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American Rally Championship: Subaru sweeps Southern Ohio

Subaru American Rally Championship

While the regional rally would travel through seven stages across two loops, national entries had the pleasure of taking an additional trip through the Church of the Raccoons stage as a separate Power Stage loop to fight for extra points in the championship.

The Southern Ohio Forest Rally presented by Wagner Subaru came to an end Saturday evening after 114 exciting stage miles spread across three days in the forests and hollers of the Buckeye State.

After the 70 miles of stages Friday in the Shawnee State Forest, the rally moved into the Zaleski State Forest for the final 40 miles of action Saturday Morning.

While the regional rally would travel through seven stages across two loops, national entries had the pleasure of taking an additional trip through the Church of the Raccoons stage as a separate Power Stage loop to fight for extra points in the championship.

Conditions stayed close to ideal as cloud cover kept it cool, and despite a tiny sprinkle of rain mid-day, stages stayed dry enough for grip but dampened enough to keep the dust down so visibility would not be hampered as teams made their way through the final stages of the rally.

The day kicked off with a Parc Expose in Downtown McArthur, Ohio that allowed fans to see the cars, meet the drivers, and learn about the race itself, and while attrition was high on Friday, a field of 55 cars still showed up to start the final day of the rally.

After a hard day of tight, unforgiving, and slick stages on Friday, many competitors preferred Saturday’s stages, most attributing their preference to a better flow, better grip, and seemingly more forgiving conditions than the previous day.

But, while the woods were more forgiving on Saturday, that doesn’t mean competitors wouldn’t find trouble.

Subaru Redeemed after Oregon retirements

Travis Pastrana and Rhiannon Gelsomino lucked out when a high-speed off on SS12, Will Tract South, caused very little damage, and similarly little time loss.

The excursion off the road was the result of a sign that had once been Pastrana’s brake marker being removed prior to the stage running.

As Pastrana explained it, “Brandon [Semenuk] has now informed me not to use anything that can be moved in my notes, so I had ‘braking before sign on left,’ and I saw the left two, and we had been wide open for about a minute, straight, as fast as the car would go.”

“I was maybe only about a hundred feet from that when I hit the e-brake, swung it backwards, and went into a jeep trail off to the side of the road at probably 60 miles an hour. Luckily we slid for a couple hundred feet before we hit anything, bounced off a tree, and for as bad as it went, it went about as well as it could have, and we’re still here! And we only lost ten seconds on the stage!” ~Pastrana

“We’ll take it! We were able to be a lot more competitive on the other stages so I’m having a lot more fun.”

And competitive they were, winning three of the day’s stages over their teammates Semenuk and Keaton Williams while finishing within one second of them on two others.

At the end of the day though, it would be Semenuk and Williams finding redemption after their retirement from the Oregon Trail Rally last month by standing atop the podium at the Vinton County High School at the end of the rally Saturday evening.

“It was a good event,” said Semenuk ahead of podium celebrations, “I really enjoyed it!”

“It’s so technical here, but the roads are a blast and I love all the unique elements of these roads. The tarmac, the jumps, and the ditch cuts, and things like that, they’re dynamic and it’s a fun way to experience some of the new improvements we have on this WRX.” ~Semenuk

“The car itself is more dynamic and is capable of doing a bit more with those aspects, so it’s kind of cool to find the performance in there and try to have a clean event, which is especially nice to do after our upset at OTR.“

“I’m really stoked and had a blast. I think we hit the nail on the head with conditions and all of the above.”

Last-minute entries Pat Gruzska and Aris Mantopoulos finished third overall and first in the RC2 class in their Hyundai i20 Rally2 running fairly clean and consistent all weekend.

Dave Wallingford and Leanne Junnila put their Ford Fiesta R5 second in the RC2 class, but rounding out the podium would be John Coyne and Eoin Treacy, who surprised many by re-entering the rally after a roll on Friday, and even winning the RC2 Power Stage!

