Southern Ohio, it sure is good to be back. A staple on the US rally calendar since 2017 and always a real drivers’ rally, but in 2020 it was the rally that kick-started and showed us what was possible in the modern society of necessary restrictions and social distance.
It seems but a blink of an eye since the Southern Ohio Forest Rally organizer grasped the challenge and restarted the 2020 season in July after the world had to come to a shuddering halt, and it was a great rally.
The organizers and the competitors all showcased what could be possible and the season was reinvigorated. For others in different championships, they had to patiently wait for rally cars to rev up again but Ohio was one of the events leading the charge in 2020, and here we are back again for the 2021 edition just as other series are finding their feet and opening the gate of a return to stages.
I have competed on each version of the Southern Ohio Forest Rally since the event was reinvigorated in 2017 and this is a great place to go rallying. It showcases the diverse geography of the American Rally Association championship because it is, to my mind, different to every other round.
Stages can be fast straight off the start-line and seem flat but then have narrow climbs and tricky falls as we ridge our way to a busy finish – and the rain and high heat humidity are never far away either. Last year’s stages that took place mostly in darkness had an oven-like quality and when you got into the slower sections with less airflow it was hard on man and machine.
The forecast for this year is thunder spells and rain and if that happens then the inevitability is mud, and it is a sticky lumpy mud that will make tire choice a lottery. Get it right and you will maximise grip and stage times; get it wrong and you will slip and slide down the order.
It has been the strangest and most stagnated year for rallying but the return to Ohio shows that the sport we love is here and healthyMartin Brady
If that happens I am hoping prior experience will be key, quite simply because we have been here in all conditions over the years, but newcomers can make their mark on these stages too. Both Ken Block and Brandon Semenuk were new to the rally last year and Barry McKenna only did one stage of the 2019 event before a mechanical retirement, and they all took the podium places in 2020.
I think all of those drivers will be hoping to steal a march on Travis Pastranna this year because he has practically zero on the experience front last year after that catastrophic retirement of watching his car burn on the second stage. But given his perfect tally of wins this season, anyone that hopes to challenge Travis will need to go full send and try get any advantage and a better result than the #199 car this weekend.
As ever though that battle is just something that happens further up the timesheets and not a distraction for me as we focus intently on the two-wheel drive battle. And our aim to win out in that arena.
A gritty result ground out in Olympus has given Seamus Burke and I a score that gets us from the bottom of the table up to fourth and with championship leader André D’Orazio absent from the entry this weekend, that’s one less car to improve their championship standings and an opportunity for us to claw back some ground.
That won’t be easy though. Brad Morris, when his car sticks with him, will be a sure bet to do everything to hold onto his second in the standings and Cian McCormack in his R2 Fiesta is getting faster every rally, so the twisty downhill stages could mean he and the nimble Fiesta will shine. We just have to make sure we go faster on the uphill sections!
And as if that wasn’t enough competition we have everyone’s favorite Lexus steered by Michael Hooper and a pack of Subaru BRZ’s in the mix too.
It has been the strangest and most stagnated year for rallying but the return to Ohio at a point when more and more rallies are happening now and championships are finding their feet again, shows that the sport we love is here and healthy.
We have two days and nearly 120 miles of Ohio stages to experience and enjoy.