Wow, what an event! It is hard to even know where to start with all that went on this weekend. Once again the Oregon Trail Rally featured drama, danger, and hard fought victories.
The weekend activities actually started Thursday morning with a fan appreciation show at Pioneer Courthouse Square in downtown Portland. This show and tell of the cars and drivers in the heart of the city draws in spectators that might not know that the Oregon Trail Rally is in town and entices them to come out to see the race. All the top teams were there, except for David Higgins who was up at DirtFish for a marketing event. I must say that I was impressed by Ken Block who had a huge line of fans that never let up for over 2 hours while he signed autographs and posed for pictures. He was always nice and never seemed frustrated with all the attention. Block is a marketing master, and this is a major reason why.
The rally itself got underway Friday evening with the short stages at Portland International Raceway. The cars ran in reverse order from the slowest speed factor to the fastest separated by 30 seconds each, so it would be dusk by the time anyone got a chance to spot Ken Block, Antoine L’Estage, or David Higgins. That didn’t matter though because there were plenty of awesome cars to watch with the 75+ entered, which some said was the largest entry list in Rally America.
As is often said, you can never win a rally with opening super special stages, but you can always lose it. At the end of the first loop of two stages Antoine L’Estage and Nathalie Richard’s Rockstar Energy WRC Lancer was suffering from an unfortunate electrical problem where the car was stuck in transit mode which limited power and lost them over 16 seconds. Higgins and Block were battling it out with less than a second separating them at the end of the first loop. Both had chosen tarmac tires which seemed to work well with their rallycross experience. Newcomer Rifat Sungkar with co-driver Marshall Clark had a bit of an incident in their Fastron sponsored EvoX at the flying finish of SS2. They hit a barrier at the final turn which ripped the entire right rear from the wheel back off the car. Rifat said that as he approached the Left 5 Minus (i.e. high speed corner), he didn’t realize there was a small bump near the apex causing the suspension to compress and the back end to step out. Lucky for him the accident happened just past the stop boards and right before a service break where the Libra Racing Team was able to repair his car and get him back out for the second loop.
Sungkar wouldn’t be the only drama of the night as Ken Block and co-driver Alex Gelsomino were the next ones to suffer an unfortunate incident when his front right wheel came completely off his car at the hairpin on SS3. Block had to either continue on 3 wheels through SS4 or end early taking a huge time penalty under super-rally rules to continue the next day. Of course Ken Block in his usual dramatic fashion chose the former, giving spectators quite the spectacle as a shower of sparks highlighted the Hoonigan Racing Division Fiesta ST in the darkness as he drove down the tarmac at high speed.
At the end of Day 1 Block did manage to finish, but lost an unfortunate 48 seconds to David Higgins and Craig Drew of Subaru Rally Team USA. L’Estages electrical gremlins continued slotting him into second and 38 seconds off the lead.
In Super Production, David Sterckx and Karen Jankowski in their Ardeca lubricants sponsored 2011 WRX STi pulled a 6 second lead out of last year’s overall SP champions Lauchlin O’Sullivan and Scott Putnam. What made this even more impressive was that Sterckx had concerns that his engine might be failing with a cylinder showing compression issues after tests the night before. Rounding out the top 3 in Super Production was local driver David Henderson and Terrence McDowell in their Suspect Motorsports 2004 Impreza STi.
In 2wd Australians Brendan Reeves and Rhianon Smyth flew into an amazing 8th overall with their Team O’Neil Fiesta R2. Reeves’ normally aspirated Fiesta ended Day 1 with an impressive 16 second lead over the turbocharged Fiesta of Dillon Van Way and Andrew Edwards. In 3rd spot, Chris Greenhouse and Billy Mann kept their Dodge Neon SRT4 a scant 5 seconds behind Van Way. Farther back, Andrew Comrie-Picard’s factory Scion xD was apparently suffering turbo and brake problems putting him in 21st overall and 17 seconds behind Van Way.