The US also has its own winter rally. Happening in the northern part of the country, Sno*Drift Rally is a little different from the usual winter events known to Europeans. The difference is that the Concept of this rally is more reminiscent of a Monte Carlo, as most of the result consists of tire choice and the ability to keep the car on the road in extremely slippery conditions.
Tires are what make Sno*Drift Rally fundamentally different from other rallies. After all, studded tires are banned on public roads in the state of Michigan where the event takes place. There is no exception for sporting events, so instead of centimeter-long spikes, drivers have to rely only on the tire rubber, which does not necessarily give good traction with winter surface.
And here begins all the fun and the lottery. The first thing – in this rally there were four special stages, who were run three times each. Therefore, after each run, the road changed quite strongly. In some places, layers of thick snow were crushed, elsewhere some tracks occurred. In the shade, the rubber tires cleared the snow and polished ice to make it even more slippery. And quite opposite in sunny places, where slush was giving a challenge. Because the rally takes place near the great American lakes, the climate there is milder than usual, so the snow there is often naturally humid. Therefore, each of those three runs through stage often differed strongly enough. The co-drivers also made corrections in pacenotes due to the drastic changes in road characteristics. Add night to all this, so the challenge of attacking such roads with a racing pace without a very good grip becomes a bit of a challenge.
Tires play a huge role here, although there are only two types. The first is the wheels of a very coarse, sparse, and deep pattern, designed to cut and remove snow as much as possible. Reminiscent of the sports winter tires used in Europe, only without studs. And the second type is tractionized tire. These are actually conventional snow tires mounted on everyday cars, only greatly improved by the crews themselves. The tires are processed with special equipment to make them rougher and cut at various angles. Some are cut vertically to make the tire clear snow better, others horizontally to increase traction during acceleration and braking. Everyone does this work according to their own needs and experience. Wheels of this type have a much better grip on ice than the first.
This rally even has its own “Col de Turini”. Only here this is called – “Bonfire alley”. When it gets dark, crowds of spectators all over the special stage light up a lot of bonfires, which creates an incredible atmosphere. Unfortunately this year this tradition was broken as the rally took place without spectators. So there was nothing to ignite the bonfires, nor to pull out cars that stuck in the snowbanks. By the way, there were often surprises in this rally in terms of results. Since the cost and capacity of a car in such conditions goes to the second or even third plan, the opportunity shines for good drivers, whose garages are parked with modest cars. The lack of grip greatly equates the possibilities of all.
But there were no big surprises this year. After losing the title in 2020, the Subaru Motorsport USA team started this season extremely firmly. Travis Pastrana and Brendon Semenuk confidently took first and second place. Last year’s champion and the winner of this rally, Irishman Barry McCkena, this time, was only successful in saying Irish curses. As he himself said, it was the most unpleasant experience in a rally car. This was due to the poor choice of tires. Barry started with deep-patterned snow tires, and the Subaru team opted for tractionized tires. The stages had more ice than a thick layer of snow in many places, making the Irish Ford Fiesta R5 + more like a cow on ice. And when the more suitable wheels were fitted, the car itself began to whim and Mckenna left third with four and a half minutes behind.
Also, there were some additional spices added to this event by few drivers. Last year, Subaru team representatives T. Pastrana and B. Semenuk, as well as B. McKenna, came up with idea on how to bring more intrigue into the events. The trio bets on one dollar. The dollar is picked up by the one who wins the special stage chosen by the slowest of the three at the time. So, far behind Subaru, McKenna chose the last stage this time. Thus, the Subaru team, although calmly leading, put extra effort into the last section of the rally. After all, the dollar is on the cards. And that banknote went to B. Semenuk for a short time, who beat the rally-winning teammate in 2.7s. True, that dollar did not stay with the Canadian for a long time, because in the last turn of the special stage, he spun at the sharp turn. The problem is that Semenuk also hit the mailbox, which also had a bet of the dollar.
Travis Pastrana, about this tradition:
“I knew we had a minute lead going into that last stage and was like; Alright, it’s only seven miles, damn there’s a dollar on the line, so we’ve still got to push really hard”
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Photos – Jason Swoboda, John Dickson, Subaru Motorsport USA
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