The 2019 edition of the American Rally Association Oregon Trail Rally was scheduled to get underway over a month later than its usual mid-April date. One wouldn’t think that in the span of just one month conditions would change that drastically. Yet, as I set out on recce, it was evident by the almost complete absence of wildflowers which normally line many of the stages in abundance, that something was different.
What do goats and Shetland ponies have in common? Both get chased by a two-humped camel in the middle of Missouri… and this was just the start of my rally weekend…
While I’m no stranger to the 100 Acre Wood rally having crewed there 3 years and spectated a couple more, I’ve yet to have the opportunity to take part as credentialed media. Going in I had a fair idea of what to expect (just prepare for everything), but more or less my goal was to be David’s lackey if needed and learn a couple things along the way. After a bit of a drive down, some small talk at tech inspection, and an errant recce that didn’t quite reveal the road we were looking for, we were all set to start early at Shakedown the next morning.
The 2019 Rally in the 100 Acre Wood marked my tenth trip to the rally held on the fast and flowing roads that intertwine the forests in the heart of Missouri around Salem, Steelville, and Potosi. I’ve witnessed many exciting moments during that time: from Travis Pastrana sliding sideways through the corner at my very first rally stage, to Crazy Leo flying over the cattle guard missing a front tire, Ken Block claiming his record 7th 100 Acre Wood victory and Fetela’s crazy wreck after sending it over the now aptly named Fetela’s Crest and that’s just to name a few. With the American Rally Association taking over the duty of running the event and a stacked entry list of over 80 cars, that included the debut of Petter Solberg’s son Oliver with Subaru Motorsports, last year’s ARA champions David Higgins and Craig Drew, Ken Block’s brand new Cossie V2, an AWD Chevy Sonic with a V8, and a whole cast of other exciting cars and drivers, this year was shaping up to be one of the most exciting years in recent memory.
The 2019 American Rally Association season got off to an early start with the late addition of Sno*Drift Rally in late January to the schedule. The short notice made it difficult for a few teams, including Subaru Motorsports and last year’s champions David Higgins and Craig Drew, to make the event, as they had already set their schedules and budgets for the year. That didn’t stop it from being an eventful one in the snow and ice of Michigan, with the Fetela Rally Team Ford Fiesta EVO taking home the victory.
Minnesota, the home to a thousand lakes, as they say, is also home to the headwaters of the mighty Mississippi and the Ojibwe Forests Rally. It’s no surprise that many of the roads used for Ojibwe are lined with lakes, sometimes on both sides of the road at once making for some of the most scenic drives in the rally schedule. Last year Ojibwe played host to the American Rally Association season finale, and oh what a finale it was. The championship came down to the finale street stages, held in downtown Detroit Lakes, to determine which Subaru Rally Team pair would be crowned champions. This year, this year would be very different, not only would this not be the season finale, there would be no championship on the line and there would be no street stages. In fact many of the stages had been changed for less transit times and more stage time. Gone were the street stages, replaced with super special stages at the fairgrounds and gone was the stage with the famous road that ran between 2 lakes.
The 2018 American Rally Association season has been an exciting one and New England Forest Rally was set to be no exception. Known for its jumps, kicks and big orange (painted) rocks, NEFR is almost always filled with drama and excitement. Last year, there was an extra dose of both as Travis Pastrana’s co-driver, Robbie Durant suffered a back injury on the first day and he continued on with a different co-driver on Day 2, stirring up some controversy as Pastrana took the victory after his Subaru Rally Team teammates Higgins and Drew suffered some bad luck.
We had planned a trip to Rome for the beginning of June and I was searching for things to do, when I realized that my trip was going to overlap WRC Rally Italia Sardegna. While Rally Italia is in Italy, it is not on the mainland, making attendance a bit more tricky than it might normally be. Rather than taking a car or hopping on a train, you either must take a 14 hour ferry ride or a short one hour flight from Rome to get to Alghero on the island of Sardinia. After informing my wife of the added travel and complications of getting to the rally, she said there was no way we could not go, at least for one day, after all how often are we this close to a WRC event.
Oregon Trail Rally is one of my favorite events in the U.S. The stages are fast, with lots of elevation and beautiful landscapes as a backdrop. The rally spans 3 days, starting on Friday night at Portland International Raceway, before moving west to the Colombia River Valley near The Dalles. While it was a bit disappointing that last year’s winner, Travis Pastrana, wasn’t going to be making the trip this year, there was plenty of excitement to make up for it. Sitting in for Pastrana in the ‘other’ Subaru Rally Team USA car would be former WRC and current Subaru Rallycross driver Chris ‘Atko’ Atkinson. As if that wasn’t enough, Oregon Trail would mark the return of Ken Block, who also has some WRC experience under his belt. Block would be piloting a vintage Group A WRC Escort Cosworth, sporting one of the best wings in the history of wings I might add. It would be interesting to see how the older Cossie would match up against the newer Subaru of Higgins and Atkinson and McKenna’s Fiesta.
This year marked my ninth consecutive trip to the Salem, MO area for Rally America Rally in the 100 Acre Wood. Next year will mark a full decade of attending rally in the forests surrounding Salem, Steeleville, Potosi, and all the other towns that surround the event, so I guess I’ll save most of my reminiscing until then. However I will say that there is a new adventure every trip.