Rally in the 100 Acre Wood: The Last Decade Part 3
This is the final part in a three part series as I look back on the last ten years of experiences at Rally in the 100 Acre Wood.
2016 Rally in the 100 Acre Wood
The 2016 edition of the Rally in the 100 Acre Wood will forever be one of the most memorable rally events in my life, but let’s not get too far ahead. After snow impacting the event two of the three prior years a decision was made to push the event from February to late March. The move would eliminate nearly all possibility of a snow filled weekend and also meant warmer temperatures, which was alright by me.
Friday was overcast with a chance of rain, as I got settled in to my first spot. This spot has become one of my favorite places to shoot at 100 Acre Wood, but this, to this date, was the last time they have run the stage in the direction it was run past the spot. Travis Pastrana was making his return after taking a few years off from the event and would be challenging his Subaru teammates David Higgins and Craig Drew. I was on the inside of a corner that was protected by a large tree off to my right, as Higgins made his way to the near ninety degree corner. As I prepared to start shooting, Higgins set up for the turn by pointing the car directly at me and went flying past just a few feet away. Next up was Pastrana, who was not to be out done as slid past me completely filling the frame of my 14mm lens. I felt like I could’ve reached out and touched his car, though it probably wasn’t nearly as close as it felt.
Higgins would jump out to an early lead taking the stage win on the first stage, but Pastrana would fight back as night began to set in and rain started to fall. Pastrana would take stage wins on six of the remaining seven stages, taking the lead heading into the second and final day of the rally.
Higgins was sure to be pushing hard as the day began at the cattle guard jump on the first stage. The rain that had fallen over night was gone and the sun was shining, as Higgins went soaring over the jump. Pastrana was next and was also pushing hard trying to hold on to his lead. While the battle between Higgins and Pastrana was shaping up to be a great one, it was not the story of the day. Just a few cars after Pastrana went by, Piotr Fetela made his way over the crest, determined to once again be one of the cars vying for biggest jump. Fetela may well have won that award, but as he landed the ground gave way, breaking his suspension and sending the car hurtling down the road end over end. It is one of the scariest moments I have ever witnessed. Fetela’s family had gathered with the crowd to watch him soar over the jump and they,, along with everyone else, held their breath, until finally both the driver and co-driver emerged from the car.
The rest of the stage was cancelled as Fetela’s car now blocked the road and the rally moved on to the next stage. Higgins would fight back, taking stage wins on five of Saturday’s eight stages, but it would not be enough. Pastrana would hold on and take the win, the first and only at 100 Acre Wood.
2017 Rally in the 100 Acre Wood
Something happened in the off season preceding the 2017 Rally in the 100 Acre Wood that shook up the U.S. rally world. A new rally organization was formed, the American Rally Association, and many of the events that were a part of the Rally America series had left for the new ARA series. Subaru had decided to take its team and star drivers and join the ARA series, opening the door for a new winner at 100 Acre Wood, which had opted to stay with Rally America.
I was excited to see the MK2 Escort piloted by Seamus Burke for the first time, as I headed out to shakedown. To my delight, they made multiple passes on the short shakedown stage, sliding by me and making a delightful noise. I then headed back to Parc Expose to check out the car up close and it did not disappoint and remains one of my favorite cars in U.S. rally.
Art Gruzka was also debuting his Mitsubishi Mirage RS for the first time at 100 Acre Wood and was considered one of the front runners, along with Pat Moro in a PMR Subaru. Gruzka got out to a fast start on Friday, capturing stage wins on every stage of the day.
I was excited for my Saturday stage schedule, with a stop at a water crossing before I made my way over to the cattle guard. I had planned to park at a cross road and hike, what I thought was a mile into the water crossing in order to be able to get out of the stage quicker. I quickly realized the spot I had parked was further than a mile, more like 2 miles, from the water crossing and it was very hilly. It was quite the hike to get to my spot, but I made it in time. The single zero car approached as I got ready to take some test shots, but as they crossed they slowed to a stop to deliver some bad news. The stage had been cancelled as there were communication issues and all the competitors were transit the stage. Luckily for me, many of the cars still made quite a splash as they saw photographers on the other side of the water.
I hiked the two miles back and headed to the jump, making it just in time. But this Saturday was doomed, after just eight or ten cars through the stage, it was cancelled. The third consecutive year the stage had not been completed. It had been a disappointing day, where even the best plans fail. Meanwhile Gruzka pushed on cruising to the win.