“The rider is back on the horse,” said Coyne after the first loop, “and the horse and rider are doing fine today.”

“I just made a kind of silly error here yesterday. The edges of the road drop off very quickly, and we just put a wheel over the edge that sucked us in and rolled us down the hill. Luckily we landed on our wheels. Very little damage, the boys fixed the car up overnight, and here we are!” ~Coyne

In the O2WD class, Ryan Booth and Nick Dobbs continued their dominance over the field despite a tire-choice mistake on the first loop of stages and walked away victorious overall and in the PowerStage for the second time this year.

Behind Booth, Michael Hooper and Michael Hordijk finished second, with Seamus Burke and Martin Brady rounding out the top three.

Javier Olivares and KJ Miller continued their cruise to victory in LN4 after their main competition retired early on Friday. Madelyn Tabor placed second as the final finisher in the class.

Iglesias wins drama-filled L2WD battle

For the L2WD battle, the drama started early in the day when the second-place Pura Vida Rally Ford Fiesta driven by Roberto Iglesias and Sara Nonack lost a transmission on the first stage of the day while pushing to catch Chris Cyr and Glen Ray for the lead.

The retirements gave Cyr and Ray in the Bearly Cyrious Fiesta a healthy lead, but not one that would last through the loop.

On SS11, Irish Ridge, Cyr and Ray found themselves facing backward, flying through trees after going a bit too fast into a loose corner.

“Glen and I both sit back in our seats,” Cyr explained, “and at that point, we’re like, ‘oh we’re hitting a tree.’ So we’re going backward and green branches are going everywhere, and we come around, and the car stops and high-centers on this high-end lip.”

“I try a few times to get out and we’re just digging a trench. So I look down and there’s a bunch of woods down [the hill], so we go down and try to turn around and pin-ball back up.”

“All the damage I got was just pin-balling damage because I’m hitting trees just trying to get around in this little circle with this really loose, low grip scenario. I’m just trying to run back up the hill, run back up the hill, back and forth, back and forth.”

“I’m like ‘man it’s not working,’ but then spectators show up and ask, ‘How can we help?’ I tell them, ‘We’re going to see if we can get up to that edge’ So we get up as close as we can, so I can put the front strap on, they heave-ho me up, and we high-center it.”

“I get the jack out, jack the car up, put a tire underneath it, and jack it back up again so it’s double high, and we push it over the edge, so now we’re one more click over, they try to heave-ho it, it’s still not enough, so we go back to the other side, heave-ho it again and it’s still not enough.”

“Then two more guys show up randomly out of the woods, and it’s just enough dudes to pull enough of the car back onto the road! Glen’s way down the road with the OK sign and everything and I’m screaming at Glen “LET’S GO.”

“It was one of those moments. I’ve had a few times now where I’ve been stuck but not crashed, and it was so frustrating, so I’ve thought through this a few times, what can I do? So all these things that have played out in my mind, I got to put them all together at this one, and at least got to be here and give ourselves a chance to finish the rally. “

“Who knows where we’ll finish in the standings, I highly doubt we’ll place in this one, but nah, this is just finishing a rally. Two years ago I DNF’d in Ohio so I have a bit of an axe to grind here.”

Despite winning all the remaining stages of the rally, including the PowerStage, Cyr and Ray did lose over 18 minutes to the off, allowing Santiago Iglesias and Robert Kassel who started the day in third to move into the lead.

While seeing his competitors off the side of the road one stage after another caused him to make a few mistakes, Iglesias powered into the lead in his Subaru BRZ, despite his three-year-old rear tires holding on for dear life.

Richo Healey and Michele Miller found themselves suddenly on the podium after their competitors’ issues. While not how they wanted it to happen, they pushed on and kept up their pace in the remaining stages.

“I think we predicted pretty accurately that today’s roads would have a bit more forgiveness in them,” Healey said at the first service. “I had a blast on the first few stages. Obviously looking at what it means for the championship, things have changed pretty drastically, but for us, honestly, we’ll push on.

