What’s next for ARA’s perennial 2WD threat?

Michael Hooper had a tricky 2022 season but ended it in style with a win on LSPR


While it has to be said that Seamus Burke’s V6 Mk2 Escort is a fan favorite two-wheel-drive vehicle in the American Rally Association presented by DirtFish, a close second has to be the Lexus IS350 of Micheal Hooper.

Quite often the two to watch, Hooper and Burke have had some seriously intense battles in the past, but this year it seemed like nothing was really aligning for Hooper and his team in their battle for the 2WD championship.

After having to put a new car together a few events into the year, Hooper faced many struggles getting through the fresh build gremlins, and ended up with two retirements – an extremely rare result for the long time rallyist, having only four total in the past five years.

Thankfully for the team, Hooper and co-driver Claudia Barbera-Pullen were able to end the year on a high-note, winning their class on the season finale at Lake Superior Performance Rally.


“[Finishing with a win] feels good,” Hooper told DirtFish.

“Yeah, we had a couple bumps along the way, so I’m glad to finish strong, for sure.”

The reason for that rebuild was Hooper’s usual car being totaled while rented out to another driver for the 100 Acre Wood Rally. Eager to get back in and fight for another title, Hooper quickly finished off his new ride, and was back for the next round at Olympus where he unfortunately DNFd.

“It threw us for a loop for sure,” he said, “and we probably would have been better off to skip an event and take a little more time, but we luckily had a caged car, pretty close to being ready, and had the help of the Yarboroughs and Matt Vaught, and some other folks came in and helped us get it together.

“So yeah, it sucks to get some DNFs in there but it’s together now.”

Though Hooper managed a win on the final round of the year, it wasn’t necessarily an easy road. After the extremely treacherous Friday night stages, Hooper told DirtFish the lead they had wasn’t without its issues.

“Earlier we were having some clutch problems, they seem to be fine, but I couldn’t get my rally lights on for Passmore. So we did all of Passmore with just our normal lights which are fairly drivable as it is.

“Luckily Claudia stayed on the notes and got us through it but it was a little bit terrifying.


“We’re glad to be here, it was one of those loops where you’re kind of just happy it’s over with even though you enjoyed it.”

With the majority of a season now done with the new car, and a full off-season to go back over it, we’re hoping to see Hooper back out on stage next year battling tooth and nail with Burke, but we’ll have to see what the off-season holds.

“I flip-flop between trying to come and beat Seamus, to try my best, and taking it easy next year,” he said.

“The more days between the last rally, the more I want to get back out here and try to fight, so we’ll just see how it looks towards the end of winter.”

Words:Mason Runkel