Sunday, February 17, 2013

Rally 100AW 2013 - “It’s Not the Size of the Dog in the Fight, It’s the Size of the Fight in the Dog”

Salem, Missouri.  Taking a quote from one of Missouri’s most famous pen men, Mark Twain, “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog,” I feel that the battle that is about to unfold at Round 2 of the 2013 Rally America Championship will come down to who is willing fight to the bitter end, regardless of the size of the team behind them.

All three of the contenders in this battle are more than capable of taking it to each other. David Higgins comes in with the backing of years of experience from Vermont Sports Car and the development they have poured into his Subaru STI and that willingness to change any part on the car, twice, if needed.

Ken Block brings a newly found pace from his WRC experience and a car of WRC caliber; which is not always a blessing with its mechanical differential, I might add [high speed spins]. Antoine L’Estage comes in with the most seat time and that always mysteriously prepared Libra Racing Mitsubishi.

I can’t say for sure if defending Rally America Champion David Higgins has compiled a bucket list, but if he has I would bet there is a box he would like to check off, “beating Ken Block and Antoine L’Estage at Rally in the 100 Acre Wood!”

Although Higgins and co-driver Craig Drew are currently sitting second in the championship, since his return to U.S. Rally, Higgins has been frustrated twice in Missouri. David lost out to Antoine L’Estage in 2011 and again to Ken Block in 2012. But this could very well be Higgins’ year. Should the weather conditions hold as currently forecasted, it is looking like the dust that slowed Higgins charge on Block last year will not be a factor. To ensure the best chance of victory, Higgins and his Team Subaru STI must  throw the caution notes out the window and open big right out of the gate, ultimately  they must be leading going into day two.

Of course, there will be the possibility of sweeping some loose gravel on the stages when running first on the road, but this is only an issue over the first 2-3 stages.

Although we are expecting rain on the Thursday before the rally, both competitive days of the rally as shown as dry at the time of this post.  Water does drain off fast in the Ozark Plateau so, although I don’t expect major dust, we could see some lingering dust going into the closing night stages, it will be a big advantage to be out front at that point. With my expectations of a big push from David Higgins, I will give him a very slight margin to take the overall victory at 100AW next weekend, but as mentioned it will require that the Manx Man not hold back and go all out; not unlike the pace we saw at STPR last year as he clawed his way back to the podium.

Mr. Block has been ruler of all things rally in Missouri.  Although I truly believe that Ken and his long standing co-driver Alex Gelsomino are more than capable of making it # 7 in Salem next Saturday night, they are not unbeatable. Ken’s biggest challenge at 100AW may very well come from himself. Although it is great to win every stage, it is not required for victory, so Block would be well advised to manage his pace.

This is the fastest rally on the Rally America calendar and can, for the most part, be very forgiving should a driver get in the wrong side of the crowned stages.  But it can also take you out in a heartbeat. Every other year the organizers will swap the stage configuration around a little to keep drivers from becoming complacent.  I have to say that the 2013, layout is my least favorite configuration. As Travis Pastrana can also attest to, heading into the  opening stage” Floyd Tower” with the bit between your teeth can prove disastrous.  This is a very deceptive stage with some nasty off camber turns. Pastrana barely made it a mile into this test in 2011, before wrecking hard.

Although nothing can be taken away from Block’s victories at 100AW, he will be the first to tell you they came with a lot of luck. After battling with Ken for victory at 100AW for many years, Pastrana would come closest to unseating Block in 2010; Pastrana was well ahead at the mid-point on day two only to be sidelined by a simple off.

Ken got away with a few big spins in 2012, and also recovered from a puncture to claim victory number 6. With the increased pressure I am expecting from Higgins in the Subaru, I feel it is vital for Ken and Alex to have a super clean run in their Hoonigan Racing Ford Fiesta to keep the streak alive.
Antoine “The Fox” L’Estage comes in with the smallest of the teams going for the outright victory.  L’Estage and co-driver Nathalie Richard are coming into round two as the point’s leaders after their victory at Sno*Drift last month.
Although I do expect to see Antoine setting some fast stage times on the opening day, I can’t see him pushing the same all-out  pace I expect from Higgins and Block. We should expect a more cunning approach from the sly Canadian in his Rockstar Energy charged Mitsubishi.

