Olympus Rally 2016 Preview

The much famed Olympus Rally kicks off this weekend outside of Shelton, Washington.  Regional and National competitors will take to the same classic forest roads once used in the WRC during the much lauded Group B era.  In fact this year marks the 30th anniversary since the end of that most exciting and yet dangerous time in rally history.  It was in fact here at the Olympus Rally in November 1986 when the last of the beastly Lancia Delta S4s, Audi Quattro’s, and Peugeot 205 T16s took to the forests in world competition.  Lancia’s Markku Alén won the event in the Lancia, but 3 minutes back in 2nd place was compatriot Juha Kankkunen in the Peugeot which gave Kankkunen the drivers championship and Peugeot the constructor’s title.  

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In honor of these legendary machines of the Group B era, DirtFish Rally School and other local collectors are bringing a selection of rare vehicles for display at the service park for the Olympus Rally.  I’ve already heard that a Ford RS200, Lancia 037, and an Audi Quattro will be there.

 

Photo via DirtFish Rally School FB page

Photo via DirtFish Rally School FB page

Although the rally cars of today may not look as spectacular as the many winged beasts of the 1980’s, many are actually faster.  Technological improvements in suspension, tires, brakes and more means that modern smaller more nimble cars can maintain exponentially more speed through the corners.  Reliability improvements also mean that drivers can be on the limit longer, brake later, and worry less they did back in what was considered the golden era of the WRC.

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SRTUSA’s David Higgins and Craig Drew attack the water crossing at OTR

So what can you expect this weekend at the Olympus Rally?  At the front of the field Subaru Rally Team USA’s David Higgins and Craig Drew will be mostly racing against themselves, however the twisty forest stages of Olympus have been known to bite even the most experienced of competitors.  The closest competition for the overall podium will likely come from the Super Production class.  Lauchlin O’Sullivan returns to the driver’s seat after lending his seat for the Oregon Trail Rally to Road and Track contributing editor Jason Harper.  O’Sullivan and Co-Driver Scott Putnam will have their hands full as local hot shoe Jeff Seehorn will be on a mission to show that he can compete with last year’s SP champions.  Seehorn and Co-Driver Karen Jankowski were well in the lead at Oregon Trail, only to have their win taken away by a worn turbo restrictor that was 0.04mm out of spec.  Look for these three to most likely be at the top of the timing sheets.

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Jeff Seehorn and Karen Jankowski pushing the limit in the dark at Oregon Trail

In the new National Limited Open class, the Hi Camp Racing team of Travis Nease and Krista Skucas will try and use their local knowledge of the Pacific NW roads to try and overcome mid-west regional ace Jari Hamalainen and co-driver Jukka Lankinen.  The old saying goes “if you want to win, get a Finn”, but the western stages will be completely new to the mid-west team.

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Hi Camp Racing’s Travis Nease and Krista Skucas over the jump at Oregon Trail

Super Production is going to continue to be close.  Points leader Tino Fortunato hasn’t seen the same top stage times as O’Sullivan and Seehorn yet, but this time he’ll be on home turf with stages that are quite literally in his backyard.  Will the consistency kings push that little bit extra to make it to the stop step of the podium?  Or will Tino and Co-Driver Randy Biehl play it safe?  And don’t forget that other fast driver out of Spokane, Washington.  He’s the kid with the name that nobody can seem to pronounce, Matt Binczewski (that’s “Bin-Chev-Ski” for those trying to figure it out!).  Matt and co-driver  John Kesslar happened to take the SP win at Oregon Trail just a few weeks ago.  One thing we know about young drivers, they are always improving and have that invincibility gene that allows them to push to the limit and sometimes beyond.  Needless to say, this class will be one to watch this weekend.

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Ryan Millen and Christina Fate in the Rally RAV4 at Oregon Trail

Two wheel drive will likely be another tight battle with Cameron Steely and Preston Osborn looking to make up for their Oregon Trail final stage defeat by Ryan Millen and Christina Fate in their Rally RAV4.  They’ll need to watch out for local driver Steven Redd who says that he’s more comfortable with the beastly rear wheel drive Nameless BRZ.  The team said that they intentionally ran lower power at Oregon Trail and will be turning up the wick for Olympus.  Spectators should watch out as the gravel machine gun will be in full effect!  The 2wd entry list doesn’t stop there with other contenders like 100 Acre Wood winners Dave Wallingford and co-driver Leanne Junilla who also podiumed at Oregon Trail.  These two have been consistent and steadily improving their pace.  Team O’Neil driver Steve LaRoza has said that the Pacific NW roads are like going back home, so he too could be fighting for the podium in his Fiesta ST.  Quite honestly the podium prediction for 2wd could likely be best decided by coin flipping (or using an 8 sided die for you D&D geeks out there)

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Steven Redd and Don Burress drifting the Nameless BRZ at Oregon Trail

In B-Spec Keanna Erickson-Chang and co-driver Ole Holter are looking to finally overcome the electrical gremlins their 1.0L Eco-Boost Turbo Ford Fiesta has been having.  The car has been going into limp mode on stage, preventing them from showing their true pace.  Talks with Ford have narrowed the problem down to what is thought to be a programming patch needed for the ECU.  If the software update works as planned, the Honda Fit B-Spec domination by Jordan Guitar and William Jang very well could come to an end.

Keanna Erickson-Chang and Ole Holter were finally able to push a little on the last stage

Keanna Erickson-Chang and Ole Holter were finally able to push a little on the last stage at OTR

All the classes will have a couple of additional challenges at the Olympus Rally though.  First, they have to write all their own notes with a 2 pass recce.  No Jemba’s here.  Second, they’ll be making their notes on Friday in what has been a hot and dry last couple of weeks.  However the racing on Saturday will most certainly have rain with a smaller chance of moisture on Sunday as well.  So it could be overcoming mother nature that ends up being the biggest decider of who wins each class in this one.

 

Be sure to follow all the action for this weekend’s Olympus Rally.  Check out the event’s Twitter and Facebook pages. Rally America will have their own updates on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram feeds. Hashtags for the event will be #OlympusRally, #RallyAmerica, and #RA4.  Timing and scoring will be available on the Rally America web site.

For updates directly from teams and drivers, don’t forget to follow the North American Rally Updates Facebook page. That group is also a fantastic source of information between rallies.

If you’re planning on attending in person, don’t forget to download the spectator guide for a complete schedule and list of viewing locations.