52.2s
9 George Plsek/Krista Skucas (Mitsubishi) +6m08.9s
10 John Coyne/Nicholas Dobbs (Ford) +6m17.2s