It’s all come down to this. A final showdown between Hoonigan’s Ken Block and Subaru Motorsport USA’s Brandon Semenuk.
There’s not much separating the pair going into the final round of the American Rally Association Presented by DirtFish National Championship, and everything is still very much to play for.
But who will come out on top? Our writers have had their say.
It’s Block’s to lose
Being the pre-event favorite doesn’t mean you will be the post-event champion, but there are too many factors in Block’s favor this weekend that make him the obvious bet to win this quite brilliant showdown.
Before we even get to the ongoing debate about the performance of Block’s Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC vs Brandon Semenuk’s Subaru WRX STI, the key card Block has over his rival is experience.
While he’s a three-time winner of Lake Superior Performance Rally (including last year – the only event he won in a modern Subaru in the absence of both of the works cars) Semenuk has never even started the event.
Experience is offset in rallying today by the huge amount of resources available for preparation work, but nothing beats knowing how the stages feel for yourself. We saw that last time out on STPR where Semenuk – also competing there for the first time – had to overreach and overdrive to keep pace with Block, and ended up in the trees.
Form is with Block too. Although Semenuk interrupted Block’s victory streak in New England, Block and the Hyundai were the faster package over the weekend and he’s won four from the last five.
Semenuk’s best hope is that Block gets spooked by the occasion. He badly wants the US rallying title, and he’s never, ever been this close before. He’s the one with more to lose, as Semenuk feels he’s done a cracking job to simply be in the race at the final round.
It’s therefore far from a foregone conclusion, but if Block lets this one drop, he’ll be kicking himself far harder than Semenuk will if he’s defeated. The first loop of stages will be massively influential.
Semenuk’s mindset could win him the title
Look, I wear my heart on my sleeve when it comes to racing. I’ve thought that this has been Semenuk’s championship right from the moment he won the Oregon Trail Rally Last year.
Perhaps I invested myself into that narrative a bit too heavily, but I wouldn’t have done it differently. Even if Block has had better results, I’d argue Semenuk has been the most impressive to watch on stage this year.
Yes, Block should win this on paper. He has the points lead, recent experience, the winning record, the car, the notes, the stage video. There’s plenty of advantages that, on paper, make this championship Block’s to lose, even if only slightly.
I can’t imagine Block doesn’t have far more weight on his shoulders trying to win his first National Championship in over 15 years of rallying. On the other hand, while Semenuk would like to win the championship, he has made it clear that’s not everything to him.
And when it comes down to it, he’s happy to have even led for a good portion of the year and been competitive with the Hyundai, he’ll be far less on edge than his competition.
Everything in my head says it’s safer to bet on Block, but I can’t change my mind with just one event to go. Block has a lot to lose, but Semenuk has the mindset going into this round that could get him the championship.
Logic dictates Block
So many times Ken Block has had to play the bridesmaid. For all his clout in the wider automotive world, when it comes to rallying, he hasn’t yet taken an outright crown.
Now is his best chance to put that right. Four wins against Brandon Semenuk’s three, 139 points against 122 – Block heads to Lake Superior in the superior position (sorry, not sorry).
But he is up against a team that has very little knowledge of losing, one that’s been constantly developing to remain in the hunt this year, and a driver that’s matured into the real deal over the last couple of seasons. That man’s also got a rear gunner, too, while Block is flying solo.
But let’s flip the coin again. Block’s in arguably the best machinery he’s ever been in, and enters LSPR as the defending event winner – the latest of three wins he’s had in Marquette.
So who am I picking? Well, Block comes into the final round with the points advantage. Logically, you’d have to point at him, but only a fool would completely write off Semenuk and the Subaru steamroller.