One week since the Oregon Trail Rally and the rally hangover is starting to set in. So exactly what happened last weekend? Well, there was plenty of national competitor results that you probably already know, but what were the stories of Oregon Trail 2015? This is part one.
I was working the PA system for one of the spectator grandstands near the hairpin on SS2/SS4, so I don’t have a lot of my own pictures to share. Thankfully local rally photog Greggar Helgeland was around snapping awesome pics from the service park and recording some video that he’s letting OpenPaddock use (massive thanks Greggar!).
First of all, let’s set the stage. One thing that makes Oregon Trail so great is the large number of entrants in every class. Some might look at the entry list and see that the majority of cars are Subarus and think it isn’t very diverse. The car makes might be fairly common, but if you break down the entry list by class you’ll see some great diversity in competition. Overall there were 12 Open Light; 2 B-Spec; 1 Production-GT; 11 Group-2; 7 Group-5; 8 Super Production and 16 Open Class entries. That makes 57 total entries of which 19 entered as national. That’s the biggest national turnout so far this year in Rally America, but don’t overlook the regional entries as that’s where some of the most interesting rally stories tend to come from.
Day 1 – The Fan Fest Super Specials
The Super Specials on Friday night at Portland International Raceway are short and sweet, and it sets the stage for the rest of the rally weekend. Although not very long in distance, it is always great fun for the crowds as OTR has the only Rally America stages that run within a major metropolitan city. What was especially interesting this year were changes in SS1/SS3 with the addition of the “donut” and the “yump.” The donut was a ring of barrels the competitors had to drift around Gymkhana style if possible, and the yump was a small jump so fans could see the cars catch a little air. Granted the yump wasn’t very big, but the organizers didn’t want to break anyone’s car on their first day of a long rally weekend.
The other challenge with the Super Specials at PIR was the weather. It had rained quite a bit in previous days as well as earlier on Friday, saturating the grass areas the teams were going to be driving on. Those teams that had the option of choosing between a tarmac tire for better grip on the track surface or a gravel tire to better grip on the grass and dirt would have something to ponder. Most regionals don’t tend to have that option though as with their budgets they have a single tire to choose from, or maybe slightly used “scuffs” vs. newer tires anyway.
Anyway, on to the action… Here’s a compilation of clips from the the new “yump” (again, thanks Greggar!)
As you can see, an unforeseen consequence of the jump location became apparent as the faster cars went over. They tended to land just far enough that their rear suspension was fully compressed right at the point of a small rise in the grassy field. This caused a double-bounce effect kicking up the rear end of the car. Thankfully there was no major damage to any teams other than some broken body panels. I think next year a flatter landing area made of gravel might be in order.
Unfortunately for regional entrant Lars Wolfe and co-driver Jason Grahn the rally was over before it even started. Lars was debuting probably one of the most interesting vehicles at the Oregon Trail Rally, a 2012 Nissan Juke named “Opy.” This is from Lars’ Facebook page as to why they couldn’t start:
“ Even though we did not make the start of the rally due to an unforeseen electrical issue with a component of the car that for saftey reasons was removed but have just found out is vital for a consistent starting sequence. I have learned so much about the car and myself from all the people that got involved to try and make it start before the deadline on Friday afternoon. This I can tell you was the hardest thing I have ever had to go through while racing, I have never worked so hard to make a race and not been able to at least start the event. We are doing something, that to my knowledge, nobody else is trying to do with a car that has all the potential in the world…”
It’s too bad because I really wanted to see how this unique entry would do on a rally stage. Lars’ is dubbing his Nissan Juke as the “Multi-purpose racer” where he plans on taking the same car and use it for multiple disciplines including stage rally on gravel, tarmac road racing, time attack, drifting, and even drag racing. Most teams would have a different vehicle designed around each form of racing, but Lars wanted to prove that a single platform can do all of those. Unfortunately phase 1 of doing stage rally didn’t work out yet, but we hope to see you and Opy next year Lars! You can check out the whole story behind Lars’ concept on mylife@SPEED.
Of those that started on Friday, 3 didn’t finish all 4 of the short stages. #81 Travis Nease, a newcomer to stage rally, had issues early on. Part way through the first stage his Open Light WRX STi suddenly lost power and a number of warning lights came on and they pulled off into service without starting SS2. Thanks to the knowledge of his experienced co-driver Danny Norkus, they were able to determine that the car simply went into “Limp Mode” and disconnecting and reconnecting the battery reset the computer and got them going again. They were technically a DNF for Day 1 of the event, but still returned for the second running of stages to gain experience even if the times didn’t count.
Wolfgang Hoeck had a mechanical failure on SS1 and Cameron Steely broke drive shafts right at the start of SS3 ending his day early. Attrition is part of the rally game, but nobody wants to be done this early. Thankfully Rally America has Super Rally so that teams can re-enter the next day with time penalties.