“I would like to take a bit out of [Iglesias], but for a guy on three-year-old tires with like nine rallies on them, he is hauling the mail! So I don’t know if I’m closing that gap but we’re going to go out there and drive our race and get it done!” ~Healey

The Ford Fiesta of Alastair Scully and Alex Gelsomino also found its way into podium contention through attrition, but on the first stage of the second loop, Church of the Raccoons, they suffered their own transmission failure and left the final spot on the podium open for the Acura Integra of John Shaprs and Gabriel Nieves.

In the end, Iglesias and Kassel would stand victorious having won their class, and successfully taken 22 Championship points from their competitors.

“This has been an insane day!” Iglesias said at Parc Ferme. “I feel bad for [Cyr] who got spun out like crazy, and [Iglesias] breaking his car, but man it feels so nice to stand on the top step of the podium here.”

“I think my tires are probably showing cords at the back, I took it easy for a little on the last stage, but once I knew I could drive to the end on a flat I just pinned it, and I think I got [Healey] by a second. A win’s a win by an inch or a mile, so I just had to keep him at arm’s length.”

Southern Ohio Forest Rally: National Provisional Results

  1. Semenuk/Williams (Subaru) 1h42m10.2s
  2. Pastrana/Gelsomino (Subaru) +1m50.8s
  3. Gruszka/Mantopoulos (Hyundai) +10m20.2s
  4. Olivares/Miller (Ford) +11m58.8s
  5. Booth/Dobbs (Ford) +13m57.1s
  6. Wallingford/Junnila (Ford) +15m03s
  7. Hooper/Hordijk (Lexus) +16m36.1s
  8. Burke/Brady (Ford) +19m42.2s
  9. Iglesias/Kassel (Subaru) +23m30.4s
  10. Healey/Miller (Lexus) +24.44.3s

Gondyke holds on for regional win

The weekend-long battle between Dylan Gondyke, Adam Kimmett, Jon Kramer, and Jordon Haberer was in full force Saturday, as all four teams pushed themselves to the limit to take the overall podium.

Coming into Saturday with a 20.3-second lead, Gondyke and co-driver Ben Chuong pushed hard immediately as they tried to extend their lead over second-place Kimmet and Bryce Proseus, but still felt calm on the Zaleski State Forest Roads.

Though they traded wins in the first loop, Kimmett managed to pull back a few seconds and reduce the gap to 17.8 seconds after the first loop.

“We’re just going to go for it this last loop and see what we can do!” Kimmett said at the final regional service.

Kimmett’s strategy? Weight reduction. Kimmett and Proseus made the risky call to remove all spares, tools, and even water bottles from their Impreza to find every last bit of speed possible. They even went out for the final loop on just one-quarter of a tank of fuel to be safe!

While they managed another stage win, it wasn’t enough to hold on to catch Gondyke and Chuong, who barely pushed as hard as possible, completely cooking and cracking both front brake rotors in their effort to stay ahead, and that wasn’t even the worst of their drama.

“We were on the third to last stage, and we had like thirty seconds until our in-minute, and I go to press our starter button, and nothing,” Gondyke explained at Parc Ferme. “We had no starter, we don’t know what happened. We’re desperately resetting the ECU trying to get it back up, but nothing. We had just enough room to coast by the car behind us and roll downhill, get enough speed, and pop-start it, drove in on our minute, and just kept it running the rest of the day.”

Despite the scare, the duo were relieved to have come out ahead.

“I think I’m really happy with our pace, that was a fairytale moment. [Kimmett] and [Kramer] are fast, fast dudes here and to be able to beat them was something special. It’s taken a lot of work in the car, in our notes, in our driving, and this is the event that bore it all out.”

Kramer finished the day in third place despite getting some damage to the passenger side of the car in the first loop.

