SRTUSA Just Outside Podium at 100 Acre Wood Rally
Ryan Douthit, Driving Sports TV
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This past weekend rally fans turned their attention to Salem, Missouri, for Round 2 of the Rally America Championship and – more specifically – to see if Ken Block could take home an unprecedented 5th straight win at Rally in the 100 Acre Wood.
This is a fast gravel event, that plays to Block's strengths behind the wheel, but it wasn’t going to be easy: former teammate Travis Pastrana of the Subaru Rally Team USA, Canadian Champion Antoine L’Estage and many other talented drivers were lined up to steal Block’s thunder. And, after he posted a DNF in Round 1, Sno*Drift, we were starting to wonder if Block had exorcised the demons from last season.
First, let’s take a look at some of the slower classes. In 2-wheel drive it was yet again the classic 1990 Volkswagen Golf of Chris Duplessis and Catherine Woods. They took Dillon Van Way’s 2002 Ford Focus to the woodshed and dominated their class to the very end. Van Way trailed by a massive six minutes, which had to be humbling for the 2009 class champion.
Moving up to Super Production, it’s starting to feel like déjà-vu. This group was yet again dominated by the father-son team of Travis and Terry Hanson. Their Subaru STI finished the 103 mile event more than two and a half minutes faster than the nearest class rivals. Sound a lot like their last event.
It was in the Open Class that things start to get interesting.
The privateer team of William Bacon and Peter Watt yet again showed the big guys how it was done, by taking their second third place podium of the season in a Mitsubishi Evolution 9. For this team, consistency was key: they ranked 3rd or 4th in each of the 15 stages over the two-day event. Pulling off another podium just proves that this team isn’t a one-hit wonder. In fact, they’re becoming a solid threat to the factory teams in the championship standings.
After a valiant battle for first place, the Rockstar Rally Evolution X of Antoine L’Estage and co-driver Nathalie Richard suffered a puncture on Day 2. That delay, as well as a challenging water hazard that caused excessive window fogging, knocked the experienced team to a second place finish overall. They still maintained a nearly three minute lead on the Bacon Evolution. This finish also hoists L’Estage into the lead of the points Championship.
Finally, the overall win at 100 Acre Wood for the fifth straight year goes to Ken Block. This is the first podium for his new Monster Rally Team Fiesta and goes to show that Rally is more than just outright speed; it also takes restraint. You see, Block wasn’t the fastest of the weekend, he only won three stages outright. In fact, former teammate Travis Pastrana of the Subaru Rally Team USA won eight stages and was leading the rally by a full minute before he lost a rear control arm (during a short Super Special no less) on Day 2 and was forced to withdraw.
L’Estage won the other four stages and was consistently faster than Block, overall. But, when luck turned against the two leaders, Block’s Monster Rally Ford Fiesta was able to press through for ultimate victory.
The other Subaru Team Driver, Dave Mirra, was able to turn in a respectable fourth place finish, which will earn him some points towards the Championship standings. This was only his second race in Block’s old Open Class STI, and was an improvements over his 5th overall finish at Sno*Drift.
Next up, the Rally America Championship moves out to the west coast for two great events: Olympus Rally on the Washington State coast and the Oregon Trail Rally in Hood River, Oregon. Both these events are technically challenging, and have been known to cause grief for even the most prepared teams. Olympus kicks off on the 24th of April.