2020 Ojibwe Forests Rally Preview

2020 Ojibwe Forests Rally Preview

by Mike Shaw

After the recent announcement of the cancellation of the Lake Superior Performance Rally, it’s nice to have some good news, and that news is that it’s rally week!  With the adjusted schedule due to the Covid-19 Pandemic, this weekend’s Ojibwe Forests Rally makes for round 3 of the American Rally Association national championship calendar. Being down to only 5 total rounds, every point counts and the championship battle will be hotter than ever.

The Roads

Well known for it’s Finland like crests and highs speeds bordering lakeside, Ojibwe has a character that all teams seem to enjoy, at least at first.  One of the biggest challenges at this event is the sandy soil that can quickly rut up, especially in the slow corners.  It’s not uncommon for cars farther back in the field to be down to the axles on second passes if they try and use the same line as those at the front.

Friday’s stages are smooth and fast “like a racetrack in comparison to Saturday” as Three Triangles Rallysport co-driver Ian Holmes put it. The day’s 46 competitive stage miles consists of 3 stages in the loop repeated beginning with the 10 mile iconic Crossroads stage and the famed Crossroads Jump where we’ve seen the Red Bull arch for so many years. That’s followed by the 7.8 mile Spur 2 and 5 mile Halverson Lake stages which contain long straight sections where competitors should be able to hit top speeds.

Saturday’s stages on the other hand is full of crests, twists, and turns. Nearly 92 stage miles are split between 3 stages. The 12.6 mile Strawberry Mountain and 13.6 mile Height o’Land stages being repeated 3 times. Strawberry Mountain’s stages are lined with crest after crest after crest will keep co-drivers busy, while Height o’Land’s causeway that splits two lakes is one of the most famed photo ops in all of American rallying.

The Conditions

The current forecast in the Detroit Lakes region calls for light rain early Friday morning or at least cool enough temperatures where dew can dampen the roads. Later the winds will pick up to the 15 mph range around the time the stages start and prevent most dust issues. Saturday looks to be dry with little wind, so if dust is going to be an issue, it’s going to be Saturday. High’s will only be in the upper 60’s to low 70’s Fahrenheit, so we shouldn’t have the dehydration and heat exhaustion that affected competitors at SOFR. An additional challenge will be some recent storms created massive washouts for Saturday’s stages exposing puncturing inducing rocks.

Photo by Ian Holmes

The Competition

Being a National event, all the big names are there including Subaru Motorsports USA’s Travis Pastrana with substitute co-driver Rhianon Gelsomino.  We asked Rhianon what it’s like to wear Subaru blue and prepare for her first competitive stages with iconic and only manufacturer team.  

“I’m very excited to have the opportunity to work with Travis Pastrana and Subaru Motorsports USA. Travis is an incredible talent in all motorsport he competes in and I can’t wait to get started and see where we finish this weekend.” – Rhianon Gelsomino

The shortened schedule has Travis already on the back foot having skipped the first round and the unfortunate car fire at Southern Ohio that destroyed the previous iteration of his #199 Subaru. Barry McKenna on the other hand is riding high with two out of two wins and a 27 point lead over Piotr Fetela of Fetela Rally Team and 30 points ahead of TP’s teammate of Brandon Semenuk.

“Ojibwe 2015 was my first time racing in the USA and actually, the first time meeting Travis! I remember the roads being awesome as well. They’re twisty, but they can be driven fast if you commit to the grip of the soft road surface, so I’m looking to improve on my results from last time out and hopefully get higher up on the podium.” – Brandon Semenuk Subaru Motorsports USA

At SOFR Barry originally told us he was going to enter his Fiesta WRC 2.0L car at Ojibwe, but later he changed his entry to run the lesser powered Skoda Fabia R5 again. After a bunch of testing and comparing the two, he says the Skoda became the obvious choice.

“We tested the Skoda side by side with the Fiesta and we seem to be adopting very fast to it and our tests all have proved the Skoda is faster. The Fiesta is great but it’s 10 years old now and I guess the newer chassis of the Skoda allows it to handle better. We rolled on our first run on a second gear corner but was able to get back out after some repairs and complete 50 miles of testing yesterday evening, and the car is feeling great! I think the Ojibwe stages are probably more suited for the R5 then the stages in Ohio where. A lot of medium corners so it will suit the shorter car.”

It was here at Ojibwe last year that McKenna Motorsport driver Ryan Booth put on a heck of a show with a dominant class win in the Fiesta R2 and he’s also coming off of an overall win from Rally Colorado. Obviously his confidence is high and Ojibwe is his first repeat event since stepping up to the R5 machinery, so we asked how he’s been adjusting and his goals are for the event.

“My notes have been changing constantly. Especially with jumping from the R1, R2, and now the R5 all in less than a year, it has been something that I have had to learn and adjust quickly. With the rally’s having to shift from their normal layouts due to COVID-19, they have been running less individual stages with multiple passes. This has actually been a great thing for trying to refine my notes since it gives you a chance to verify your notes, then go for a push on the second or even third pass. The target for Ojibwe is to simply get some more experience in the R5 as well as give Nick, my co-driver, some more seat time since this is only his second rally. No expectations except to learn. This Fiesta R5 is a seriously capable machine and it will take some time to find the limit of it.” – Ryan Booth

Open 2WD is expected to be a big is supposed to be a heated battle as well with Gary Smith in the Fiesta R2, Seamus Burke who’s always brutally quick in the Escort MKII V6, Brad Morris who’s been getting up to speed in his JRD Rallysport Mirage, and Chris Greenhouse who was fastest out of the gate at SOFR until his steering broke. Greenhouse said he’s feeling confident heading into the weekend.

“The stages are in good condition, we expect some dust but not as bad as previous years. After the class win at Raven Rock, we have more confidence, but we know a fight is ahead of us in 2wd. Recce went well, we have confidence in our notes, time to put them to use!” – Chris Greenhouse

And that’s just a couple of examples. With 48 total entries, 25 national and 23 regional, there’s going to be close action throughout the field. Full entry list is here.

Live Streaming

The 2020 running of the Ojibwe Forests Rally might not allow spectators this year, but they’ve got plenty of coverage so you can follow at home. The Ojibwe organizers in cooperation with Cooper Tire has multiple cameras setup offering a live stream on every stage!

How to follow:

  1. Download the ARA App from your Apple app store or Google Play
  2. Follow the live streams at https://ojibweforestsrally.com/live/
  3. Follow the Ojibwe Forests Rally Facebook page
  4. Follow ARA’s Facebook , Instagram, and Twitter
  5. Official hashtags to follow are #ARARally and #Ojibwe2020

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