The two turns of the Height o’ Land stage on the Ojibwe Forests Rally are probably the most iconic stretch of stage road in the US.
You’d think it’s out of a video game how perfectly the road weaves through Shuckhart Lake in Minnesota, but it’s real, and it’s beautiful.
In preparation for Ojibwe this writer was showing the spot off to a few people, and was met with some concern over the safety of racing with water on both side of the road.
“I mean, it’s not like they really ever go into the water,” was all I could think.
Well, meet Steve Harrell, co-driver for hire here in the US. Harrell is pretty well known in the US rally community, but found himself in the spotlight last weekend as he also found himself sinking in Shuckhart Lake.
“So we came into that left four and there was this massive puddle there,” Harrell told DirtFish. “The moment we hit, the car just hydroplaned straight, and went right into the lake.”
Harrell was navigating for Mark Williams in a Subaru Impreza STi N10 on Ojibwe, and detailed everything as it happened to DirtFish.
It all started with the rainstorms from the days prior.
“It rained during recce, and then we had two days basically dry. So we were expecting the water to be down compared to where it was on recce.
“And in most spots it was, but the corners in the lakes had more water than we expected, and more water than any other part we’d seen at that point.”
Under the stress of the situation Harrell was able to keep his composure.
“My thoughts went straight to the process of getting out. I looked at the video, I saw that it was in frame. While we’re still hitting the water, you could basically see my hand already going for the door handle to test it.
“That didn’t work, so I immediately went to the window, and mine was already all the way down by the time Mark said he couldn’t get his door open.”
Thankfully, there’s plenty of media at the land bridge through Shuckhart every year, and members of Subaru Motorsports USA, The Wrecce Crew and more jumped into action to make sure the crew were safe, and the rest of the field was properly warned.
“It was a little entertaining for sure,” Harrell said. “I mean the swarm from both directions; half of them were at the corner exiting the lake, half of them were at this like weird island that’s on the road, almost this like oasis of trees.
“And so they came from both sides, and I was like, ‘We’re good, guys, really!’”
Rich Millener shared it in his Instagram story; that just sort of blew my mind!Steve Harrell
Thankfully, Harrell and Williams have a good sense of humor about the whole thing, and appreciate the strong online response to the incident.
“Just like the extent of people that have seen it and have commented and posted… I mean, Rich Millener shared it in his Instagram story; that just sort of blew my mind!”
Of course with anything these days, internet critics are quick to come, and the most popular thing people have to say is: “Why didn’t you turn in before the puddle?”
Like anything, it’s a bit more complicated than that.
“I mean, Mark and I discussed that a bit prior. That’s definitely what most of the people who took a big bite out of the puddle did, they rotated the car more and they put the nose in more.
“In our case, the issue was this was a car that Mark had just received like less than a week prior. He hadn’t driven it until the test day. Those were his first miles in the car and then the first day, we retired due to total brake loss.
“To throw a car into a corner and rotate, you need to trust the car and with everything we’d been through, and the small amount of experience we’d had with that car so far, the trust just wasn’t there to throw it in.
“That that’s why we took a ‘drive the corner’ approach.”
Now obviously the most remarkable bit from Ott Tänak’s famous incident in Mexico in 2015 is the fact the car was back and ready to run the next day.
Unfortunately, Williams and Harrell went off on the last day of the rally, and the car wasn’t able to be extracted until the end of the second running of the stage, as it required a tow truck to lift out of the water.
But all that aside, how close is this car to being rally ready again?
“We’re cautiously optimistic since the electricals were turned off right away and the engine was off pretty much instantly,” Harrell said. “I think it actually stalled when Mark locked up, so I think the engine was off before we even went in.
“Between those, we’re hoping that once we dry it, and drain it, and you know, make sure there’s nothing in any of the fluid reservoirs, then hopefully it’ll start up again.
“But we won’t know for sure until the team actually starts digging into it, right?
“Right now, the plan was, and tentatively is, still to do Lake Superior Performance Rally [October 14-15].
Of course we had one more question for Harrell. If he is to be known as ‘Wise Steve of the Lakes’ what advice does he have for us?
“I guess,” he said, “my main advice would be: ‘Go around the puddle, not through it.’”