The American Rally Association is known for its quality, and there are plenty of talented drivers taking the start of the opening round of 2021: the Sno*Drift Rally in Atlanta, Michigan.
DirtFish has cast its eye over the entry list and picked out eight drivers who are worth watching this Saturday. Let us know who you’re most excited to see out on the stages via our Facebook and Twitter social media channels.
Enda McCormack’s name isn’t a new one on an American entry list, but the Hyundai i20 R5 he will pilot most certainly is. As US rallying takes further strides to align with Europe, more and more R5 cars are making appearances stateside and Irishman McCormack will give the Hyundai its US rally debut this weekend.
The competence of the car is clear from its performances in the world championship, but McCormack should be capable of getting the best from the package too. Sno*Drift is a new rally for him though, so he may have to take a few stages to bed himself into the unique nature of the Michigan event.
Ryan Booth is easily one of the most promising newcomers to rallying in the United States. Despite already having two Regional event wins and a pair of overall top-five finishes in the National series, Booth still feels he’s merely getting used to his McDonalds-clad Ford Fiesta R5.
That could mean there is a lot more speed for him to get out of the car in the coming events.
Last year Booth showed up to Sno*Drift for only the second day of racing, so he wasn’t able to put in a full weekend, but in those stages, he was able to show some dangerously fast times, similar to a lot of the top competitors. Another year of experience behind the wheel has surely only made him more confident, and he’ll now be looking to make a name for himself in 2021.
Nate Tennis knows how to drive a rally car – he wouldn’t be DirtFish’s lead instructor if he didn’t. But does he know how to tackle the Sno*Drift? With no prior experience on the winter classic and without a competitive rally start since 2018, it will certainly be an uphill struggle for Tennis to adapt.
His progress will be one of the talking points of the rally. Although he will be armed with a Subaru BRZ for the first time in competition, the car should ironically represent familiarity for Tennis as it’s one of the machines utilized at the DirtFish Rally School. Expect Tennis to be a factor in the battle for two-wheel-drive class honors.
Seamus Burke is a man that needs no introduction to ARA fans, having been a stalwart of US rallying for over a decade. In recent years the Irish visitor has been renowned for his exploits in a Mustang-engined Ford Escort Mk2, but for the opening round of 2021, he and Martin Brady will be strapped into a Mitsubishi Lancer.
In the snowy and icy conditions of Sno*Drift, it’s a fairly logical move but it will nevertheless be interesting to see where Burke filters in against the likes of Zachary Whitebread, Zachary Jacques, and even the R5 boys of John Coyne, Ryan Booth, and his son Joseph.
Burke hasn’t contested the Sno*Drift Rally since 2007, but that was in a Mitsubishi when he finished seventh overall. A similar result in 2021 would be a terrific start to the season.
Son of Seamus, Joseph is looking to get a good start to the 2021 ARA season after sparsely competing in 2020.
The last time we saw Joseph at a National event he was piloting his 2006 JRD Evo at the Southern Ohio Forest Rally, and heading into a toss-up of a final loop easily looking at a top-five finish, if not better, when a puncture sent him back to the pits early and ended his race. Other than showing up at the New York Forest Rally, the Regional rally put together by 2020 National champion Barry McKenna, Burke hasn’t raced since.
Piloting an R5 Fiesta this time out, Burke is no doubt looking to get a good start to his season that he can carry into the rest of the year. A top-five finish in 2011 and ’12 shows Burke isn’t afraid of the lack of grip Sno*Drift offers but, having been nearly a decade since his last entry, it will be interesting to see how well he can recall those skills.
Last year the lack of points after a DNF at SOFR forced him to sit on the sidelines but with a bit of good driving this weekend, Burke might not just be a threat to be at the top at the end in Michigan but possibly in the conversation for top five in the championship at the end of the year.
Yes, he might not be competing in the National Championship, and no, he isn’t in a scary fast brand-new machine this weekend, but if there’s one driver who left a huge impression at the 2020 Sno*Drift, it was Jimmy Pelizzari.
Driving a Subaru Impreza 2.5 RS in the NA4WD class, Pelizzari might not be able to keep up with the likes of McKenna, Pastrana, and the ever-growing list of R5’s in other events, but Sno*Drift truly is the great equalizer.
Thanks to some insanely impressive car control and consistency, Pelizzari was able to not only easily win the Regional 2020 Sno*Drift gold, but turned in the third-fastest time overall, beating out the likes of third-place National finisher Zachary Jacques, as well as John Coyne and Frank Cunningham who were both in R5 Fiestas.
Though you won’t be able to see Pelizzari on the National podium, pay attention to the times he turns in because he’s no stranger to punching up, and outperforming, competitors with ten times the car.
It probably goes without saying that the Subaru Motorsports USA drivers are favorites to win, but Brandon Semenuk is coming into this season with a lot to prove. After getting a podium on every event he competed in last year – as well as his first ARA win at Show-Me – Semenuk is beyond simply being fast: he’s champion material.
Even team-mate Travis Pastrana has been talking Semenuk up, comparing his skill in the ARA to 10-time US rally champion David Higgins.
The Canadian will be racing Sno*Drift for the first time, but with multiple wins in the Canadian Rally Championship’s Big White Winter Rally, Semenuk has proven his abilities to race in similar conditions.
Semenuk has already proven he can race and win, yes, but now it’s time to prove that he can be a serious contender for the ARA championship. A win at Sno*Drift would be the perfect start to a season that takes him all the way there.
It may seem a little obvious to tip the reigning champion as one to watch, but it is going to be fascinating to witness Barry McKenna take on the might of Subaru Motorsports USA again in his quest to become a double ARA National Champion.
Last season McKenna roared out the blocks with a win on Sno*Drift, but can he do the same with the Subarus of Travis Pastrana and Brandon Semenuk present? And how will he respond to the pressure of being the hunted rather than the hunter?
Dress it up how you like: 2021 is going to be a big year for McKenna as he looks to continue what he started. The clever money is on him being just as fast as he always has been, so the two Subaru drivers will certainly have their hands full…