Once again, the American Rally Association National Championship season begins on the snow and ice covered roads around Atlanta, MI at the appropriately named Sno*Drift Rally. Last year the temperatures dipped well below zero, adding another element to the challenge of the event. Conversely this year, nature decided to show some compassion and provided much milder weather, with temperatures even rising above the freezing point for much of Saturday. However, snow was still on the menu as the first stages got underway Friday night.
The new year brought with it the start of a new decade, a new rally season and a big announcement from last year’s ARA champions. With the first event of the season, Sno*Drift, just a few weeks away, Craig Drew released a huge announcement. David Higgins and himself would not be returning with Subaru to defend their crown in 2020. The announcement marked the end of an era for the duo with Subaru Motorsports USA. An era that resulted in 10 championships for Higgins and 8 for Drew. With Oliver Solberg most likely heading to the WRC for the season, this leaves both Subaru seats open for 2020. As of this time, there has been no official announcement as to who will be behind the wheel for Subaru Motorsports USA. However, I am fairly confident we will be seeing a rather large dose of a familiar face (Travis Pastrana) behind the wheel of one of the Subaru cars.
Michael Hooper is the driver of the always exciting Lexus IS350 rally car, Beverly, part of the River City Rally Team. Michael was the NASA 2015 Atlantic Cup 2WD Champion, the 2016 Rally America East Coast Champion and the 2018 Rally America 2WD National Champion. He is a family man and engineer looking to balance rallying as fast and competitively as possible within the boundaries and responsibilities of day to day life.
The 2019 American Rally Association National Championship season would come to a close amidst the colorful autumn foliage of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan at the Lake Superior Performance Rally. David Higgins and Craig Drew had already wrapped up another championship for Subaru Motorsports USA at the previous event, STPR, so the focus shifts to the battle for second place. Barry McKenna and Piotr Fetela enter LSPR tied for 2nd, while the rookie phenom, Oliver Solberg, was well within striking distance and should things go awry for those 3, Cameron Steely was mathematically still in the hunt.
Al Dantes Jr. is the driver of the #50 car, an RX-7 named Rexine, with the Tower City Race Team. He has been involved in rally for over 20 years as a volunteer, driver and even taking on the role as the on-camera talent for American Rally Association. Al will be competing in his home rally at Lake Superior Performance Rally based in Houghton in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in just over a week.
The 2019 edition of the American Rally Association Susquehannock Trail Performance Rally was a wet and wild affair. Rain fell for most of the weekend making for some slippy roads and treacherous conditions. With only two events remaining on the ARA schedule, David Higgins and Craig Drew entered the event with a chance to wrap up the 2019 Driver’s and Co-Driver’s Championships. Oliver Solberg, making his return, after missing the previous rally at Ojibwe, would be looking to challenge his Subaru teammates and attempt to pick up his second victory of his rookie season.
Mosquitos and wolves and bears, oh my, that was the story of the 2019 American Rally Association Ojibwe Forests Rally. The mosquitos were unrelenting, as they swarmed around the road and if you dare sneak a few feet deeper into the woods their numbers doubled and tripled. Some speak of a pack of mosquitos, the size of feral hogs, roaming the forest. A bear was spotted on recce, a wolf on a transit, and, oh yah, there was some exciting rally action as well.
Amanda Skelly is a driver for the Noble Star Rally Team. This is her eighth year competing in rally. She recently won the National NA4WD class at the 2019 ARA New England Forest Rally and will be making her first appearance at the 2019 ARA Ojibwe Forests Rally later this week.
The 2019 American Rally Association New England Forest Rally would be one for the record books. Record heat swept across Maine and on Saturday, the all-time hottest temperature for that day was set at 3 AM. It got hotter from there and the longest day of the rally, felt even longer. Rally teams took measures to combat the heat, buying up all the dryer venting they could, in an attempt to route more air into the cabin of the cars and cool down the driver and co-driver. The insects sure didn’t mind the heat, in fact they seemed to thrive in it. Even after multiple applications of bug spray containing high doses of DEET, they swarmed all around me. I have to say, Maine has one of the largest varieties of insects I have ever seen. Mosquitos, many types of flies, bees, ticks, beetles (including a strange white and black water beetle), a fuzzy spider that was at least 4 inches wide hanging out half on a rock and half in the river and many others, too numerous to count were all spotted. It was so hot that I didn’t mind when I slipped on a rock and splashed into a river and, I may have even contemplated wading out into the river just to cool down.
Mike Lovejoy is a Delivery Specialist at Baxter Subaru and the co-driver for the RedFogo Racing Team. Along with driver Jovan Kelsey, they completed their first-ever rally at the Rally in the 100 Acre Wood earlier this year. I sat down with Mike, as they get Bender The Rally Car ready for their next event to talk a bit how he got into rally, his experiences competing in his first rally, his love for Subaru, and what’s next.