Barry McKenna has been used to having things his own way in the ARA National series in 2020. But not this time. Heading into the second day of the Ojibwe Forests Rally, he trails Subaru Motorsports USA’s Travis Pastrana by 10.7 seconds.
And with a 42.1s gap between McKenna’s Škoda Fabia Rally2 and Brandon Semenuk’s Subaru WRX STI in third, this is already looking like a two-horse race. But an incredibly enthralling, multi-dimensional one at that.
There’s far more to this squabble than just a straight dogfight for supremacy on the stages in Minnesota. McKenna has a title bid to think about but Pastrana doesn’t, already labelling his chances “pretty much close” to zero.
Instead it’s his team-mate Semenuk who is best placed to halt the McKenna charge, but he’s not been able to match the Irishman so far this weekend. Only Pastrana has. However if McKenna is driving with a title in mind, he’s not showing it.
Pastrana was the man that was quickest out of the traps, winning the first two of Friday’s six stages to construct an advantage of nearly 20 seconds over McKenna.
But McKenna soon hit back, winning the next four to set up this mouth-watering fight between two heavyweights of US rallying. Pastrana isn’t too worried about McKenna’s advances though. Not quite yet, anyway.
Speaking to DirtFish at Friday’s final service, Pastrana said: “We did exactly what we wanted to do today, have the lead going into tomorrow and I think it’s going to be dustier tomorrow. I think it’s going to be good for us.”
This battle is as much about the machinery as it is the drivers that are strapped into them. Pastrana’s Subaru has a power advantage – despite that being clipped by an enforced turbo charge prior to the rally – but is longer and less nimble than the very latest Škoda that McKenna’s armed with.
Naturally then, different stage characteristics play to the differing strengths of the two machines. Pastrana was looking to press home his advantage on the first loop, but why?
“Barry’s definitely made some ground [on the second loop on Friday] which we knew he would,” he said.
“The Subaru is a better car for the faster stuff and it’s a lot faster tomorrow but as soon as it got super rutted [on Friday] where we were just like slot car racing, it was hard to keep the bigger vehicle in the ruts.
“So definitely knowing that going forward, the first run of stages is going to be our strong point so we got to put some good times down.
“Sweeping the road like Brandon was this morning is definitely not going to help the times but I think it’s going to be a great battle to the finish.”
McKenna could’ve brought his Ford Fiesta WRC out for this rally, and indeed that was his intention, but his faith in the Škoda which he won the Southern Ohio Forest Rally in is absolute.
“We’ve been testing [the Fiesta and Škoda] side-by-side since Southern Ohio and we just keep end up being faster in the Škoda no matter what roads we use to test,” he told DirtFish.
“I guess I’m just a bit more comfortable with the chassis even though there’s less power. I guess the other car, it’s 10 years old now whereas this car’s 2020.”
So McKenna was happy with his choice of ride, but not always the way he was driving it.
After Friday’s action, he said: “Our biggest fault this morning was the first loop, definitely the first stage, Travis managed to pull a big gap on us.
“And then that last loop I won all three stages, won four stages out of six today so we didn’t get a lot of time but we’re going in the right direction, we can’t take it all on one stage.
“I’ll watch the recce video again, I kind of forget when I recce so that’s why I record it so we can remember again, so we’ll see [what we can do].”
Game on. Eight stages and 92 stage miles stand between Pastrana, McKenna and the prize. At this point it’s anybody’s to steal.