There are two different ways to look at Barry McKenna’s Ojibwe Forests Rally. If you’re a glass half-full kind of person, you would say he took a vital step towards winning the ARA National title in just his fifth full season of rallying. But if you take the glass half-empty perspective, you’d argue he lost out to Travis Pastrana in the pair’s first true fight of the year.
That shouldn’t matter though. As Pastrana himself told DirtFish, his title chances are “one in a million” following his rough start to the season, making the other Subaru Motorsports USA WRX STI of Brandon Semenuk the real threat to McKenna for the title. And on Ojibwe, McKenna finished over a minute and a half ahead to extend his title lead.
But rally drivers aren’t like normal human beings. Not only are they brave enough to throw a car between the trees on the loosest of surfaces, but they’re super competitive animals too.
Make no mistake, McKenna wanted to beat Pastrana in a square fight – the pair’s first of the year – with the latter absent from Sno*Drift and out of the picture early on the Southern Ohio Forest Rally after his car set on fire.
And that’s why, despite telling DirtFish “I have to just think about the championship” on the next round – the Show Me Rally – the Irishman was in a reflective mood at the end of Ojibwe.
His weekend had got off to a ropey start as he rolled his Škoda Fabia Rally2 on Wednesday’s practice stage. It was a “slow roll” and the championship leader managed to complete 50 further miles of testing, but it may well have had more of a psychological impact than McKenna himself had realized.
“The first stage yesterday [Friday], we really had a bad stage,” McKenna tells DirtFish.
“Travis I have to say he drove so fast on it, I didn’t think he was going to go in on ten tenths like that but I think he was 21 seconds quicker in 10 miles.”
The actual gap was 22.9s, and as if to illustrate the point, McKenna ended up losing out on victory by 19.8s after all 14 stages.
“I don’t think the roll had affected me because we’d done 50 stage miles after the roll and thought our pace was pretty good, but we were probably a bit anxious getting into the first stage so we think that could’ve been part of the problem.
“But car-wise, mechanically-wise, the car doesn’t look the best it’s looked [with a broken grille] but the performance was good out of it.”
That broken grille was the legacy of an over-committed approach to a jump on Saturday where McKenna was trying to keep Pastrana in his sights.
“We got the gap down [on Friday], we had four stage wins out of six so we thought we’d continue into today [Saturday],” he said.
“I did know the stages today would definitely suit the Subaru, they’re better and more stable at high speed than this car, there’s a lot less aerodynamics on this car but we gave it a go.
“We were only five seconds slower on the first stage which was the one we thought we’d get annihilated on and then the next stage we ended up going on a bit of a push.
“We held it flat-out over a jump and the car ended up landing on its nose which shot my confidence for the rest of the jumps. This car tends to [nosedive], I don’t know if I’m not driving it right, but the Fiesta jumps a lot nicer but this car seems to want to land on its nose.”
Battle lost then, but certainly not the war. Pastrana needs another big performance on the Show Me Rally to have any hope of denying McKenna a first title. And McKenna doesn’t want to claim that with second places, he wants to do it in style.
“I’ll probably end up taking the Fiesta to that rally,” he said, “because that rally, if people don’t know it’s probably one of the fastest rallies in the world I’d imagine, it’s just absolutely flat out from the word go.
“So I think we’ll get the WRC car,” he added, having considered it for Ojibwe but opting for the Škoda.
“It’s got more aero and it’s a faster car, not as good in the nimble, tighter stages as the Škoda but I think it’s going to match that rally.”