Rally in the 100 Acre Wood

Rally Week

The rally affairs of the United States do not stop rising. Not so long ago, Subaru cars of various modifications occupied the highest places, with some exotic cars behind them. But the situation is changing pretty quickly.

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Rally Week
100 Acre Wood rally

European’s have begun to bring technology from the old continent, so combinations of the R5 or S2000 are no longer a surprising or rare phenomenon. The WRC name has also appeared several times, but the last WRC cars of the same era ran on this continent back in 1986, where the Group B era came to an end. Last weekend, the world’s most modern rally equipment returned.

B.McKenna / L.Jordan - Ford Fiesta WRC
B.McKenna / L.Jordan – Ford Fiesta WRC

The second round of the ARA (Main U.S. Championship) took place in the mid-state of Missouri, Mark Twain National Park territory. There are a lot of forests there, so this is reflected in the name of the rally itself. And the roads between those forests there are extremely fast, winding, in places narrow and pretty rough. This is the fastest event of the US Championship. In addition to these features, the competition has several more – cattleguard jumps and a lot of fords. Since the rally takes place in early spring when there is no green mat yet, it’s the colors, those jumps, and water crossings are a bit reminiscent of a Mexican rally. Due to its early date, that sand-colored landscape was adorned with snow in some years as well. The mileage is also serious – 161 kilometers in two rally days. Participants in the lower ARA East Championship also raced on the same roads. Only their race was called Trespassers Wil Regional Rally.

K.Schmidt / K.Roberts - Mazda RX-7
K.Schmidt / K.Roberts – Mazda RX-7

So extending the talk about cars, a little numbers to show: 1 WRC, 7 R5, 1 Proto, and 2 R5 + cars. Most of the drivers in these cars are Irish. Now a little more about the WRC and R5 +: there aren’t very many R5 + cars produced and they were basically available in the UK. These are the same R5 with minor improvements as the aerodynamics or a millimeter-larger turbine restrictor. There were possibly a few more improvements. M-Sport has previously officially sold such cars. And Ken Block, who experienced divorce with the Ford concern this year, did not look for a new “lover” for a long time and tried the most popular representative of the R5 class – Škoda Fabia R5. There was no need to look far for the car, as its rival B.McKenna handed over a car to American. And Barry instead brought WRC equipment to the United States. So that Fabia R5 became the Fabia R5+. The only change I know of from the original car is the rear spoiler. The new aerodynamic element is taken from the Škoda Fabia WRC. In its time, the Fabia WRC spoiler was considered one of the best.

K.Block / A.Gelsomino - Škoda Fabia R5+
K.Block / A.Gelsomino – Škoda Fabia R5+

And now about the brand new Barry McKenna Ford Fiesta WRC car. This fourteen ’17 specification model that rolled out of the M-Sport base, is quite different from its brothers. The main class O4WD of the ARA Championship has certain technical requirements that the current WRC cars do not fit in, so M-Sport made this car a little different for the Irish. Although, in fact, not a little. First of all, the rules prohibit the use of Paddle shift technology. The gearshift lever cannot be behind the wheel as is the case with current WRC cars. It is allowed to use R5 like gearshift system. As a result, the 2014 Ford Fiesta WRC gearbox is in the car. The central differential has also been removed, which also will not be used in the next generation 2022 WRC cars. It is an expensive and complex part, which strongly changes the car’s handling characteristics. The car is also powered by an old Focus WRC 2.0-liter engine (with an R5 engine head) instead of the currently used 1.6. There are also more details on the old Focus WRC. All of these changes resulted that it is easier to make a new bodyshell than to fit everything into an old one. In other words – it’s a hybrid of Focus and Fiesta WRC designed for probably only one purpose – to end Subaru’s dominance. But despite all these changes, just before the start of the rally, ARA stated that the Irish Fiesta WRC did not meet O4WD requirements. And this protest came not from other participants, but from ARA itself. Of course, the Irishmen appealed this decision and until the legality of the Fiesta WRC is fully clarified, Barry was able to start the rally and fight for championship points. The decision must be taken no later than 45 days after the appeal has been lodged. It is talked, that the aerodynamics of Fiesta is to blame. The huge Fiesta spoiler seems to be out of legal range. ARA rules, on the other hand, still have “gray” areas with room for interpretation, so it is not known how things will end here. It does not seem that a Subaru car’s front bumper splitter is completely acceptable under those rules either. So ARA has a great opportunity to bring more clarity to the technical requirements. A similar misunderstanding arose last year over the anti-lag system used by Subaru, which blows fresh air in addition to the exhaust to keep the turbine speed constant at maximum. Again, the rules did not clearly state whether that system could be used or not.

