As we get ready for this weekend’s Waste Management Susquahannock Trail Performance Rally, let’s review what took place a couple of weeks ago at the Olympus Rally.
Whereas the Oregon Trail Rally was more about the drivers and battles going down to the final stage, the 2016 Olympus Rally was the complete opposite where the battle was against attrition and simply finishing was a challenge in and of itself. The Olympus Rally consisted of 125 competitive miles over 12 challenging twisty stages in the forests near Shelton, Washington. Most notable was the Wildcat Pass stage with so many tight turns that some co-drivers said the single 18.6 miles stage had almost as many notes as all the other stages combined. To add an additional challenge, this rally had no pre-made Jemba pace notes requiring teams to write their own.
Few teams came out unscathed over the weekend which meant that the crews in the service park became the real stars of the show. If we had a service crew award it surely would have gone to Team O’Neil who spent much of Saturday night repairing the #78 Fiesta R2 of Dave Wallingford and Leanne Junilla after a scary off they had rolling into a drainage ditch.
That wasn’t the only O’Neil car that ran into trouble over the weekend. Somehow the Eric Grochowski & Ian Williams found a way to “tree” their Fiesta R2 on the challenging Wildcat Pass. We’re still a bit dumbfounded on how the car ended up in this position, but even more remarkable is that Sweep was able to safely get the car down (which took some very creative angles with multiple winches) allowing Grochowski & Williams to drive the car back to service under it’s own power! Sweep crews are often the unsung heroes at rally events, and I’m sure Team O’Neil were singing their praises at Olympus.
Runner up for the most repairs has to go to the All Fours Rally Team of Tino Fortunato and Randy Biehl. Tino got a puncture halfway through one of the early stages on Saturday, finishing on the rim. Although they were able to change to a spare at the end of the stage, the consequences of driving so long on just a rim soon became evident. Halfway through the next stage the brakes went from mush to completely non-existent. Once in service the crew had just 30 minutes to get that and any other issues fixed.
Using a bit of Press on Regardless ingenuity, Tino and co-driver Randy Biehl did this impressive fix in between stages for a broken suspension arm.
This would have been the end of their rally as no replacement parts were available, but then remarkably a fan donated a replacement suspension component from his STI in the parking lot!
It wasn’t all doom and gloom at this rally and the front of the field was headed by those that avoided problems. As stated earlier, David Higgins and Craig Drew drove their 2016 WRX STI to the overall victory a whopping 9 minutes ahead of the rest of the field.
The remaining places of the overall podium went to the top Super Production entries with class winner Lauchlin O’Sullivan again showing his experience. It did take O’Sullivan and co-driver Scott Putnam a few stages to get back in the groove as they dropped nearly 20 seconds to local hot shoe Jeff Seehorn and co-driver Karen Jankowski. Jeff and Karen had a spirited drive keeping the pressure on O’Sullivan all weekend. At the end of the final stage Jeff stated he did all that he could with what they had, but could have gone faster with another set of soft tires. The interesting point to take from this is that for the first time Jeff Seehorn is complaining about not having the tires to be competitive. Some may remember that a year ago Jeff said he could use a single set of tires all weekend and still be fast. That was true to some extent, but now it seems his abilities have improved to the point that he’s finding limitations in the hardware, not too dissimilar to David Higgins’ frustrations of not having an unlimited tire allotment for the factory car. That said, it was still a great drive and we congratulate Jeff and Karen on their 2nd place in Super Production and first ever overall podium. Hopefully the first of many!
Third place on the national Super Production podium was the other fast kid from Spokane, Matt Binczewski and co-driver John Kesslar. Matt said that he had hoped to be closer to the guys out in front as he was pushing so hard he scared himself a few times (again!). I’m sure that will come with time as the youngster has many more years to perfect his craft.