Some got away with close calls that could have ended up worse. FY Racing’s David Sterckx tapped a pole cutting a corner. If he’d been another inch or two closer, he’d have likely lost his entire rear wheel.
Where I was on the back stretch by the grandstands for SS2/4, a number of cars over-cooking it into the esses before the hairpin onto grass. Thankfully for them there was plenty of run off area and they didn’t hit anything. Regional driver Mark Tabor looped his car into a full 360 losing a few seconds. When it got dark, the braking points were harder to see and a few cars went off into the grass. I saw one car make a wrong turn in the dark following the race track instead of the notes so it took a while to get turned back around. Unfortunately between light pod glare and the darkness I couldn’t see who it was, but I think it was Gary Gill who was leading the Super Production championship going into the event. Thankfully with such short stages the time loss would have been fairly minor.
Chris Duplessis in the Nameless Performance BRZ always likes to put on a show. Whether intentional or not, the fans liked his spin at the Festival Curves hairpin on SS1! Not the best for times, but the stages are so short that it doesn’t affect the team too much.
As far as results go, coming out on top on Day 1 was of course David Higgins and Craig Drew in their Subaru Rally Team USA WRX STi built by Vermont Sports Car. This was expected of course, but what I was interested in was comparing last year’s times to this year as the stage lengths are identical. It appears the new 2015 Subaru WRX STi was about 5 seconds slower per stage at PIR, however some of that potentially could have something to do with the damp conditions vs last year which was dry. Higgins did say that the new turbo restrictor required by the factory team did drop them about 40 horsepower, so likely that had some effect as well. The closer battle in open class Friday was between FY Racing teammates David Sterckx and Adam Yeoman. Yeoman was only 12.7 seconds back from his teammate going into Saturday, with Higgins 19 seconds ahead of Sterckx.
In National Super Production it was a back and forth battle between Lauchlin O’Sullivan and Nick Roberts. O’Sullivan came out ahead of Roberts on each Super Special Stage, but the total lead by the end of the day was only 10.5 seconds. Both O’Sullivan and Roberts have had bad luck at the Oregon Trail Rally the last few years and were looking for redemption.
In National 2wd everyone was wondering just how fast Chris Duplessis and Co-Driver Alex Kihurani would be in the high horsepower Nameless BRZ. Would the RWD car be faster than LaRoza who was in the turbo charged Fiesta ST? What about Troy Miller who has been dominant in east coast rallying and making his debut at Oregon Trail in the normally aspirated but nimble R2 Fiesta? Well, LaRoza didn’t get on too well in the Fiesta ST Friday, finishing the day over a minute behind. Miller on the other hand was on fine form. Even with exponentially less horsepower, Troy Miller and co-driver Ole Holter finished the day just 8 seconds behind Duplessis and co-driver Alex Kihurani, although Chris’ spin might have had something to do with that.
From the regionals it was Scott Kovalik who won 3 of the stages on Friday night’s Wagons Ho! regional event. With that you’d expect he came out on top for the day, except for one flyer of a stage that Jeff Seehorn in his 2005 Super Production WRX STi threw down on SS2. This might be Seehorn’s only second Oregon Trail Rally, but he knows the PIR circuit pretty well from previous motorcycle racing experience. He hit his braking points just right giving him a time that was third fastest OVERALL just behind Higgins and Sterckx! That blinder was enough to keep him on top through the night stages and come out with the win for the Wagons Ho! regional rally. In 3rd overall for the regional was Primitive Racing’s Paul Eklund who has been reunited with co-driver Karen Jankowski. It seems these two instantly clicked in the cockpit and were on form all weekend, finishing just 4.7 seconds behind Kovalik.
In regional Wagons Ho! Super Production it was of course Seehorn on top as he also had the overall win, followed by Paul Eklund and then the Binczewski brothers. Matt Binczewski used to drive an older Subaru Legacy with the H6 motor. It was arguably one of the best sounding cars in our region, but the old Legacy was held together with chewing gum and zip ties and it was time for an upgrade. So their new car for this year is as one would expect, a 2004 STi. Not nearly as interesting of a car, but a great platform for reliability and speed. They jazzed up the styling of the #238 WRX by adding some gold bling to it.
What’s cool about the regional entrants is that the times between many teams were typically less than 5 seconds and sometimes separated by only tenths! One of the most impressive was Steven Redd and co-driver Chad Carter who piloted the #938 Open Light 2000 Subaru 2.5rs (normally aspirated) to 4th overall, ahead of most Open class and Super Production entrants. Redd was simply ON IT! (again sorry for the lack of photos, much more from Saturday’s action though!)
The real action was on Saturday and Sunday of course, where the cars get out on the fast gravel roads of Dufur and the twisty mountain stages of Hood River! More on that coming soon…