“Bruised, but not broken,” Kramer said of the car at service. While it wasn’t at 100% the rest of the day, it was enough for Kramer and Jason Smith to earn their fifth straight podium at SOFR.

Jordon Haberer and Drew Staples managed a very respectable fourth after battling in the top three most of the day Saturday in their O4WD Impreza.

“This is one of my favorite events,” Haberer said during service, “but I wasn’t able to make it last year, and I hit a tree here two years ago, so I kind of wanted some redemption.”

“I’ve done a lot of focusing on the notes just trying to get a safe speed. I’m not usually this far up in the pack so I am enjoying it.”

Despite starting the rally in fourth, the father-son team of Doug E. Shepherd and Doug B. Shepherd worked their way through the field to win the O2WD class in their Dodge Neon SRT4.

Starting the final loop of the rally in third, the Shepherds pushed their way past the BMW M3 of Ryan George and Heather Steiber to clench second on SS13, Church of the Raccoons.

While Mike Cessna and Jamie Lambert led going into SS14, Courtney’s Webb, they lost a gear linkage mid-stage and had to pull over to jam the car in third, which they used to finish the rally.

The time lost allowed the Shepherds to take the lead, and stand victorious at the end of the rally.

“I’ve been running stage rallies, first as a co-driver then as a driver since 1973, and after not having competed for ten years, to come here and go on roads that are kind of technical and challenging and figure the car out a bit and work on pace, it’s made it a great weekend.”

George and Stieber finished second, while Gavin James and Jamie Beliveau’s 2008 VW Golf GTI finished third.

Joshua Girtain picked up his first-ever win in the L4WD class as he and Dustin Yarborough piloted their Mitsubishi Evo IX to a decisive victory over the Impreza STI of Nick Luther and Christopher Rotolo, and the WRX of James Pryzbylkowski and Ethan Curtis who also stood on the podium at the end of the rally.

McGee earns Flat out 43Ver award

Finally, in the L2WD class, Matt McGee and Lauren Lambert finished first in their 2008 VW Rabbit. McGee surprised himself with his speed on Friday’s roads but managed to put a massive gap of over four minutes on second place.

“The first day in the forest was pretty loose,” he explained at Parc Expose Saturday, “and I never understand why but I’m always very fast in that forest, I don’t feel it. I like [Zaleski] forest better, Usually I win in Shawnee and people start to catch me here, so I really need to try to be smart today, this is my last rally and I want to have fun.”

McGee entered this SOFR after a difficult year of health issues and was cleared to race mere weeks before the start of the first stage.

As McGee explained, “I just had back surgery eight months ago, and then I had five masses in my neck that they cut out three weeks ago.”

“I couldn’t drive or pick up five pounds three weeks ago so I’m happy to be back.”

For his massively impressive effort getting back in the car and winning in such dominant fashion so soon after surgery, McGee and Lambert also earned the 43 Institute’s Ken Block FLAT OUT 43VER Award to celebrate their perseverance and rallying spirit.

Second place in the class went to Chris Sladek and first-time co-driver Charlie Discoe in their HART Rally Team 2017 Honda Civic, while third went to the BMW 323i of Calvin Cooper and Michael Claiborne.

For more from the Southern Ohio Forest Rally, visit our media partner DirtFish to view their coverage!

Southern Ohio Forest Rally: Regional Final Results

  1. Gondyke/Chuong (Subaru) 1h53m02.9s
  2. Kimmett/Proseus (Subaru) +25.8s
  3. Kramer/Smith (Subaru) +2m51.8s
  4. Haberer/Staples (Subaru) +3m43.0s
  5. Pryzbylkowski/Trajkov (Subaru) +4m39.5s
  6. Coulter/Rogers (Subaru) +7m02.5s
  7. Healey/Barnes (Subaru) +8m31.2s
  8. Shepherd/Shepherd (Dodge) +9m29.7s
  9. Williamson/Stewart (Subaru) +9m33.9s
  10. McGee/Lambert (Volkswagen) +9m37.3s