Missing out on the podium was the aforementioned Agatino Fortunato and co-driver Randy Biehl. The local fan favorite had 2 punctures, ran 2 and a half stages without brakes, and had broken suspension. They lost so much time on Saturday that they would have benefited from skipping the last loop of stages under super-rally regulations into Sunday. However with their press on regardless attitude, the team kept fixing the car ran anyway as an appreciation to all the fans, friends, and family that came to watch them. Even with all their issues, Tino was his typical jovial self at the end of the final stage and was happy just to be out there going flat out on his favorite roads.
National 2wd was filled with mechanical woes for everyone but Ryan Millen and Christina Fate in the Rally RAV4 who notched their 2nd consecutive Rally America 2wd win. Showing once again that not only is the compact SUV quick with Millen at the helm, but extremely reliable as well. 2nd on the podium came from regional driver Andrew Sutherland and co-driver Jen Horsey in a crazily super-charged Honda Civic with a super-charger. We unfortunately didn’t talk to Andrew Sutherland on the stages, but the car spoke volumes with an engine noise that could be heard for many miles! Finishing up the 2wd podium was the stunningly reliable B-Spec Honda Fit driven by Jordan Guitar and William Jang. It’s remarkable how consistent that team is over every rally weekend. I asked Jordan at the end of the stage if he simply pinned the gas pedal and steered. His response was “yeah mostly, but sometimes I do have to touch the brakes a bit on the slower corners.”
This means that your B-Spec winner was Jordan Guitar and William Jang, with second place going to Keanna Erickson-Chang and Ole Holter in their Fiesta 1.0L Turbo. Keanna and Ole had been suffering with ECU issues at 100 Acre Wood and Oregon Trail, but finally after many phone calls and discussions received an updated ECU that would prevent the car from going into limp mode all the time. Mating the updated ECU presented its own problems, but a crafty engineer used a few tricks to get it working. The updated ECU apparently did the trick as Keanna was faster on the stages, but now had to completely re-learn how to drive the car. It’s all well and good when a car is working as it should, but if you have no experience with the car’s new limits it’s like starting completely from scratch. It didn’t help that she debeaded a tire on a hairpin midway on the long Windy Nahwatzel stage which required an on-stage tire change. Unfortunately soon after they had a second flat that they didn’t have a choice but to run the rest of the stage and transit on. Even with all that drama, Keanna and Ole Holter were still the highest finishing Team O’Neil car of the weekend. I’m really looking forward to what Keanna and Ole can do in the 2nd half of the season now that the car is working as it should have from the beginning.
Finally there was the National Limited Open Class which unfortunately had only 2 entries for Olympus. Local driver Travis Nease and co-driver Krista Skucas were much happier being able to spend more time driving the car and improving their pace vs. fixing mechanical issues like at Oregon Trail. Their only rivals in the class were the longest distance competitors of the event, Jari Hamalainen and Juka Lankinen who came all the way from Florida. Unfortunately Jari had a mechanical issue in the first loop on the first day which ended his rally. That meant there was only Travis and Krista on the podium, but they still drove a great rally. Travis and Krista originally didn’t want to do the whole stand on the car podium thing being sole survivors of the class, but the crowd urged them to do it anyway.
Once again the Olympus Rally showed how challenging a rally it can be. Yet even with stages like Wildcat Pass being long and extremely technical, driver after driver kept telling me how much they enjoyed it. Some even saying they were ready to do it all again! Thanks again to the organizers, volunteers, and especially to the E-Crew / Sweep Teams who did a remarkable job making sure the cars that didn’t make it out of the stages were recovered with no more damage than what got them stuck in the first place!
If you’d like to see our experiment with live stage end reporting at the Olympus Rally, check out our YouTube channel.
Full National Results:
Remember that this weekend is the Waste Management Susquehannock Trail Performance Rally in Wellsboro, Pennsylvania June 3-4. Be sure to follow them on Facebook and Twitter with hashtags #STPR16 and #ra5 and we’ll be posting some updates as well. Timing and scoring can be found on Rally America.
Check out our Olympus Rally gallery of photos here: