Welcome Back Gravel – Rally in the 100 Acre Wood Preview

The extended wait is finally over. After nearly two months the Rally in the 100 Acre Wood is finally here and it’s looking to be a fantastic event.

Rally regulars, off-road specialists, and tarmac professionals will be competing against each other on the Missouri stage roads this weekend. In total, nearly 70 entries are slated to do their best Christopher Robin impressions, a great turnout for the second Rally America national event of the year.

Why such a long time between rallies this year? After two of the last three runnings of the 100AW suffered from a condition we like to call Sno*Drift 2: Rally Boogaloo officials decided to move the event nearly a month down the calendar from its traditional late February date. The decision upset many rally traditionalists as the unpredictable conditions were a hallmark of the rally.

Though, in a Shamalanian twist, the original date of the event saw a bright and clear 60 degree weekend and, despite the change of date, a freeze is predicted to sweep through the area late Friday night. Ice may be seen during Saturday’s morning stages. The lesson? Don’t try to outsmart nature, it really doesn’t work out.

Screenshot 2016-03-17 13.41.37
Pastrana and Beavis at 2014 100 Acre Wood

While trying to avoid snow the Rally in the 100 Acre Wood had a second, possibly unintended, casualty – night stages. In past years, nearly a third of the rally’s stage miles were run in the dark. This year, with the event taking place after the Daylight Savings spring ahead, a 7:15 sunset means that later stages will now only see twilight. Night rally isn’t practiced much outside of the US, and to see an event effectively lose that unique condition is upsetting to say the least.

Don’t let all of that news ruin the fun, though. The Rally in the 100 Acre Wood is more famous for its speed than its occasional snow and nighttime driving. The sweeping gravel stages are arguably the fastest on the Rally America calendar, rewarding smooth driving and constant throttle engagement.

A fast event isn’t complete without hang time, and the 100 Acre Wood delivers there too. The Cattle Guard jump is a fan favorite, seeing leading teams fly over 50 feet in rain, shine, or snow. We recommend it to anyone who may be attending.

Kelly and Burns at 2015 100 Acre Wood

How can you follow this year’s 100AW? Simple!

You can follow the Twitter and Facebook profiles of the Rally in the 100 Acre Wood. Rally America will have their own updates on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram feeds. Hashtags for the event will be #100aw, #RallyAmerica, and #RA2. 

Also, be sure to tune into RallyAmericaRadio.com for driver interviews and updates from our good friend Jim Beaver. Stage times can be found on the Rally America website.

For updates directly from teams and drivers, don’t forget to follow the North American Rally Updates Facebook page. That group is also a fantastic source of information between rallies.

If you’re planning on attending in person this year, don’t forget to download the spectator guide for a complete schedule and list of viewing locations.

Alright you know the basics of the event, let’s talk drivers.

Higgins and Drew at 2015 Olympus Rally
Higgins and Drew at 2015 Olympus Rally

Over thirty national competitors are competing for the pot of honey this year. Unfortunately, we don’t have time to talk about each individual team, so we need to keep it to highlights.

In Open Class the big news is, of course, the return of Subaru Rally Team USA.

Rumors of Subaru pulling out for the season appear to have been greatly exaggerated. After effectively skipping Sno*Drift, Subaru is back in force with the late entry of both David Higgins and Travis Pastrana. Higgins and co-driver Craig Drew, the 2015 championship winners, were last seen together at Wales Rally GB. After last year’s perfect season, they seen to be nigh uncatchable.

Photo Courtesy of Subaru Rally Team USA
Pastrana and Edstrom at Pre-Event Testing – Courtesy of Subaru Rally Team USA

If there is anyone to reel them in it’s Travis Pastrana and 2006 champion co-driver Christian Edstrom. Pastrana competed at only a handful of events this past season in a leftover 2014 car and, despite the equipment disadvantage, recorded the only stage wins against Higgins last year. With a newly built for 2016 STi, the two Subaru drivers are back on an even playing field. We expect to see a close finish for the overall top spot this weekend.

Ark Gruszka is back with his FrankenMitsu, the EvoX driveline stuffed into a Mirage body. We would love to see that car perform well, but after a year of development it has yet to run an entirely clean rally. Hopefully we see a trouble free rally from the GreenAPU sponsored team.

Gruszka and Wronski - Courtesy of Scott Rains via Rally America
Gruszka and Wronski at 2015 OTR – Courtesy of Scott Rains via Rally America

The rest of the class is made of a few traditionally regional entries, though we have to give a shout-out to Subaru Rally Team USA face and two time SP championship runner up Greg Dorman for getting into a car again.

In the National Limited Open Class we have another return from abroad, Nick Roberts.

We haven’t seen Roberts in the US since last year’s Ojibwe Forests Rally. After that Roberts skipped LSPR in favor of two Canadian events, the Tall Pines and Rocky Mountain rallies. Roberts will keep modifications made to his car for Canadian competition, including a sequential transmission and an all around weight reduction, hence his bump up to the higher spec class. Sitting shotgun in the newly revamped technicolor Subaru is Alex Gelsomino, regular co-driver of Ken Block and husband of Roberts’ usual co-driver Rhianon.

Roberts Updated Car and Livery
Roberts Updated Car and Livery

Roberts’ main competition in class will come from Piotr Fetela. You should remember that name from January’s Sno*Drift and the Six Tenths of a Second Story of a Lifetime. Fetela and co-driver Dominik Jozwiak are competing in their venerable ’98 STi while building an all new VW Polo for later this year. But don’t think that the pair’s current car doesn’t have anything left in the tank. Fetela and Jozwiak are both highly skilled and determined competitors. Expect this fight to be close.

Fetela and Jozwiak
Fetela and Jozwiak at 2015 100 Acre Wood

Moving onto Super Production and we see the field start to tighten up and what will likely be a close four way battle for the top podium spot.

Lauchlin O’Sullivan and Scott Putnam are the old guard in the class. Historically, the 100AW is a strong rally for the team. They have never finished in a position lower than the second in SP. However, that isn’t to say that a win is guaranteed, the pair are quick but their main focus is always bringing the car home and a repeat of their 2015 championship. That focus leaves them open to attack from hungry drivers looking mainly for a win.

O'Sullivan and Putnam at 2016 Sno*Drift
O’Sullivan and Putnam at 2016 Sno*Drift

Speaking of wins, Sno*Drift SP Class winner Troy Miller is back and we’re glad to see it. The 2015 2WD champion’s entry was uncertain until just a few weeks ago. Miller, the other half January’s six tenths of a second photo finish will be driving his now famous STi this weekend. Joining Miller for the first time since his Sno*Drift 2015 2WD win is veteran co-driver John Hall. Both drivers know how to keep a cool head under pressure and Miller is certainly demonstrably quick enough to fight for the win.

The sole driver taking advantage of the full Subaru Contingency Program, Agatino (Tino) Fortunato is in an interesting position. After putting the car together in just a few weeks Fortunato drove the car 2500 miles to its first event, a third in class finish at Sno*Drift. The car was certainly quick on the powder, but last we heard it is still on its factory suspension. While that may not have been a detriment during the slow slides in Michigan, it will likely become an issue during the high speed stages in Missouri. Controllability will be the main challenge for the team, primarily during high-speed directional changes that quickly load and unload the suspension. It will be interesting to see how Fortunato and co-driver Phil Meyers handle the weekend.

Fortunato Subaru
Fortunato Subaru Livery

How the weekend will go is no question for Jeff Seehorn, it will go quickly. The Pacific Northwest driver made an immediate impact last year with an impressive performance at the Oregon Trail Rally, out driving many of the established SP competitors. Seehorn is constantly champing at the bit. He’s on the limit at all times and that driving style can easily be a detriment. Since his first appearance on the circuit, Seehorn has failed to finish a Rally America national event. This weekend, we will see if Seehorn learned how to control his speed during the off season. If he has, there is a very good chance of him walking away with a class win.

2015 OLY 5-16 SS7 56 - 1
Seehorn and Milos at Olympus 2015

2WD is usually the class to watch, and this year’s Rally in the 100 Acre Wood will be no different. After a controversy surrounding the new Maxxis spec tire, Rally America has chosen to allow teams to run whatever tires they have on hand for this event. That decision allows many teams on other brands of rubber to compete.

