The Olympus Rally which takes place this weekend is thankfully back on the Rally America National Championship. National competitors were last here in the fall of 2012, when unfortunately the long dry summer meant that the risk of fire in the Green Diamond managed forests was a big concern. They ran the stages then only in the morning and late in the evening, bypassing the hottest part of the day. The event moved back to a spring schedule to remove those risks which caused some schedule conflicts at first, but now it is back and better than ever.
Why better may you ask? Some of the stages run this year have not been run in 11 years according to Clerk of the Course Ron Barker. We talked with him on our Podcast and I encourage you to take a listen. Most of the drivers competing will not recognize a majority of the stage miles, meaning that proper notes will be key to success this year. The one stage everyone is talking about is Cougar Mountain which is run on Sunday. Cougar Mountain will climb from 600 feet to over 2,000 feet in just a couple of miles. To make it even more challenging, this will be after 19 miles of stages run just prior and yet another stage to follow Cougar Mountain before service. Teams will need to manage their cars and their tires over this challenging new addition to the rally. Here’s a link to a video from Cougar Mountain one of the volunteers recorded: Video of Cougar Mountain
The Olympus Rally has quite the history, most notably because it was the only USA location to be a round of the World Rally Championship. Even more significant, Olympus was the very last round of the “Monster” Group B era in 1986. And yes we mean THAT Group B era that included Audi Quattros, Lancia Delta S4s, Peugeot 205 T16s and famous Finnish drivers like Markku Alen, Hannu Mikkola, Ari Vatanen, and
Juha Kankkunen. Even USA’s own legend John Buffum was part of the entry list that year in an Audi Quattro.
Here’s a clip from that most storied event in 1986.
The cars today might not be the glorious sounding monsters that they were in 1986, but that doesn’t mean they are any less fast or capable. One thing that many forget is the cars back then made lots of horsepower, but the technology in suspension, brakes, and tires (not to mention safety equipment) were generations behind what is available today. So the cars of today may not sound as sweet as those Group B monsters, but they are typically faster in overall stage times.
This year will of course see Subaru Rally Team USA’s David Higgins and co-driver Craig Drew as the favorites to win. However a last minute entry could be nipping at David’s heels, and that entry is none other than 7 time Canadian Rally Champion Antoine L’Estage. Antoine is entering as only a regional entrant, but you can bet everyone will be comparing times between the two 2015 Subaru WRX STIs of Higgins and L’Estage.
Unfortunately for the privateer squad from FY Racing, Adam Yeoman and Jordon Schultz will be first on the road as Rally America is instituting the “rabbit” start order due to L’Estage’s entry. The rabbit method was mainly designed to make the playing field more balanced between top competitors like Ken Block and David Higgins when they were fighting for the championship. The idea was that neither would be at as big a disadvantage by being first on the road sweeping them clear of the loose stuff and seeing braking points. I’m not quite sure why they are implementing this method at Olympus as L’Estage, although extremely fast, is only entering as a regional so that he can keep his skills sharp as he has such a long gap in events in the Canadian Rally Championship.
Besides those mentioned above, keep an eye on a likely close Open Class battle between Brenten Kelly, Piotr Fetela, and George Plsek. These 3 are closer in skill and equipment level and are not hampered or given advantages of “rabbit” rules as they start farther back down the order.
In regional Open Class, well there is Antoine L’Estage however I wouldn’t bet on him interfering with the scoring of locals looking for their own championships and likely he’ll take a time penalty at the end of each day. The battle here in regional Open will likely be between #232 Mark Tabor, #401 Byron Garth, and #36 Scott Kovalik.
Super Production will be one of the most heated classes. Nick Roberts and Lauchlin O’Sullivan are locked in a battle for the national championship. However, newcomer Jeff Seehorn who took Oregon Trail Rally by storm with a regional domination that could have had him 3rd overall in nationals is registered as a national competitor for Olympus. That means Seehorn will be able to test his mettle against the best of the best and see where he lies. My only concern for Seehorn is his lack of experience with notes, and with all these new stages O’Sullivan and Roberts will have a distinctive advantage there.
In regional Super Production, #56 Seehorn is double entered for regional and national so he’s my favorite here as well. However the experience and consistency of #233 Paul Eklund will probably stay a lot closer to him than one might think. #238 Matt Binczewski is another one to keep an eye on in regional. He’s still getting used to his 2004 WRX STi, a different car than he has run in the past. Matt is a fast learner though, so his stage times should improve considerably with each pass.
National 2wd I have to give the advantage to #74 Ramana Lagaman in the mighty BMW M3. Lagaman won the 2wd class at OTR last year in a dominant fashion in the same car. I’d expect similar results from him at Olympus, although championship leader #22 Troy Miller should be able to keep up in the twisty sections. #134 Steve LaRoza will also be a potential threat with his turbo powered Fiesta ST, as will #824 Cameron Steely in similar turbo hardware.
Regional 2wd is anyone’s game. #207 David Hintz in his BMW M3 has a good history here and #945 Dave Clark is no slouch either. Both have the advantage of high power with Hintz and his M3 motor and Clark with his turbo. In all honesty I’m grasping at straws for favorites in the regional 2wd. There is a wide field of modern and classic cars that have potential here.
Then there is regional Open Light. There are a lot of good competitors here. Although after seeing the performance of #938 Steven Redd at Oregon Trail, I’d have to put him as a favorite in the Open Light category. #61 Tino Fortunato tends to do quite well also, but with these cars having such a similar spec, so it is hard to pick who will come out on top. Do keep an eye on #81 Travis Nease of which this is only his 2nd ever stage rally. Nease and co-driver Dan Norkus were steadily improving at Oregon Trail Rally and I’d expect them to continue that trend at Olympus.
B-Spec only has the one entrant of Tracey Gardner in her Toyota Yaris. She’ll be co-driven at this event by the very experienced Tracy Manspeaker and their primary goal is to have a heck of a lot of fun. That after all, should be the primary goal for most competitors.
As you can see there will be plenty to watch at this year’s Olympus Rally. Follow stage times on your mobile by browsing to http://m.rally-america.com. With social media be sure to follow @Rally_America and @OlympusRally on Twitter as well as follow the hashtags #OLY and #RA4 for the most expeditious information as well as Rally America on Facebook. Also be sure to catch the Rally America Radio reports from Jim Beaver at http://rallyamericaradio.com