The 2021 American Rally Association National season is a matter of days away, with the opening round – Sno*Drift Rally – kicking the season off on Saturday.
Barry McKenna starts the rally with the #1 on his door after claiming his maiden US rally title last year against the Subaru Motorsports USA pairing of Travis Pastrana and Brandon Semenuk. All three will be competing again in 2021 and are sure to put on an entertaining show.
But the ARA is about far more than the fight at the front, so we asked our team of writers what they each wanted to see from the 2021 season.
American thrills partnered with European skills
I want to see more of the American Rally Association. That’s all. Countless drivers have told me down the years how America could host its own world championship within its national boundaries, such is the variety in nature of roads and diversity in terrain.
I want to see those roads, that terrain. I want to see the competition and I want to get under the skin of this series. In short, I want to see what American rallying is all about in 2021. And I know, with DirtFish in the driving seat on the media side, I’m not going to be disappointed.
If I had another wish, it would be that ARA could align itself with the FIA in terms of car categories. Yes, we’ve all enjoyed the open class cars with funky aero and freer-flowing air through the restrictors, but surely the time has come for the sensible step towards Rally2?
And if I could have one more wish for 2021 it would be the return of David Higgins to stateside sport. I know he’s won the championship more times than any Frenchman’s celebrated success on the world stage, but it would be great to see him back behind the wheel of something other than a Subaru.
Higgins is the American benchmark. He should be there.
More R5 cars and stage-side fans
The thing I’d most like to see this year is more competition at the top of the field. There have been some great battles throughout the field over the past year, but other than McKenna vs Subaru we didn’t get too much in the realm of championship battles.
Granted, this was likely the most exciting title competition in a while, but McKenna has proven that the R5s when driven effectively can be just as fast, if not faster than the Subarus at some rallies.
Judging by the entry list for the second round, 100 Acre-Wood, this could be a possibility with an onslaught of nine R5s already entered, alongside McKenna in his WRC Fiesta, and a few other cars that definitely have the potential to run some similar times if driven right I think.
Another obvious thing I’d like to see return is spectators. I’m very proud of the ARA and all of the organizers involved in putting things together, in that at all of the no spectator events last year, there really weren’t any issues with people sneaking in. That being said, I’m hopeful that at some point this year we will be able to return to having the fans out on stage cheering on their favorite drivers as they go by.
And seriously, Sno*Drift just won’t be the same this year without snowball fights across Bonfire Alley.
Another epic title fight
US rallying, be it Rally America or the ARA National series, has been the Subaru show for as long as one can remember. Whether it’s Higgins or Pastrana, the Japanese brand’s factory outfit has made the American rallying scene its own. Until last year…
The 2020 ARA season was one of the best in years. Not because Subaru was beaten – that’d be a ridiculous thing to say – but because there was genuine competition for overall honors. Ultimately it was Barry McKenna who came out on top as Subaru’s decision to once again skip Sno*Drift and then a fire for Travis Pastrana stopped the Nitro Circus ringleader from adding to his five titles.
His new-for-2020 team-mate Brandon Semenuk improved over the course of the year to the point where he’s now considered a shoo-in for the 2021 title fight too. That’s at least three drivers at the front – and Subaru’s also contending the season opener for the first time since 2015 too.
Last year might well have just been a warm-up act for the best season of US rallying to-date. Now if only the US national rally championship can continue its upwards trajectory under DirtFish’s stewardship and add a few more top-level cars to the mix. Who’s to say our championship can’t be the most hotly contested domestic rallying series on the planet in years to come?
A Pastrana response and further evolution
The 2020 ARA National season felt like a breakthrough – and an Irish invasion. Barry McKenna became the first non-Subaru driver in over a decade to win the title and along with several of his compatriots, put on his own rally in the fall, adopting European ideas that were well received by the US scene.
It would be wrong to suggest American rallying needs to become European rallying, but there remains a tantalizing opportunity to bring in the established rulebook from Europe and combine it with renowned US flair. ARA competition director Preston Osborn is on top of this, bringing in Rally Safe for tracking and an increase in the specification of fire extinguishers that are required in competing cars. This line of thinking should help get the absolute best out of American rallying as it would align it closer to the rest of the world and give it the wider recognition it deserves.
I’m also keen to see how Travis Pastrana performs this year after looking second-best to Brandon Semenuk in the latter half of 2020. Pastrana has been impressed with his team-mate’s performances, but he wants to be the one that regains the ARA title for Subaru. How he fares against Semenuk could be a major talking point this year.