Cameron Steely and Preston Osborn are entered for the weekend, but we aren’t sure what they will be driving yet. Their Fiesta ST doesn’t have the best record on reliability and it’s possible that we will see their old Fiesta R1 come out to play. Either way, the duo knows how to be quick. The pair scored their first ever national win here last year and you can be sure that they want a repeat performance.

Steely and Osborn at 2015 100 Acre Wood
Steely and Osborn at 2015 100 Acre Wood

2WD is always a varied class, but who would have thought a Toyota Rav4 could be competitive in rally? Ryan Millen and Christina Fate come into Missouri fresh off a win in the Sandblast Rally and a second place finish at Sno*Drift. It’s clear that the pair are talented drivers, but the Rally Rav4 is both larger and heavier than most other vehicles in class. The main questions to ask this weekend. How will the car perform during the sustained high speed stages of the 100AW? Does the car have both the top end and high-speed stability to be successful? We will find out soon.

Ryan Millen and Christina Fate - Courtesy of Rally America
Ryan Millen and Christina Fate at Sno*Drift 2016 – Courtesy of Rally America

We keep hoping that Steve LaRoza will find a competitive pace. The experienced desert racer has had a tough transition to rally and is often several minutes off podium pace. He needs some kind of shakeup and, fortunately for him, his co-driver is here to do just that. LaRoza’s daughter Alison is in the car, their first gravel rally together since last year’s podium finish at Olympus Rally. The 100AW plays to LaRoza’s strengths as a driver and, with the additional push of a co-driver he trusts, we hope to see him do well this weekend.

LaRoza and LaRoza - Courtesy of Rally America
LaRoza and LaRoza at 2016 Sno*Drift – Courtesy of Rally America

Anthony Concha has flown under most Rally America fans radar, but make no mistake, he can be fast. After building a new Fiesta ST last year, Concha placed on the podium at STPR. An impressive feat for the relative rookie. We’re expecting to see a solid performance out of the Pennsylvania native this weekend, if not a second podium finish to add to his collection.

Matt Brandenburg and Elliot Sherwood had a tough time last year in Rally America. A engine fire at Ojibwe caused a stir online and we haven’t seen them on the national circuit since then. Brandenburg, an opponent of the 2WD Maxxis spec tire, wasn’t expected to compete this year. But the relaxation of adoption rules allowed him to enter this one event. Brandenburg has a unique capability to take advantage of this weekend, RWD. We are curious to see what difference it makes on the fast sweeping stages of the 100 Acre Wood.

It’s very strange to look at B-Spec right now. Five entries, it’s an entire class!

Robinson and Penza at 2015 100 Acre Wood
Robinson and Penza at 2015 100 Acre Wood

Honda is, of course, back with Jordan Guitar and Brian Penza. Look, lets be honest here. The usual question with these guys isn’t will they win, it’s will they get a 2WD podium. This weekend though we aren’t so sure, 2WD competition is stiff and the normally-aspirated Fit does not have a high top speed. But, it will still be exciting to see them try. A more certain assumption can be made in B-Spec. They will probably win, but they very well may need to fight for it. Why?

Keanna Erickson-Chang, the rookie who impressed with her speed and determination at Sno*Drift, is back and has a distinct advantage – Turbocharging. Her 1.0 Liter Fiesta’s turbo produces a broad torque curve allowing it to more easily power out of high speed corners. Erickson-Chang also has help from the co-driver’s chair, Ole Holter. Holter is an expert in helping new drivers improve their abilities and Erickson-Chang has natural talent. Expect it to shine through soon.

Natural talent also describes the second Honda car this weekend. That’s right, Rally America is bringing back the Star Car and they’re putting Pirelli World Challenge Realtime Acura drivers Peter Cunningham and Ryan Eversley in the car. Neither have significant experience with rally and we can’t wait to see how they do and, more importantly, how much they love it! Who knows, maybe after this we’ll see them bitten by the rally bug.

Cunningham and Eversley at 2015 Mid-Ohio
Cunningham and Eversley at 2015 Mid-Ohio

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