The American Rally Association presented by DirtFish National season is back in full swing this weekend with the Southern Ohio Forest Rally.
Without any rounds in May, the tension is palpable ahead of round four of the season and the big question is, can Travis Pastrana go an unprecedented four from four?
What’s certain is he isn’t short of competition trying to deny him. Here are DirtFish’s picks of who to watch in Ohio right across the field.
The return of the champion! What can Barry McKenna do on his first rally since March? Probably quite a lot.
It’s hard to look beyond the 2020 ARA National and Southern Ohio Forest Rally Champion as the overwhelming favorite this weekend. He has the skills; he has the car; he now just needs the fortune after he had a certain victory ripped from his grasp on the 100 Acre Wood Rally by a puncture.
McKenna is on the back foot to retain his title given he’s yet to win, Travis Pastrana has done so thrice and he missed Olympus. Expect nothing less than a flat-out attack from McKenna, Leon Jordan and the Ford Fiesta WRC in Ohio as they look to recover lost ground.
And don’t be surprised to see Pastrana back off a touch as, with a clear early championship lead, he doesn’t need to win here.
– Luke Barry
Currently sitting third in the standings after an unfortunate retirement from Olympus Rally, Semenuk is ready to play catch up. The Subaru Motorsports USA driver made his team debut at this event last year, and despite the car and the stages being brand-new to him, he was still able to pull off a third place finish behind Ken Block and Barry McKenna; two of the quickest drivers in the US.
Now with a full year in the car, and many, many more miles of experience, Semenuk has a great chance to run either as fast, if not faster, than those who beat him last year. Let’s not forget, Semenuk lost a significant amount of time due to a last minute off caused by unexpected debris in the road last year, otherwise he stood in great contention to take second away from Block.
The constant theme of Semenuk’s career with Subaru has been impressing and improving, and having started with the bar set so high, he’s always ready to move it higher before the rest of the field is prepared for it.
– Mason Runkel
Piatkowski has a long history of rallying in the US, having competed consistently for the past decade in the eastern events of the ARA.
He currently sits at the top of the NA4WD championship after taking first in class, and fifth overall at Sno*Drift earlier this year. While SOFR and Sno*Drift couldn’t be more different, he still finds himself in a great spot to take the NA4WD win again this weekend, and with the tight and technical stages of Southern Ohio, he might even be able to break top 10 depending on how things go.
In his class, Piatkowski’s greatest competition is likely Jon Kramer of Heavy Metal Motorsports (though only entering as a Regional competitor) and Arek Bialobrzeski, who each have years of experience under their belts. Keep an eye on this class, as it’s sure to be a nail-biter.
Olympus was a breakthrough event for the popular Ryan Booth. After a string of four retirements, Booth and Andy Hayes grabbed fourth overall on their first event with the newer-spec Ford Fiesta Rally2.
More of the same in Ohio? Not quite – as at the very least he’ll be in a different car, armed with the Škoda that won this rally last year with McKenna and took second in Ken Block’s hands on 100AW Rally.
A repeat result will be tough for Booth with Pastrana, Semenuk, McKenna and Block all racing at the front, but expect Booth to be hanging onto their coat-tails as much as he can.
There can be no denying his speed, although he could find himself in no man’s land – a tough place for any driver to be – with a deficit to the front four and clear advantage over the rest. But if things go awry up front, that first ARA podium mightn’t be far away…
Being a native of Tennessee, SOFR is the closest ARA round to home for Michael Hooper. He and his legendary Lexus IS350 raced this event last year and pulled off a class win, and sixth overall.
The reliability of the car helped as the event wore on and many competitors began overheating, and Hooper’s years of experience driving propelled him over two minutes ahead of his nearest competitor, 2020 two-wheel-drive champion Seamus Burke.
Hooper also has more experience on these stages than many of his competitors will, as he has been running the event since 2018, when it was a Rally America Round, and earned third overall in 2019 when it was an ARA Super Regional round.
Rapid and proven in a Subaru Impreza, Sanders will get a taste of life in an R5 this weekend thanks to McKenna Motorsports. It’ll be fascinating to see how he manages.
SOFR is quite a technical rally, so is a great event to switch to the Fiesta as it should suit it a lot more than it would Sanders’ Subaru. But whatever happens, this will be a great opportunity for Sanders to measure himself as there’s a whole host of R5 drivers (Booth, John Coyne, Martin Donnelly, Enda McCormack) for him to battle.
A top 10 finish will be the primary target, but don’t rule out the #26 car featuring even higher on the leaderboard come Saturday evening.