We’re all familiar with the American dream – the ideal by which equal opportunities are afforded to any American allowing them to achieve their ultimate goals.
Becoming the 2021 American Rally Association National LN4 class champion certainly ticked a box for Mark Piatkowski. Winning the Sno*Drift Rally outright a year later in his humble, self-built Subaru was simply incredible.
But for Piatkowski to achieve his American dream, he needs a European twist.
And that’s exactly what he’s in for this weekend.
For the first time in his career, the 33-year-old will start a rally outside of the USA when he takes on Sunday’s Rally della Val d’Orcia in Tuscany behind the wheel of a Volkswagen Polo N5.
“Throughout the years I’ve achieved more than what I ever thought would have been possible in my naturally-aspirated Subaru,” Piatkowski tells DirtFish.
“I won a national championship in it competing against more powerful cars, even won an event overall, and looking back at it I don’t want to necessarily say I’ve plateaued but I’m pushing at 11 tenths and in some rallies the timesheets don’t necessarily show my effort because of the equipment that I have.
“And so I knew if I’m going to progress myself as a driver, as a competitor, as just a rally enthusiast, I will have to step up into higher machinery, take myself out of my comfort zone and do rallies that will challenge me that I’ve never done before.
“And that obviously equates to Europe.”
Piatkowski is about to forge a path many haven’t been able to take. Very few American grassroots competitors either manage or have the capability to spread their wings in other pockets of the globe, but Piatkowski fully intends to push himself.
“Oh 100%,” he says when asked if this is the biggest challenge he’s ever faced.
I'm at the point in my life where either I continue to dream about it or I take risksMark Piatkowski
“I’m at the point in my life where either I continue to dream about it or I take risks and try and make something of it.
“I don’t have kids, I have my own career; it’s basically now or never.
“If you look at my rally CV I’m essentially lacking experience in higher-spec cars and I really want to make the most of this opportunity, make new connections, network there in Italy and see what will come of it.”
But why Tuscany?
“They used to run the WRC there,” Piatkowski reasons.
“Part of the WRC [Rally Sanremo] route when they ran through Tuscany ran through this area and through some of these roads so for me as a rally enthusiast, how can you beat that?”
As dreamy as the whole affair is, it comes at a cost. Like anything worth having, Piatkowski has had to make some sacrifices.
“I’ve actually sold my weekend car to fund this rally,” he reveals.
“Funding is going to be obviously tight when I come back but I think the experience of doing a rally in Italy in a high-spec car will by far out-value the experience I would have had just driving around in my STI every other Sunday.”
For now, Piatkowski’s European adventure remains a one-off “but the seat is certainly available for the entire N5 championship for me if I can come up with the funds and if I can make that package work”.
Longer-term, he wants to keep doing more on the continent.
“I have a long-term goal and this is just step one.
“Long-term plan is to continue doing events in Europe, whether it’s going to be national events in different countries, some ERC rounds… I’ve also started asking for quotes and starting the prospecting phase of any particular WRC events in like a Rally3 car.
“Anything higher spec than that is not attainable with my own budget but I want to see how far I can basically go with my budget, with my skill-set on a national or international level is my own goal.”
The ambition is commendable, but there is unquestionably a fair degree of risk to Piatkowski’s plan. Financially, it’s obviously a big hit and there is of course the chance that he fails to make an impression on the leaderboard.
But Piatkowski has no fear. He defiantly states that he “won’t back down” from his dreams.
He says: “If the event does not go well for me either performance-wise or say unfortunately I have an off with the car or something happens, I can still hold my head up high and say that I’ve tried and I’ve given it 100% effort.
“I know that things in rally don’t necessarily work out the way you’ve planned all the time, but putting yourself out there, putting myself in a risky situation has always worked out well for me in the past and hopefully it works out well for me this time.”