T.Pastrana / R.Smyth-Gelsomino - Subaru Impreza WRX STi
T.Pastrana / R.Smyth-Gelsomino – Subaru Impreza WRX STi

It’s enough about those cars. Now about the rally itself. Before the competition, that region had quite a high amount of rain. But before the start weather was better and the roads were more or less dry, but a lot of small fords crossing the road were still more flooded than usual. So the crews had to be careful not to drown the engine or damage the front of the car when they hit the water. An even bigger challenge was in the reece driving standard cars and trying to overcome fast-flowing rivers. As might be expected, four participants battled for victory. Subaru team with T.Pastrana and B.Semenuk, K.Block, and B.McKenna. On the first day of the rally, even three different crews were the fastest in one or another special stage, but at the end of the day, the speed of B. McKenna’s car showed up and Irishman welcomed Saturday by being first. The quartet was divided in just 20 seconds. The hardest luck was K.Block, whose Fabia R5 + rear differential was frowning upon, making the American have to remember the subtleties of driving a front-wheel-drive car.

S.Burke / M.Brady - Ford Escort MK2
S.Burke / M.Brady – Ford Escort MK2

The second day of the rally mixed Friday’s lineup. The rough road surface did not spare the tires that were pierced or damaged by a frequent participant. Among them also were the leaders. But the McKenna punctured tire cost the most – almost 3 minutes. This led to the Irish falling to fourth place, and T. Pastrana found himself in a fairly comfortable first place almost a minute ahead of K.Block. Later, nothing much changed, as the participants tried to survive the really difficult conditions of the rally and bring the car to the finish line, because almost everyone was suffering from more or less technical problems. Except for B.McKenna. The Irish realized that the victory had swept away and it was not yet clear about the protest. So with nothing to lose, he started checking out what his new car could do. And on roads where aerodynamics and engine power are key factors – that car can do a lot. For the remaining six stages, McKenna cut off from Pastrana for more than a minute while taking away third place from Travis teammate B. Semenuk. Everyone has seen that the new Ford Fiesta WRC has no equal. Therefore, it will be very interesting to follow what further decisions will be made by the American Rally Association. It’s a public secret that the Subaru team in the U.S. Championship has a huge impact and can pull the strings to one side or the other.

B.Semenuk / J.Hall - Subaru Impreza WRX STi
B.Semenuk / J.Hall – Subaru Impreza WRX STi

Among the two-wheel-drive cars, also an Irishman was unbeatable – Seamus Burke with Ford Escort MK2. But in the 12-special stage, Ford broke down and Michael Hooper took first place in the O2WD class with the Lexus IS350, which also finished in the top ten. Again, an extremely strange car in my eyes, especially when seen on gravel. But it is amazing to see such a car, which is almost stock.

M.Hooper / A.Bautista - Lexus IS350
M.Hooper / A.Bautista – Lexus IS350

For about a month, participants are waiting for the Olympus Rally. It should be clarified before him whether the points earned by B. McKenna for the third place will be left or scratched.

M.Hurst / M.Hoche-Mong - Ford Capri
M.Hurst / M.Hoche-Mong – Ford Capri

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Photos – Apex Photography, Jason Swoboda, Picturethisjrn, Subaru Team Photos, David Cosseboom