Antoine will keep both Higgins and Block within reach and should the opportunity arise expect him to mount an attack late on day two. The final stages of this rally are run in the dark and, ironically, they are stages that suit L’Estage and Richard very well. I swear I have seen his eyes turn green at night!

Rounding out our top five predictions for 100AW, we expect to see an interesting battle between another vetern rally dog and an up and coming pup!

Both Lauchlin O'Sullivan and Joseph Burke are coming to 100AW with cars that have just undergone a total rebuild. Laughlin will be back defending his 2012 SP title in a Subaru, while Burke will be making his first return to the Rally America Championship in over a year in a Mitsubishi. Neither should be expected to challenge for the overall victory unless there is some major retirements, but taking into consideration that one of the top three could very well DNF, an overall podium finish for either is not out of the question. Barring no mechanical issues, I would give the edge to Burke, as his flat out style in not unlike that of Block’s and these stages reward pace.

Coming off an overall podium finish at Sno*Drift, Andrew Comrie-Picard (ACP) will have the big push on at 100AW to add to his 2WD championship points tally over the Ford Fiesta brigade.  After running his Scion Racing XD naturally aspirated at Sno*Drift , ACP’s  mechanics have now bolted the turbo back on the XD for more grunt on the long fast stages of 100AW.

With the absence of Chris Duplessis in the 2013 2WD championship, Ford will be hoping that Dillon Van Way and his new co-driver Andrew Edwards will make for a winning combination. Van Way will also be running a turbo charged Fiesta. This could very well be Dillon’s moment to shine, but it will require a little more push on his part to better the experience of ACP.

 Ford Racing/Team O’Neil driver “Fast Eddie” McNelly is also expected to be in the 2WD hunt at 100AW. McNelly got up close and personal with a tree in 2012, while battling ACP.  Although I don’t expect the pace of days gone by, Tim O’Neil makes a welcome return to stage rally this week. Tim will take to the wheel of one of his fleet of R2 Fiestas.  He will be joined by SP championship co-driver Terry Hanson. Maybe, just maybe, we will see some of the magic that Tim dished out in his VW Golf back in the day.

