There’s plenty to get excited about for this weekend’s American Rally Association presented by DirtFish National series return.
For the first time in two years because of COVID-19, the championship lands in Maine and the northeast for the New England Forest Rally.
NEFR will also mark the halfway stage of the 2021 season – a season that is set to go down to the wire with so many top names fighting for the title.
But perhaps most exciting of all is the entry for this weekend’s event. This season has already proven a huge success – both in terms of quality and quantity – on that score, however the line-up for the New England Forest Rally is the best yet.
To give you a flavor of just how good, and indeed who you should be looking out for, we’ve picked out six drivers worth keeping an eye on this week; starting with the big one…
A name that needs no introduction in the world of US rallying, David Higgins will make his first ARA start since 2019 at New England Forest Rally behind the wheel of one of Barry McKenna’s Ford Fiestas.
The 10-time champion no doubt has the skill to win NEFR as he has five times in the past – including last time out in 2019 – but every time he has been behind the wheel of a factory-backed Subaru Motorsports USA WRX STI.
Adaptability is the strong suit of a rally driver, but will Higgins be able to adapt to the new car quickly enough to win his class, or even the whole event? It’s possible, and if one thing is certain, Higgins will not hold back one bit.
– Mason Runkel
Another strong name on this year’s entry, perhaps more familiar to British and Irish fans than those in the US, is Marty McCormack. A regular on the British and Irish lanes and forests, McCormack is a seriously quick driver and will be armed with a seriously quick car: the McKenna Motorsport Škoda Fabia R5+.
Just like when Josh McErlean and Callum Devine entered Olympus, McCormack’s presence will be a fascinating barometer as to where the pace is in both the US and Europe. McCormack has an even stronger chance than his younger counterparts too as his car will be running to R5+ spec with better aero and more power.
McCormack has never competed in the US before, but there’s not a lot he and Barney Mitchell don’t know about rallying. The Fabia isn’t a new beast to them either as McCormack’s driven both the S2000 and R5 version of the car extensively over the years, although never in as impressive a spec as the one he’ll pilot this weekend.
– Luke Barry
With a name like Jax Redline, you’re destined for speed. Redline is only 16 years old but has already cut his teeth by winning numerous off-road events in his 1000-HP Unlimited-Class Baja Truck.
In a seat-swap scenario with Ken Block, Block is trading Redline an opportunity behind the wheel of his Ford Escort ‘Cossie’ V2 with Block getting an opportunity in Redline’s truck at the Baja 1000 later this year.
Redline is totally new to the world of stage rallying, but has been practicing through various channels, including private lessons at DirtFish for driving and OzRallyPro to learn about pacenotes. The young prodigy is not known for destroying equipment or getting in over his head, all of which makes him a likely candidate to impress at NEFR.
The man giving Redline his rallying debut is also one well worth keeping an eye on this weekend. Why? Because Ken Block doesn’t really have anything to lose.
Block is an unrealistic title contender this season because he missed the opening round and will also miss the season finale due to a clashing commitment. The onus is therefore increasingly being placed on rally wins now that he’s got two events under his belt with his Vermont SportsCar-built Subaru.
NEFR is an event Block has only won once before (in 2013), and he’ll have a tough ask to beat any one or all of Travis Pastrana, Brandon Semenuk, Barry McKenna and Higgins. But that exact same statement rings true for all of those drivers in beating Block.
In rallying anything can happen. Block looks ready to win his first US rally in seven years this weekend.
Ken isn’t the only Block appearing at this weekend’s New England Forest Rally though, as wife Lucy starts her first event in over two years this weekend. Driving a Ford Fiesta R2T, she doesn’t have the same opportunity as the Gelsominos do of competing directly against her spouse, but she could be in for a strong result in her class.
The Open 2WD field is something of a lion’s pit though, with names like Seamus Burke and Brad Morris anticipated to set the pace, so a more realistic rival will be Cian McCormack’s similar Fiesta.
NEFR may well be a bedding-in process for Block though given her lack of recent seat-time, but with an entry into the Ojibwe Forests Rally too it surely won’t be long until we’re seeing her on the class podium again. Don’t bet against that being as soon as this weekend.
Will Graham will be competing on just his second ever US event this weekend. His first time out at Southern Ohio Forest Rally went fantastic for him, managing to put in a time fast enough for fifth overall and first in class.
Unfortunately, the car was about 30lbs underweight at the final weigh in. This and a few other tech issues caused the Mitsubishi Evo X to be given a 2m5s penalty, dropping him back to ninth.
Regardless, the run Graham put in was impossible to ignore, with or without penalties. Back and ready to prove himself again, Graham is no doubt going to give current class leader Ele Bardha a big run for his money at NEFR, and potentially even trouble some of the runners in the higher classes.