2018 Rally in the 100 Acre Wood
After his spectacular crash just 2 years ago, Piotr Fetela was set to make his return to the 100 Acre Woods. This time he would be in a shiny new Ford Fiesta Proto. Adding to the excitement, Joseph Burke and Karen Jankowski would be debuting a freshly built Mitsubishi EVO.
Burke and his EVO would get off to a quick start besting Fetela’s Fiesta on the first six stages. However a mechanical issue late in the day on Friday would be the end of the rally for Burke’s EVO and Fetela would assume the lead heading into Saturday’s action.
The highlight of the weekend for me would be another trip to the cattle guard crossing, but this time they would finish the stage. After many years of drivers missing out on the chance to send it over the jump, this was there chance to show what they had. And send it they did. The Whiskey Throttle Subaru of Nate Ellis and Elliot Sherwood set the bar and set it high soaring over the jump, but the VW of Micah Nickelson and Tyler Ptacek were not to be outdone. Who flew higher? That’s still up for debate, but it was spectacular none the less.
Fetela was starting to get a handle on his new ride and it showed, taking stage wins on five of the final stages on Saturday and fittingly taking his first 100 Acre Wood victory in his return.
2019 Rally in the 100 Acre Wood
Big things were in store for the 2019 edition of the Rally in the 100 Acre Wood. In January it was announced that the remaining Rally America events had decided to join the American Rally Association, including 100 Acre Wood. With that, came the return of the Subaru Motorsports USA team and their newest driver Oliver Solberg. Yes, that Solberg, the son of WRC legend Petter Solberg. Petter was my favorite driver in WRC for a long time and it was exciting to hear that he would also be in attendance with his son, Oliver.
Adding to the excitement, Ken Block and Alex Gelsomino would be debuting the new Cossie V2, as they set out on the Cossie World Tour. Block’s new Escort Cossie had been significantly upgraded over the version from the previous year that had burned to the ground at New England Forest Rally. Since they had issues during testing early in the week, I had a good feeling we might see the car at Shakedown on Friday morning and sure enough as we pulled onto the Shakedown road the Hoonigan truck and trailer had already pulled in.
After shakedown I headed back to Parc Expose for media meeting and to get some driver/fan shots before heading out to the first spot for the weekend. That first spot would be the last time we would see Block and the Cossie V2, as it would suffer a mechanical issue and not return. Solberg looked fast and quickly showed he was going to be some stiff competition, but his Subaru teammates Higgins and Drew got off to a quick start capturing stage wins on the first four stages. Solberg would finally grab his first stage wins on the next stages, closing the gap to Higgins to just ten seconds.
Then, a small off on stage seven cost Solberg nearly a minute, dropping them to third behind McKenna who had been hanging with Subarus all day. That’s how Friday would end, with Higgins in first, followed by McKenna and Solberg, setting up an exciting Saturday of competition.
It had been a wet spring and the water crossings were deep. A Friday stage was nearly cancelled, as competitors could not make it onto the road early in the day for recce. Luckily the water subsided and the stage went on. We had this in mind as we approached the water crossing on Saturday. The water was rushing across the road and walking across did not seem like fun. Luckily another photographer had come prepared with wading boots and offered to drive the rest of us across and then walk over. The deep water made for some big splashes as the cars barreled across.
Higgins was holding on to his lead and looked like he was cruising to victory until an electrical issue on stage 14 cost him five minutes. McKenna took advantage of the lost time, jumping into the lead over Solberg going into the final stage, one last flight over the cattle guard. The shadows were getting long as McKenna headed out on stage with just a thirty seven second lead over the young Solberg, making his U.S. rally debut. McKenna would suffer an issue on stage, costing him just over thirty seconds and opening the door for Solberg. But Solberg, who had on a previous running of this stage had his hood fly open as he landed after flying over the jump, couldn’t capitalize and McKenna held on to take his first victory in the 100 Acre Wood. Higgins and Drew would push hard and hold on to the final podium spot, disappointing after they had led much of the rally.
It was an exciting decade, that’s for sure. I hope there is more good times ahead as we move into the next decade. In the meantime, be safe, wash your hands and I’ll see you back in the forests of the 100 Acre Wood once this has all blown over.