100 Acre Wood Rally 2013 Stage 1 Start Order

PositionCar #Driver / CoDriverClassVehicleSpeed Factor
143Ken Block / Alessandro GelsominoO2012 Ford Fiesta H.F.H.V107.22
275David Higgins / Craig DrewO2013 Subaru WRX STI101.49
317Antoine L'Estage / Nathalie RichardO2011 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X100.51
490Lauchlin O'Sullivan / Scott PutnamSP2008 Subaru WRX-STI87.58
5115Joseph Burke / Alexander KihuraniOverall84.16
6425Adam Yeoman / Jordan SchulzeO2007 Subaru WRX STI81.81
714David Sterckx / Karen JankowskiSP2011 Subaru STI74.95
877Viorel Dobasu / Karl AtkinsonO2011 Mitsubishi Evolution X73.11
920Andrew Comrie-Picard / Jeremy WimpeyG52012 Scion xD72.18
10669Evan Cline / Jake BlattnerSP2005 Subaru Impreza WRX STi72.07
11339Chris O'Driscoll / Lori O'DriscollSP2007 Subaru WRX70.41
1294Peter Fetela / Ray VambutsO1998 Subaru Impreza STi70.28
13550Justin Pritchard / Ryan ScottL2001 Subaru Impreza68.68
14377Mason Moyle / John HallSP2011 Subaru Impreza WRX STI68.06
15600Dillon Van Way / Andrew EdwardsG52011 Ford Fiesta67.44
16198Arkadiusz Gruszka / Lukasz WronskiO2006 Mitsubishi EVO IX65.62
17313Edward McNelly / Ole HolterG22011 Ford Fiesta R265.58
18319Chris Greenhouse / Christopher GordonG52003 Dodge Neon SRT464.66
1999Garry Gill / Paddy RobinsonSP2007 Subaru Impreza64.53
2044Henry Krolikowski / Cynthia KrolikowskiO2000 Subaru Impreza62.49
2130George Plsek / SP2003 Mitsubishi Evo57.85
22718Dustin Kasten / Corina SotoO1995 Subaru Impreza57.55
23700Rob Weir / Daniel NorkusO1996 Subaru Impreza57.21
24660Charles Surdyke / Kim DeMotteL1993 Subaru Impreza53.23
25888Jari Hamalainen / Tero MakiG21996 BMW 318iS51.69
2637Billy Mann / Mary WarrenG21996 Honda Civic51.41
27548Matt Bushore / Andrew BushoreG21985 Volkswagen Jetta49.5
28824Cameron Steely / Billy IrvinG22002 Ford Focus44.63
29542Matthew Conte / Ron EricksonL1994 Subaru Legacy 43.73
30911Ron Malott / Paul MalottG22001 VW Jetta VR643.09
3111Matt Brandenburg / Brian HuntsbargerG21994 BMW e3643.08
32244Ian Topping / Jeff SecorG21980 Volvo 24241.5
33298Christy Carlson / Krista SkucasO2002 Subaru WRX40.33
34902James Robinson / Jordan GuitarP2009 Honda Fit39.33
35636Samir Kaltak / Rachelle KaltakL1997 Subaru Impreza38.41
36335Verena Mei / Leanne JunnilaG22011 Ford Fiesta37.6
37696Bryan Holder / Tracy PayeurG21996 Plymouth Neon36.16
38353Rory Gardiner / Steven HarrellL2005 Subaru Impreza 2.5RS31.31
39661Kevin Young / James DallmanL1993 subaru impreza30.7
40165Ryan Wilcox / Rebecca RustonO1996 Subaru OBSTi29.7
4148Michael Bond / Jack PenleyO2006 Subaru Impreza STI27.46
42363James Haas / Misha AvrushenkoG21992 Mazda MX-326.72
43602Brian Schwantner / David SchwantnerG21996 Volkswagen Golf 20.48
44553Anthony Wood / Sam WoodG51983 Chevy Citation20.44
45237Micah Nickelson / Tyler PtacekG21987 Volkswagon Golf GTI19.17
4625Aaron Hargis / G21992 Nissan Sentra SE-R15.24
47605Jeff Keller / Jason McDanielG21963 Saab 96
48573Neil Salmons / Brian PenzaP2008 Honda Civic Si
49202Nick Roberts / Nick JudkinsSP2012 Subaru Impreza WRX STI
50789Zach Williams / Kyle WilliamsG21992 Ford Festiva
51737Damian Van Dillen / Matthew MolitorL1990 Subaru Legacy
5239Futoshi Murase / Kieran WrightG22001 Ford Focus ZX3
53773Markus Saarinen / Alicia SaarinenG22003 Mini Cooper
54575Christopher Martise / Dylan StevensL1996 Subaru Impreza
55213Stephen Sherry / Makisa SherryG22002 Ford Focus SVT
56107Edward Stiefvater / Keith HummelP2013 Ford Fiesta
57100William Lauze / Maggie StiefvaterG22011 Ford Fiesta
5863Scott Harvey / Brian ArpkeG22002 Mitsubishi Lancer
59David Jefferies / Overall
60175Brent Hercelinsky / Juan OrozcoG22012 Ford Fiesta R2
6119Timothy Penasack / Marc GoldfarbSP2007 Subaru Impreza WRX STi
62701Richard Miller / Juanita MillerG51995 Ford Mustang GT
63154Travis Clark / Kendal ClarkL1985 Audi Quattro
64864Erik Hill / Chris Van Den ElzenG22001 Ford Focus
65375Panos Karpidas / G22012 Ford Fiesta
6629Tim O'Neil / Terry HansonG22012 Ford Fiesta R2

Stay tuned for regular updates with the very best of images throughout the weekend.
Photos and Words by Neil McDaid