There was genuine sadness when Brandon Semenuk and Keaton Williams went off on just the second stage of the Susquehannock Trail Performance Rally last weekend.
The last thing anybody wanted to see was the epic battle for the lead – and of course the championship – fizzle out so soon.
A win for Semenuk would have put him in a perfect position for an easier event at Lake Superior Performance Rally next month to win the championship, but instead Semenuk has a 17-point deficit to the Head Hoonigan in Charge, Ken Block.
Semenuk’s progress from a breakout star in the American Rally Association presented by DirtFish National championship over the past few years to a clear frontrunner has made him a fan favorite, so the off at STPR was disappointing for his growing fanbase, and of course to Subaru Motorsports USA itself.
But surprisingly, Semenuk isn’t too downbeat about being passed by Block for the championship lead with just one round remaining. Instead, he’s just delighted to be in the race at all.
“I wasn’t expecting to be in the championship battle this year,” Semenuk told DirtFish, “so obviously my expectations have changed a lot.
“It would be amazing to win it. If I don’t, it sucks, but again, I’m really happy to have been leading the championship most of the year.
“You know, we’re literally in Ken’s car from last year, which he didn’t beat us at a rally in. Me and Travis [Pastrana] were always faster. If we were there, one of us beat him.
“So I feel like taking that platform and then competing with the platform he’s in now and being there, we’re just in a better place than I thought we’d be, to be honest.”
Regardless of what side you sit on in that debate, it’s understandable why Semenuk would have felt like a championship wasn’t on the cards for him this year. With well managed expectations, Semenuk seems to hold his head high regardless of whatever may come next month on LSPR.
“I just feel like I’ve have grown as a driver [this year], and I’m happy with where we’re at, but if we can win the championship, it would be incredible.
“I think [LSPR is] going to be an extremely tough rally for us. No experience, no notes.
“It sounds like some of the roads are a bit different than it used to be in the past, so Ken will probably be the only one with recent in-car video of those stages, so obviously he’s going to have an advantage there, and the fact that he’s done it a lot and so has Travis.
“It’s a tall order to be competitive there, but there’s not really anything else we can do than just go for it.”
Semenuk’s title chances aren’t totlally obsolete, though.
If you know the ARA points system, you know it’s a best six-of-nine championship, meaning your lowest scoring three results are dropped. While we already said that Semenuk has a 17 point deficit, crunching some numbers shows that in a realistic sense with dropped scores considered, it’s much less than that.
With Block and Semenuk each finishing six rounds apiece so far this year, we can drop each drivers lowest finishing score (17 for Block, 2 for Semenuk), add in all of the powerstage points from the year, and get a more realistic idea of what needs to happen for each driver on LSPR.
So while the official points say Block has 139 to Semenuk’s 122, dropping the lowest round shows us Block only has a two-point lead on Semenuk with the rivals sitting 122-120.
With such a thin margin, it’s still either driver’s championship to win.