Considering all that is about to go down at the Oregon Trail Rally this year, I’m breaking this up into a couple of articles. To start off with I’ll discuss the event itself, and then I’ll go into the drivers and teams to watch, and I’ll finish with a little bit about what I’m going to be doing as a volunteer and why its great to get involved in rallies in your area.
The Oregon Trail Rally is the only 3 day event on the Rally America calendar, and this year it is the only west coast appearance since Rally America dropped the Olympus Rally from the schedule. There is some controversy and argument as to why Olympus is absent, but that’s for another discussion.
What makes the Oregon Trail Rally so unique is the differing conditions on each day of the event. To start off with there are the Friday night stages at Portland International Raceway. The short “super special” stages at PIR combine use of the racing circuit and the gravel service roads surrounding the track and infield. This provides a very spectator friendly view of rally action right in the middle of the city. It is frequently said that a rally can never be won on the opening super special stages, but it can be lost. The 4 short stages on Friday total only 9.2 miles, so don’t expect any drivers to make huge gains on their opponents at the end of the night. However even if they aren’t pushing to the absolute limit the super specials provide a good platform for the teams to show off for their sponsors in front of a large audience. To that end spectators will likely see some great sideways action.
The teams will then quickly pack up Friday night and drive an hour east of Portland to Hood River. Here they will tackle the forest stages at the foothills of Mt. Hood early Saturday. The well known and spectator friendly Fir Mountain stage returns, but will be run in a reverse direction this year. Fir Mountain is the longest stage of the event at 15 miles, but has a rough rocky base. This will be the stage that the most ground can be made on opponents, so expect drivers to really push here.
Another change this year is the absence of the Ketchum car-breaker stage. Ketchum has claimed many a sump guard, bumper, and caused a lot of tire punctures. Replacing Ketchum are a couple of new short stages (less than 5 miles in length) closer to the town Hood River. Fir Mountain will be run twice, and the two short stages will be run 3 times (in altering directions).
Finally there are the stages outside of Dufur on Sunday. Dufur is another hour drive from Hood River and located just south of The Dalles. The Dufur area stages have by far the most picturesque views of any rally event on the calendar. On a clear day you can see Mt. Hood, Mt. Jefferson, Mt. Saint Helens, and Mt. Adams. This time of year the peaks are still covered with snow glistening in the sun only to be muted by the dust clouds from the passing rally cars. The rolling hills near Dufur are on the leading edge of the high desert plains of central Oregon with different characteristics than the roads the drivers experienced near Hood River. The roads are more of a smooth and sandy nature with long open straights allowing drivers to hit maximum speed from their machines. In some areas the organizers will strategically place hay bales to force the cars to slow down a bit for safety reasons.
Two very popular stages for spectating out here are Clausen and Starveout. The 12.7 mile Clausen stage is along a ridge with the gorgeous mountain views. Spectators will see cars approach at high speed before they are hard on the brakes and navigate hay bales at a road junction. It isn’t uncommon to see someone brake too late and clip a bale here. Starveout on the other hand is a shorter 8 mile stage and has a large hill where spectators can view the cars approaching from a long distance before they slide into a 90+ degree right turn at the bottom through a narrow gate. The viewpoint is from a slightly elevated sloping field at the base of the hill giving everyone a spectacular view. This year Starveout will be run in both directions, first as a hill climb with the afternoon run going down the hill like last year. After two runs through the above stages there will be one final 7.8 mile stage closer to Hood River to declare the winner.
In all there will be over 100 competitive miles in the Oregon Trail Rally this year. A quick look at the weather is showing very warm conditions, actually the warmest we have had yet this year with forecasts in the low 80’s. This is a far cry from the winter conditions experienced in the earlier rounds of Sno*Drift and 100 Acre Wood earlier this year. Warm and dry means dust can be a huge issue if there is no wind, especially on the forest stages outside of Hood River where dust clouds cling in the trees. Starting position will be a big issue and unfortunately for the drivers it is a lottery draw from the top teams as to who goes first. In my next article I’ll go into more depth on the teams and strategies to watch as we get ready for the 2013 Oregon Trail Rally.