Thrilling finish to lead battles in Southern Ohio

Brandon Semenuk put himself back on the top step of ARA National – but the real Saturday action was in Regional

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After a disastrous Oregon Trail Rally where both Subarus retired on the same stage with impact damage, the blue and yellow cars were back at their best on Southern Ohio Forest Rally.

Brandon Semenuk had pulled away at the front on Friday and while team-mate Travis Pastrana briefly began to eat into the reigning champion’s lead on Saturday morning, Semenuk clinched the win with a storming drive on the powerstage.

His only drama on the way to victory had been on Friday morning; after minor overheating issues the hood pins had not been correctly fastened, so the hood opened and shattered his windscreen.

“It’s never nice when you’re looking through a kaleidoscope,” Semenuk told DirtFish. “But it wasn’t really that bad. It could have been more smashed and it was only a couple of stages, we managed it. Early dramas suck but the rest of the rally was smooth.”

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Brandon Semenuk left the field in his wake once again in Ohio

Pastrana’s final day was far less straightforward. He went backwards into a tree at what he’d guessed was “50 miles per hour” and severely dented the right-rear corner of his WRX STI, yet was able to continue to the finish with only wonky bodywork.

After Subaru fixed his car up at midday service he continued unperturbed – though a different issue on the powerstage meant he opted not to push for bonus points on the rally’s final stage.

“There’s something loose in the steering,” said Pastrana. “No excuses, Brandon would have kicked our butts anyway. We came over a crest and I was…ah, we’re not gonna break anything and just get home.”

Behind three of the National class winners – Pat Gruszka (Hyundai i20 R5) in RC2, Javier Olivares (Ford Fiesta Rally3) in L4WD and Ryan Booth (Ford Escort Mk2) in O2WD – was an epic battle in the Regional classification that went to the wire.

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Dylan Gondyke led the Regional field overnight but was under pressure from Adam Kimmett to stay in the lead

Dylan Gondyke and Adam Kimmett, both in Subaru Imprezas, had started the day 20.3s apart – which would have been half that without a 10s lateness penalty for Kimmett on Friday.

Despite both being in the NA4WD class with similar cars, Gondyke and Kimmett’s Subarus have slight variations, with Gondyke’s recently rebuilt engine packing more power and Kimmett’s lighter Impreza being nimbler in the corners.

That was set to play into Kimmett’s hands given the slower nature of Saturday’s stages and by SS11 the gap had been reduced to only 7.8s. Gondyke struck back thereafter but had a late scare when his starter motor failed before the penultimate stage.

“My heart sank. It went through the floor,” said Gondyke. “We kept on trying to start it, nothing. We had 30 seconds to our in-minute; luckily we had just enough room to coast by the car behind, go halfway down the hill, bump-started it and hit our minute.”

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Richo Healey consolidated his National L2WD championship lead with second place

Despite that scare, Gondyke was able to clinch Regional victory over Kimmett: “I’ve been so stressed all day,” admitted Gondyke. “I’m feeling ecstatic. It’s a payoff after a lot of hard work: on the car, on the notes, on the driving. It was a long road to get here.”

National L2WD took a dramatic turn on the final day after the leading two cars ran into trouble in quick succession.

Roberto Yglesias had to park his Ford Fiesta less than a mile into Saturday’s second loop with a technical issue; fellow Ford Fiesta ST driver Chris Cyr briefly inherited the lead but then ran wide and became beached on the edge of the road, taking several minutes to get going again and falling down the order.

That opened the door for Santiago Iglesias to clinch victory aboard his Subaru BRZ, with class championship leader Richo Healey securing his fourth podium of the season in second place.