Day 2 of the Oregon Trail Rally is where the real test of vehicle strength and driver endurance would occur. Just outside of the picturesque town of Hood River, the forest roads here are some of the most technical and the most dangerous on the Rally America calendar. The surface is rough with large stones that can be pulled out. A wrong pacenote here can be a very dangerous thing with giant trees and large drop offs around every corner.
Ken Block was eager to gain back the time lost from his 3 wheeled adventure the night before as was Antoine L’Estage who resolved his previous electrical woes. Block won Stage 5 gaining back a few precious seconds with L’Estage hot on his heels . Still David Higgins had a commanding lead and was keeping a close pace. Unfortunately for Block, he had another mechanical problem on Stage 6. This time the culprit was a broken drive shaft causing him to lose everything he gained earlier in the day plus another 30 seconds. Honestly the guy just couldn’t catch a break. L’Estage won Stages 6 and 7 before the first service, but Higgins was still close enough on pace that it would be quite awhile before he had to get nervous about possibly losing his lead.
In Super Production, David Sterckx continued his dominance over his chief rival Lauchlin O’Sullivan with Dave Henderson keeping pace at just over 4 seconds behind. The biggest mover of the opening loop of stages was Brendan Reeves and Rhianon Smyth in the 2wd class. Their speed in the Fiesta R2 was such that they finished the opening loop in 6th overall! Dillon Van Way held on to second, and a now fixed Scion xD allowed Andrew Comrie-Picard to move into 3rd when he passed up Chris Greenhouse.
During the service brake Antoine L’Estage was being told by the MML engineers that his driving style he used on the Evo X doesn’t work so well for the WRC Lancer. The brakes were apparently wearing out much faster than they should. This small but important detail led to one of the biggest and scariest offs in Antoine’s career on Stage 9. Below is a slow-motion video of the accident. (NOTE: The car is not “pigeon toed” before going off, that’s a trick of the light)
As Antoine has said in multiple interviews, he wasn’t pushing hard but was trying to get used to the handling of the new car. He was trying to focus on his driving style when apparently he misheard a pace note from long time co-driver Nathalie Richard. As you can see in the video, the WRC Lancer went off into the ravine, but what you can’t see is that it flipped end over end with the roof hitting a tree and then coming to rest upside down. This quote from Antoine’s Facebook posting pretty much said it all: “We went off the road on SS9. I heard a pace note wrong, my mistake. Nath and I are both ok, the car not. Devastated.“ In all the years that Antoine and Nathalie have driven together, they have never had an off.
Everyone was very happy to hear that both Antoine and Nathalie walked away from this incident with no injuries. It’s a testament to the strength of these machines and the safety equipment required. Amazingly after being pulled from the ravine and missing many body panels, the WRC Lancer still had all 4 wheels on it and no fluids were noticeably leaking. Regardless L’Estage’s rally was done and it was an unfortunate one and done for the Rockstar Energy WRC Lancer in Rally America. If we’re lucky it might return near the end of the season, but for now they have some pretty big repair bills.
By the end of Day 2 many cars were noticeably missing from the service park. Even David Higgins couldn’t escape the rough forest stages completely unscathed. On Stage 11 the Subaru Rally Team USA WRX STi struck a large rock causing severe damage to the suspension and they had to limp their way through Stage 12 before making it back to service. Ken Block’s bad luck continued as the Hoonigan Racing Division Fiesta ST hit the same rock as Higgins. The rock damaged the radiator and he too had to limp through the remaining stage losing even more time to Higgins, doubling his frustration as he could have gained a lot of time if he had missed that rock. Indonesian champion Rifat Sungkar had steadily improved his pace in the Mitsubishi EvoX and took over 3rd spot in the Open class when L’Estage went out. Rifat said he was still getting used to the EvoX open class car as it is much faster than the Group N cars he has driven back home. Rifat’s goal was to drive a measured pace and was more concerned with finishing the rally than a podium.
Apparently David Sterckx’s concerns about his Subaru WRX STi engine had done nothing to slow him down as he was still on a tear. Sterckx was increasing his already healthy lead in the Super Production class and finished 3rd overall by the end of Day 2. The battle in Super Production remained between Lauchlin O’Sullivan and the local driver Dave Henderson for the second spot on the podium. O’Sullivan and Henderson were trading stage victories over each other all day with O’Sullivan ending up a scant 6.4 seconds ahead.
In 2wd Reeves and Smyth again simply stomped the competition. They should add a sticker to their car that says “No turbo? No problem.” They won every stage of the day and ended up and amazing 5th overall! Reeves would have gained even more time if it wasn’t for Peter Fetela’s rolled Subaru blocking the road on SS7. Reeves and Smythe stopped to help, but the car was unable to be moved which gave everyone thereafter a set time for the stage. Andrew Comrie-Picard had clawed his way back into 2nd with Dillon Van Way now in 3rd over a minute behind ACP.
The forest stages outside of Hood River are so incredibly rough and as I said earlier, any mistake will pretty much end your rally. I knew of 16 cars that were out due to either mechanical issues or offs. Some would be able to repair their cars and take time penalties to finish under Super Rally rules on Sunday, other’s would simply load the remains of their vehicles onto a trailer and head home. Other notables that went out on Day 2 were Ed McNelly who was 2nd in points for 2wd before Oregon Trail. Verna Mei had a rough start to the forest stages with an off on SS6. She eventually got going again after the sweep crew towed her back onto the road, but lost almost an hour. TAG Rally Sport’s Tracey Gardiner who introduced her “Jelly Bean” Toyota Yaris at Oregon Trail, was a DNF after clipping a bank on SS 7. Victor Bartosek who was driving the awesome looking 1983 Audi Quattro, broke his suspension on SS10 and was unable to continue. And finally local driver Doug Heredos rolled his car about 100 yards from where I was stationed. I didn’t see it happen since I was around the next bend, but apparently it was a rather gentle (if there is such a thing) roll and neither driver or co-driver were hurt.