The fourth stage of the US Championship, which took place despite the loss of communication during the event.
ARA – the main championship of the United States – is moving towards the middle. After a quarantine damaged 2020 season, this year’s championship consists of as many as 9 stages, of which the Southern Ohio Forest Rally was fourth. The competition took place in the northeastern United States, in extremely forested areas. This time, the special stages were quite reminiscent of Lithuanian forest roads, only on the America they are slightly wider. There was also an asphalt section between the gravel, changing the rhythm a bit and threatening to eat tires for those who overuse them. And the extremely slippery roads were updated with rain, which really did not make the conditions easier for the participants.
And there is some news about modern WRC equipment who came to the USA, as B.McKenna bought a Ford Fiesta WRC car specially prepared for this championship. I wrote about the modifications of that car necessary for him to take part in the championship in the previous article. But the ARA organizers clung to the aerodynamics of the Fiesta WRC, or more precisely the rear wing, which goes farther than the body. After lengthy deliberations, the Irish third place in the Rally in the 100 Acre Wood race was left, with the verdict that the car did not break the rules. More precisely, this situation falls more into that gray area, between allowed and disallowed. So this situation will definitely be resolved in 2022. regulations. At least from the photos, it looks like a new longer Fiesta WRC bumper has been made for this rally, which lengthens the car. The main competitor – Subaru – does not sleep either. The team arrived in Ohio with an updated engine and an improved aerodynamic package that is already quite reminiscent of modern WRC air resistance elements. So the U.S. fights are taking place not only in the special stages but also in the engineers ’offices.
The rally consisted of two days – a short Friday and a very long Saturday. As early as Friday, there was some drama. The race started on a short asphalt speed section where the class was shown by a new member of the Subaru family – Ken Block. But fame was short-lived. Already in the next special stage, the U.S. showmen hit a stump as he was too optimistic in one of the turns, which made porridge from the suspension of the Subaru Impreza. Ken Block’s car was fixed for Saturday, but he started without a chance to get championship points. In other words, the chances for Ken becoming the U.S. champion are almost gone. But K.Block wasn’t the only one in Friday’s woes. The new engine behaved a little differently than the multi-champion and season leader Travis Pastrana expected. Although he won one section on Friday, he staled on start in the other two. In one case, it cost him 10 seconds, and in another, trying to re-ignite the Subaru took 45 seconds. It put this American in 4th place on Friday with almost a minute behind rally leader and teammate Canadian Brendon Semenuk.
Still, Friday’s drama turned out to be just a drop in the ocean compared to what was happening on Saturday. The communication equipment newly purchased by the organizers broke down and the rally headquarters was left without contact with the marshals and other crew in the stages. The first two special stages were passed by the participants according to the traffic rules, and the third started in normal mode because everything was in order with the connection in that section. In that stage, B.McKenna and his Ford Fiesta WRC returned to speed and the Irish invaded in the first place. When the participants returned to the service zone, it was to decide what to do next, as the further execution of the competition hung on the hair. The organizers still found a way out. Realizing that the usual methods would not solve the situation, some of the organizers and marshals drove in their cars to those first three morning special stages. The idea was to cover the area of those three special stages with local communication, which worked out well. All other scheduled stages for that day were canceled, and that covered stages were run by athletes twice more. But it took a very long time to fix the communication issue. Crews and spectators had to wait about 5-6 hours.
And when they finally got to the start, the participants continued to compete. Barry McCkena won all the special stages of the penultimate section and gradually increased his lead over the Semenuk driving Subaru. T. Pastrana settled in third place. But in the last phase of the three stages, which took place partly in the dark, Subaru drivers changed their places. The Canadian Impreza got an electrical system glitch, causing him to lose about two minutes. So second place went to championship leader Travis Pastrana, who was very pleased with the result as the American was haunted by problems all weekend. He was out of the road and stuck in a swamp, the new engine and aerodynamics were not yet working as they should, especially since Travis wasn’t used to the improvements enough. There was even such trouble that the new front bumper and too small mudguards made the car’s side windows muddy, which reduced visibility. So with more than a two-minute lead, the rally was won by Barry McKenna with the Ford Fiesta WRC. Among the two-wheel-drive cars, the winner was also an Irishman – Seamus Burke, with a Ford Escort MK2. Indeed, the Irish people made a significant change on the US rally stage. It was through Ireland that a number of Ford Fiesta and Škoda Fabia R5 cars, driven by both the same Irish and American, entered the United States. But still, the most popular 4WD car in the U.S. remains Subaru.
The next U.S. stage, the New England Forest Rally, will take place in late July.
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Photos – David Cosseboom, Ganesh Nagarajan