“Aaniin!” That is to say ‘hello’ in the native language of the Ojibwe tribe. The Ojibwe – said to mean ‘puckered moccasin people’, also known as the Chippewa – are a group of native people who amalgamated as a tribe in the 1600s and we arrive in their native land 400 odd years later to hurtle through the forests they once settled as home.
Ojibwe Forests Rally is but 40 years old, the blink of an eye in the history of the region, but in those 40 years the rally has given great challenge and entertainment in the beautiful Minnesota forests as we sweep past the plethora of lakes dotted along the route.
In fact, the home town for the rally for the past number of years, Detroit Lakes, is just that; a town nestled among beautiful large lakes that attract tourists and fun seekers to the region all summer long. Frequently seen as one of the ‘flyover states’ and the ‘heart of the midwest’ it is a region of Minnesota heavily involved in agriculture and corn fields are in full stand by late August when the rally rolls into town.
I have competed on the rally seven times and enjoyed each instalment, however, I probably haven’t enjoyed it just as much as six-time winner Travis Pastrana who, with that collection of wins, is currently tied with David Higgins for the most victories here.
In the absence of Higgins on this occasion, it would be expected that Pastrana will be keen to add another notch to his win record, but he might equally approach it from a conservative strategy after an eleventh-hour inversion on the last round in Maine cost him championship security points.
With every mile, it was seeming like Pastrana had a firm grip on the championship but the drama of Maine is the reminder we shouldn’t need that nothing is certain in rally championships until you are at the very last time control.
The bulk of stages are not exactly the same as any previous version, and that breeds opportunity for surprise.Martin Brady
Despite competing on this rally seven times I will go into it this year with an almost blank pacenote book, such is the maze of roads in the area and the creativity of the organizers. The bulk of stages are not exactly the same as any previous version, and that breeds opportunity for surprise.
Stage one, the Crossroads stage with the very familiar spectator point jump under the inflatable arch, has been a staple for many years now, but as well as you think you know that jump, it is critical to get the right line over the crossroads or you will find yourself landing with two or more wheels in a very small but suitably rally ending lake.
This must be avoided at all costs, as tempting as it is to throw caution and your car to the wind to excite the many spectators at the location. Once you successfully negotiate that jump there is plenty of stage to be enjoyed and many fast flowing corners that you can really hook into and use all the grip that the sandy surface gives you.
Friday offers three other stages after Crossroads and a firm favorite of mine is SS2/6 Steamboat. At just over 12 miles it is the longest stage of the event and there is plenty of opportunity to gather a good time or indeed to be hesitant and lose time. The stage has a lot of gradual undulations and every crest can gain you a single second or lose you two. Friday gives us 65 stage miles and 57% of the total rally distance.
One thing we won’t have this year is Friday night dark stages but we restart early on Saturday morning for a big day of 49 competitive miles on the wonderful roads around Lake Itasca. This relatively small area of forest has big significace as it’s where you’ll find the headwaters of the great Missisippi river.
The area is also where, in the 1730s, the Ojibwe tribes duelled with the Dakota Sioux tribes for ownership of the region and the valuable trade that fishing and fur hunting in the region would offer each tribe. In 2021 we will be hunting five stages in the area before we transit back to Detroit Lakes for a new and innovative special stage just on the outskirts of the town where we run a short 0.4 mile stage twice for the enjoyment of the spectators and those watching the live stream footage.
Ojibwe is always a great event and I don’t expect this year to be any different. For my driver Seamus Burke and I, our goal in the Mustang V6-powered Escort is to gain another strong points haul in our quest to hold our ARA two-wheel-drive championship for a third time.
We have three wins and best five scores count with three scoring opportunites left to go. Those numbers would suggest we are in the driving seat just like Travis and Rhiannon Gelsomino at the head of the field where they have gained three wins also, but you can never be relaxed and there is always a retirment or a fast challenger waiting to thwart your championship chase.
This weekend Derik Nelson makes a return to the two-wheel-drive race in his low-slung, projectile Subaru BRZ. He was fast in Olympus last time out, very fast, and we have to be mindful of strategy. Do we think ‘points make prizes; or ;Derik you can’t block our win streak.’ I don’t think even we can answer that until we get around the first corner of the first stage.
I hope we can lead the tribe of two-wheel-drive crews back into Detroit Lakes as winners, but for sure it is always a rally to be enjoyed and if we can get every mile of driving in the erstwhile home of the Ojibwe tribes I know we will have fun – or ‘moojigitoon’ as I believe the Ojibwe natives would say.