American Rally Association presented by DirtFish National points leader Travis Pastrana expects to have his “work cut out” to win the 100 Acre Wood Rally which begins on Friday afternoon.
Subaru Motorsports USA star Pastrana won the season-opening Sno*Drift Rally over his team-mate Brandon Semenuk, with defending ARA National Champion Barry McKenna third.
However the competition has increased this weekend with Ken Block returning to the series in a Škoda Fabia R5+ and McKenna wheeling out a latest generation Ford Fiesta WRC. Ryan Booth’s Ford Fiesta R5 was also included in the seeded draw, making it one of the most competitive ARA entries in years.
Pastrana has “been in a car more the last two weeks than I have the last six months” as he’s been testing tires for the Nitro Rallycross series which launches in September, but he still thinks he faces a stern challenge if he’s to continue his winning start to 2021.
The Californian, who won the 100AW Rally in 2016, told DirtFish: “Sno*Drift is probably my best rally. This rally, Olympus and STPR [Susquehannock Trail Performance Rally] are the three rallies that I struggle with.
“I’ve been able to win this one before, we’ve led this one a lot but unfortunately this rally really suits someone who’s very smooth.
“Ken Block, who doesn’t seem like a very smooth driver on the outside with all the Gymkhana stuff, has been so dominant on this rally just by being super consistent – maybe not the fastest on every stage but by setting really consistent times, knowing where the limits are.
“It has a huge crown to the road so it’s not about setting up the car for corner to corner it’s just about using what the road gives you and he’s really good at reading the road and making the best pacenotes going through.
I was stoked [to hear about it], honestly it keeps elevating the series. This is what I live for, I love competitionPastrana on McKenna's Fiesta WRC
“Rhianon [Gelsomino] and I have really worked on that. Semenuk [is] coming off a win on a lot of these stages last year, he’s doing awesome. This is where McKenna got his first win in ARA beating [Oliver] Solberg and [David] Higgins so it’s a really good rally for all my competitors.
“Booth also as well [is] really good here, just looking at all the drivers in the seeded draw I’ve got my work cut out for me. But I think with all the rain and all the mud it’s going to allow for good notes, good preparation to really hopefully come through at the end.”
McKenna’s Fiesta WRC has been the subject to some pre-event debate, with the car’s aggressive aerodynamic package not conforming to current ARA O4WD rules. The Irishman has appealed that ruling.
When asked by DirtFish about McKenna’s ride and what challenge it poses him, Pastrana said: “Whatever Barry’s driving poses a big challenge to us!
“I was stoked [to hear about it], honestly it keeps elevating the series. Everybody has their different opinions on what’s fair and where the grey area is but it’s going to bring the ARA rules to be more specific. It’s the driver’s job to figure out where the grey area is and how can I do everything I can to have the best vehicle that I possibly can?
“And now it’s cool because between Brandon, Barry and I we’re splitting tenths of seconds on 10-mile stages. That is awesome! We haven’t had this since Tanner Foust and Ken Block, and now Ken’s coming back in and he’s using Barry’s Škoda for this one and talking about different cars going forward, it’s awesome having Ken just driving what he loves, back out having fun and driving on the stages.
“Booth’s really picking up speed so there’s more drivers coming in at the next round in Washington, I think two really top elite drivers – you could have 10 drivers capable of winning by halfway in the season.
“This is what I live for, I love competition. It’s awesome to be coming off a win, leading the points is great but this season’s just getting started.”