It’s been a fantastic year for the American Rally Association presented by DirtFish National Championship, but unfortunately all good things must come to an end.
While the class champions are pretty much all but finalized, there’s still one more event where everyone will be battling to finish strong and have momentum to carry into next year.
While there’s plenty of great drivers to choose from, here’s who we’re choosing to keep our eyes on for Oregon Trail Rally.
We could pick Kyle Tilley for this feature based on his driving alone. The endurance racer has been seriously impressive on his first few rallies; netting fourth overall on the recent Lake Superior Performance Rally.
But what he’s driving also earns him some kudos this weekend. Tilley is now the proud owner of a Ford Fiesta R5 and has been getting acquainted with it at DirtFish’s world-leading rally school.
With experienced navigator Martin Brady alongside, this is a pairing that could be capable of a podium should things go their way.
– Luke Barry
Speaking of Kyle Tilley, how about his crew chief? Tony Torchia hasn’t been active that much on the stages recently, but behind the scenes he’s been living and breathing rally for years.
Having worked as a lead tech at DirtFish Rally School for years, building his own rally car, and even travelling to many of the national events this year to crew for multiple teams, Torchia is ready to take to the driving seat again and show he’s as good behind the wheel as he is under the hood.
Torchia has also filled in as an instructor when necessary at DirtFish, and was battling for the class lead at Olympus earlier this year before an electrical gremlin put him under SuperRally rules early on. Be watching out for him to make a strong statement at OTR.
The ARA has become increasingly international in 2021 and welcomed several exciting drivers to the US rallying scene, but does it get any more international than Hamed Al-Wahaibi’s entry in a McKenna Motorsport/Dom Buckley Ford Fiesta Rally2?
From Oman, Al-Wahaibi has never rallied in America before but has returned to competition this season after a nine year lay-off; including appearances on two former WRC rallies Jordan and Cyprus.
Al-Wahaibi faces tough competition in the RC2 class but, regardless of how he does, it’s just fantastic to have so many different drivers coming to the ARA to test their mettle.
Another international entry that has never rallied in America, Javier Castro will also be campaigning in the RC2 class, but not in an R5. Castro will be behind the wheel of the first R4 car to take to US soil, based on the Toyota Etios.
Castro’s team, RC Competición has big plans for the platform, but it all starts here with Castro behind the wheel. The experienced Argentinian driver will be out to prove himself as well as his product in the US this weekend.
The Toyota Etios R4 is not expected to win the class being about a second slower per mile than the R5 cars, but it will be exciting to see how Castro’s skills stack up in the class, and if he’ll be able to pick off any of the faster cars.
The new ARA Champion hasn’t rallied since winning the title in August’s Ojibwe Forests Rally. Will he be rusty? Unlikely given he’s been driving in Nitro Rallycross, but it might take him slightly longer to be at top speed than normal.
Pastrana’s saving grace is that Subaru Motorsports USA team-mate Brandon Semenuk is in the exact same position, having also missed LSPR. Ken Block didn’t though, and will take part in Oregon as the East African Safari Classic Rally – which he was meant to do instead – has been postponed.
Pastrana’s approach this weekend will be interesting. Will he drive differently now that he has no title situation to worry about? Will he be super eager to prove that he is the best and fastest this year and therefore risk more to win? We’ll soon find out.
Not that the Head Hoonigan in Charge needs anyone to defend him, but Block has been performing surprisingly well this season, all things considered, despite what detractors have been saying.
Jumping into one of the best-built rally cars in the country and competing at the highest level without any real time to learn the vehicle first is difficult, and the team has made great strides in learning set-ups and dealing with issues that have arisen.
With multiple events under his belt in the car now, and having gained speed each step of the way, I think it might be Block’s time to take Pastrana down in this year’s ARA season closer.