The business end of the season is well and truly upon us. Just two rounds of the COVID-19-shortened American Rally Association National season lie in wait, and the action resumes with this weekend’s Show-Me Rally.
Based out of Steelville, Missouri, the Show-Me Rally is run by the same team that organizes the Rally in the 100 Acre Wood every year and in fact uses several familiar stages too.
The 100 Acre Wood – usually held in March – was one of the first events to be lost to the pandemic, but the organizing team has revised Show-Me to offer 10 stages covering 81 miles over two days for its upgrade to National status.
It promises to be a classic too as there’s plenty on the line. Not only are Barry McKenna and Travis Pastrana set to continue their epic fight from Ojibwe Forests Rally with Brandon Semenuk also muscling himself into contention for rally honors; they’ve all got a title to sort out between them too.
Irishman McKenna is ultimately the man with it all to lose with such a commanding points lead, but that in turn also means he’s the one with it all to gain. In just his fifth full season behind the wheel of a rally car, he has an increasingly real chance of becoming a United States rally champion.
Craig Drew is a man who knows all about winning American rally championships, having won eight of them. While David Higgins’ co-driver isn’t involved in the 2020 ARA battle, he’s fascinated to see how it will all play out.
“We are in the business end of the season and that could possibly be shown in the stage times this weekend,” he tells DirtFish.
“Rallying is a tactical sport and you don’t have to win every stage or every rally to win the championship, and with that in mind I think the Subaru Motorsports USA drivers have no choice but to go flat out from the start.
“Barry can afford to have a steady run with the intention of just picking up solid points. If he does that at the Show-Me Rally and Olympus [Rally] then he is untouchable, he doesn’t need to win again.”
But which position is better to be in? Throwing the kitchen sink at it as you attempt a rescue mission – like Pastrana is having to do – or sitting on a healthy points advantage, with the added pressure of simply finishing and completing the job?
“For sure I would rather be in Barry’s position with the points already in the bag,” Drew says. “And I think maybe Subaru are now counting the cost of missing Sno*Drift Rally.
“Sometimes, despite appearances, it isn’t easy winning a championship and with that in mind it’s important that Barry just does what he has to do and ignores any outside noises.”
Sound advice, but the question remains: will McKenna do that or will he give his all for the win? Ojibwe Forests possibly proves he’ll shoot for the latter as he clearly wanted to win that rally, but Drew is absolutely right. McKenna can’t let himself get distracted from the longer-term objective.
After two wins and a second place this year McKenna’s lead currently stands at a whopping 33 points over second-placed Semenuk, with Pastrana – the winner in Ojibwe – 39 points back.
But with each competitor to drop their worst score, McKenna’s lead is a little less commanding. As Drew mentioned, neither Subaru driver contested Sno*Drift so their points tallies won’t be diminished.
For McKenna, he will still lead the points regardless leaving Show-Me but could only be 11 ahead going into a five-way title showdown when dropped scores are taken into account. What is more likely is that he will seal the title this weekend with a round to spare.
So in reality, a solid points finish for McKenna is all he needs. And if he gets his Ford Fiesta WRC ahead of the Subaru WRXs in Missouri, the title is his.
But enough about the championship permutations for a moment. What’s actually in store for the crews this weekend? DirtFish drew on Drew’s experience of the 100 Acre Wood event – a rally he has won twice alongside Higgins – for insight on the more familiar stages.
“The stages in Missouri are very fast, often pretty smooth and a lot of fun to drive!” he says. “The more well-known nature of the stages are wide, sandy colored smooth gravel roads but on the rally you also find some narrow, rougher link roads which can be technical and challenging and often these are the areas where time can be made.
“Bravery will be key at Show-Me Rally, as is a well defined set of pacenotes so the driver can commit 100% to the many blind crests and jumps.
“This of course means that experience of this event is also critical. Heading to the rally with a set of notes from previous years to amend as opposed to writing notes from scratch is a big advantage.
“At the moment it looks like the weather will be kind to those competing, with sunshine and dry weather predicted which in the past has led to some dust hanging.
“Hopefully this won’t be the case this weekend, because as a competitor there is nothing more frustrating than trying to drive flat out through dust.
“Nobody wants to see a rally decided at the seeded draw. But in the past we have seen every type of weather imaginable during the rally, so anything can happen.”
Despite Drew’s intimate knowledge of the stages, he’s never actually entered Show-Me Rally, and his two 100 Acre Woood wins pale in comparison to his and Higgins’ trophy haul from other ARA events.
“David and I always really enjoyed the [100 Acre Wood] rally, but unfortunately it was never particularly kind to us,” Drew explains.
“In 2012 we suffered a puncture when battling Ken Block for the lead, in 2014 we blew our engine battling for the lead, in 2016 we lost a minute on the last stage with a mechanical issue and dropped from the lead to second place and in 2019 we were leading by over a minute before we suffered a mechanical issue once again and dropped to third!
“Incidentally, we rarely suffered mechanical issues during our time with Subaru Motorsports USA, but they all seemed to happen at 100 Acre Wood!
“Nevertheless, I still have fond memories of the fast stages and that feeling of committing sideways to one of the many sixth gear sweeping corners – especially at night!”
While Drew won’t be getting that sensation this weekend, he is still playing a semi-active role on the event after holding a co-driving tuition class last weekend.
Over 20% of the navigators on the Show-Me entry list signed up – including championship leader Leon Jordan – and it’s something Drew is hoping to do on the lead up to every ARA round going forward.
“It’s been a strange 2020, not just because of the pandemic situation worldwide but because it’s the first time I haven’t competed in a rally since 2004,” Drew tells DirtFish.
“I’m currently very busy with my new online rally co-driver school on www.craigdrew.com which has been operating better than I had anticipated in its first year, as well as moving house and almost having a wedding, which has unfortunately been postponed twice.
“In truth, even if we [Higgins and I] had still been competing with Subaru Motorsports USA we wouldn’t have been able to compete in America anyway [because of COVID-19 travel restrictions], as has unfortunately been the case for Pastrana’s regular co-driver Robbie Durant.
“So if we were to ever have a year out this has been a good one to do it!
“David and I definitely aren’t finished though and believe we still have the pace to win, so who knows what will happen in the future. But I’m sure you haven’t seen the last of us in America yet…”
While we leave you on that tease, remember to keep an eye on DirtFish throughout the Show-Me Rally weekend where we will be providing the most comprehensive coverage of the rally as and when it happens.