Weather chaos threatens to disrupt SOFR

Crews faced a difficult recce as a high water crossing in particular caused problems

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Heavy rain, strong winds, flooded rivers and tornado warnings – it’s always something with Southern Ohio Forest Rally.

Despite organizers’ best efforts, you just can’t control the weather, and already we’re eyeing the forecast extremely closely as Wednesday night’s weather events have caused issues for competitors on recce for round five of the 2022 American Rally Association presented by DirtFish National championship.

Conditions were known to be difficult as early as Wednesday night. Justin Pritchard, clerk of the course, sent out a bulletin to competitors warning that the America’s Best stage was “not passable due to trees down”.

Thankfully, America’s Best, the powerstage of the rally, was eventually cleared allowing crews to recce, but many issues still persisted as competitors made their way around the over 100 stage miles of Southern Ohio.

While no more large trees were found to have blocked stages, one fell across the only transit road between SS4 and SS5, making the route impassable for about three hours.

The biggest issue for the weekend weather-wise will likely not come from trees however, but instead the raised water level.

SS16/SS19, Will’s Tract South, has what was once called a low water crossing, but after the storms in the Zaleski Forest Area, that can no longer be considered an accurate definition.

What was just a few inches of water on Wednesday morning has turned into a full on, multiple feet deep river flowing straight through the middle of the stage.

While DirtFish was on the scene Andrew Sims, co-driver to L4WD competitor Dylan Murcott, walked into the river to gauge the possibility of passing in their recce car, but was met with water all the way up to his hips before declaring: “Yeah, we’re not making it!” And that was before reaching where the water crossing started just 24 hours earlier.

There’s plenty of time for the water level to drop back down before the stage first runs on Saturday at 4.10pm, the forecast still calls for a possibility of rain in the area on Friday night which could raise the water back up just hours before the stage is scheduled to run.

Two days of recce means many drivers got a chance to look at conditions both before and after the weather hit if they played their cards right. One of those drivers was 2021 LN4 National champion Mark Piatkowski, who returns to his regular Subaru Impreza 2.5RS after piloting the ERA Motorsport R5 in his last entry at the 100 Acre Wood Rally.

“We did recce both days, and to be honest the conditions were quite different,” Piatkowski told DirtFish. “It rained heavily overnight, and yesterday was very dry and loose, and today we went back and did another pass on recce and we marked a lot of slippy spots.

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“Depending on the weather, that might throw a wrench into the whole rally, so we’re prepared, we have a dry set of notes and a wet set of notes as well.”

Lexus IS250 driver Nathan Odle added: “[On] Friday’s stages there’s not a lot of mud. It’s all flat gravel, but when you get into the Saturday stages there’s a lot of mud.

“Wednesday on recce I was like, ‘oh this will be fine,’ but as it rained, you could see there were a lot of spots that were going to be slippy.”

The rain that muddied the stages has also introduced a very interesting tactic that some drivers might use on Saturday’s stages. The road surface at points is flanked by empty, grassy dirt sometimes two to three times wider than the road surface itself.

Huge cuts could bring great time saves, but the slippy conditions on those cuts could be extremely dangerous to anyone’s rally who gets caught off guard.

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Dave Carapetyan told DirtFish: “Essentially, I think there will be the existing stage road, and then there will be a small patch of grass that’ll be anywhere from a foot to a meter wide, and then there will be a a whole separate stage with Subaru and Ken Block shaped shred that has gone through there.

“As long as they’re not too swampy, which, a couple of them were pretty, pretty damp, it’s going to get silly.”

Southern Ohio Forest Rally has already begun with the short Yoctangee superspecial stage on Thursday evening, and it’s Ken Block who took an early advantage – edging Travis Pastrana by 1.3 and Brandon Semenuk by two seconds respectively.

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