The Susquehannock Trail Performance Rally is the sketchiest event the American Rally Association has to offer. Drivers across the field are feeling cautious about the potential for rally ending incidents that are possible while bouncing off the top of sixth gear.
Sure, just about every round has its high-risk areas, and certain corners where you’re more likely to have an off, but no other rally on the calendar poses quite the same challenge that STPR does.
“If you go out and do regular stages, you’ll see there’s a lot of downhill sections where we’re flat out as fast as the car will go,” Subaru Motorsports USA navigator Rhianon Gelsomino explained to DirtFish.
“And those times you know, you’re doing 130 mph downhill and if you miss your braking mark, you’re into the trees.”
Into the trees” may be a common expression in rally, and is often also quite literal, but it’s a different story at STPR. The trees sit right at the edge of the road in many places, and are fully grown, car stopping towers.
You don’t have much in the way of a buffer, such as a ditch or some brush, to deflect a car or slow it down in the event of slipping off course in many areas; in fact, often all you have is a drop off to lead you full speed into the woods.
“The camber on the road is a little bit like New Zealand,” Gelsomino continued, “but then in New Zealand, you don’t have these really, really fast sections like we do here.
“I mean, when you’re comparing to WRC, which I’ve done a lot, most of the time we’re not allowed to run on the roads this fast to be honest with you.”
Pastrana echoed his co-driver’s sentiment.
“STPR is definitely a tough one,” he said. “It’s a wide-open rally for sure, some sketchy, big cliffs, really, narrow roads, lots of big trees.
“We’ve had more crashes here than we’ve had finishes and I haven’t got a win.”
Teammate Brandon Semenuk, however, may be the perfect person to tame STPR in his maiden outing on it, as he doesn’t seem too concerned about the conditions at all.
“You know, people may be complaining a bit about how fast it is, but to be honest, I quite like the profile of the roads,” he said after shakedown.
Four times a Redbull Rampage champion, and a life-long pro mountain-biker, Semenuk feels that the high speed commitments downhill could play in his favor.
“I like the descent,” he added. “Obviously, mountain biking made me comfortable with that, but any rallies I’ve done in the past where there’s been a lot of downhill, they’ve always been pretty good to me.
“From recce the roads look awesome,” he said. “I mean, [the Waste Management stage is] definitely kind of a rough, tricky little stage. But other than that, the forest stages look really good.
“Other than that, I obviously don’t have any experience here. So, it’s going to be a really tricky event, especially for the championship battle we’re in right now.
“It’ll be hard to keep up with those boys that have done it probably 10 plus times, but good we have a good feeling in the car with the little shake down there, and I’ll just go at it and see where we end up.”
Despite the comfort Semenuk has on stage, he’s not getting a big head about his chances of gaining ground in search of the championship here.
“I mean, I wouldn’t say I have confidence or no confidence [for a win].
“I think I can do a good rally but it’s anyone’s game. I don’t really have an expectation to be honest. I’m going to go and hopefully I just have a good feeling and we can be competitive with the pace that we put down.
“It’ll be a tricky end of the year for sure. I mean, I’ve never done these last two events, Ken obviously has. He did LSPR last year and he’s proven to be really quick with that car this year, so we’re going to have give it everything.”