Ken Block probably doesn’t have as tragic a sense of humor as this writer, but you can bet some words to that effect (with a few juicier adjectives thrown in for good measure) crossed his lips on the final stage of this year’s 100 Acre Wood Rally.
Round two of the 2022 American Rally Association presented by DirtFish National championship belonged to Block. Debuting his 2019-spec Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC, he was devastatingly strong from the off and almost made the Subarus and Barry McKenna’s Ford Fiesta WRC look like they were standing still.
He was getting happier and more comfortable with the car, avoiding any peril and well on course for a record-extending eighth win in Missouri. It wasn’t just the rally win that was certain, he was already being talked up as the overwhelming championship favorite.
But there’d be a dramatic late twist in the shape of Scotia South Long, the rally’s final stage. Some local onlookers got a bit too close to the action and ended up influencing the result of the contest.
“We built up a good lead and we were even taking things quite clean and conservative to try and finish the rally where we were and was really hoping for my eighth win here at the Rally in the 100 Acre Wood, but a deer decided against that,” Block told DirtFish.
“We were probably more than halfway through that stage and just going through a nice, quick section, nice blind corners and going flat-out, probably fifth gear and I could see some deer jumping through the corner over the fence and by then it was too late,” he added, snapping his fingers.
“By the time I saw them they were in the road right in front of me. There were multiple ones, I think we hit one probably at about 90mph.”
You don’t need to be a rallying expert to know that a collision with a 50kg animal at almost 100mph isn’t going to do wonders for a competitor’s result. But Block was lucky, or tremendously unlucky depending on how you view it.
No damage was done to the radiator which would’ve immediately led to his retirement. It was the gearbox that had suffered – but it was what happened next that really cost Block the rally.
“[The crash] broke the gearbox so it was stuck in fourth and we had a bunch of oil sprayed on the screen. The [being stuck in] fourth wasn’t actually that bad, it was the fact I couldn’t see, so I was almost completely blind just trying to go along the stage as quick as I can. I was off the stage a couple of times, so I just wanted to get to the finish and hopefully not lose enough time to lose first.
“Unfortunately I think we lost by about 17 seconds. We were up 45 so we lost a little over a minute in the stage, so it is what it is, that’s rally.”
Philosophically, he added: “I ended up second overall because Travis hit a deer at the end of Sno*Drift one time on the last stage but it broke his radiator, so he ended up going from first to DNF. So [I am] stoked to be able to finish at least with second, get some good points out of here, because this could’ve been a lot worse.”
Brandon Semenuk was the one that profited, but it could’ve been an entirely different story for him too.
“I had a deer jump out but it was kind of a way ahead, but then I had another deer jump out and had to slam on the brakes,” he revealed
“And then as I came round the corner there was a dead deer in the road and a bit of bumper and things like that, and I didn’t know if that was from the first pass and some other car of if that’s Ken, so we were just pushing on, Ken was at the end of the stage and then he took off but we caught up to him a little later and the front of us his car was just completely destroyed obviously.”
It might be tempting to call Semenuk’s last-gasp win a smash and grab. But the connotations of that phrase don’t do his performance justice. His eventual victory was borne out of a smart decision to keep the hammer down.
“Rally never fails to surprise me, you think everyone’s settled in their place, and then [on the] last stage it just flips on its head. It’s crazy,” he said.
“[It’s a] good thing though we kept pushing on the last three or four stages of the day because we could’ve just conceded a bit of time to Barry [McKenna] and held onto second place. But that bit of time we pushed and made up was really valuable at the end of the day, so amazing.”
The Subaru driver was due a bit of luck after the gearbox problem that robbed him of a certain victory on last month’s Sno*Drift Rally, and it fully repaid him at 100 Acre Wood.
“After Sno*Drift bad luck, our luck just fully turned around. That felt like we were going to get the win there and here we weren’t really in a position to win but [still in] a good position.
“Obviously I feel bad for Ken and the deer and I don’t want to see anything sketchy like that happen on stage, but for us it’s a good start for points and I think we drove well, so definitely our luck turned around today.”
That old cliché really does still ring true: in rallying, it is never over until it really is over.