Detroit Lakes, MN (August 25, 2013) -- Ken Block and Alex Gelsomino selected the winning ticket in the seeded draw; they proceeded to select first on the road and never looked back. Blocks victory at the Ojibwe Forests Rally makes it three in a row for his Hoonigan racing team, thus setting up an epic showdown with David Higgins and Subaru USA for all the marbles at LSPR in October.
In the weeks and days leading up to the rally temps were in the high eighties and low nineties, leaving the stages rather dusty for competition. As always in Rally America the top three drivers in overall classification would draw a number from a hat to determine their road position.
Ken Block who has the highest speed factor in the USA got to pick first, and for a change it was Block's lucky day, he got the winning #1 ticket and he promptly selected first on the road. Although the forecast called for a 30% of rain on Friday night and a 40% chance on Saturday, Block was taking no chances with the dust.
Antoine L’Estage who moved to a Subaru for the final two rounds of the 2013 season got ticket #2 and selected the second road position.
There was nothing else left for the defending Rally America Champion David Higgins other than to settle for third on the road. As someone aptly noted before the start, everyone seemed to have an opinion on road selection, so did we.
Yes without question running first on the road in these tough dusty conditions was the best selection, but with any rain or wind, Block would be at a disadvantage to Higgins and L’Estage while sweeping the loose gravel running first.
Unfortunately for everyone starting behind Block the rains never came, Ken Block and co driver Alex Gelsomino quickly vanished into a cloud of dust. Without “officially hearing” – “official confirmation” of fact, we maintain little or no doubt that the appearance of Antoine L’Estage in a "Subaru supported" car was a tactical move on the part of Subaru Rally Team in a bid to secure the Championship for Higgins.
With little or no testing of the car prior the rally, it was a lot to expect from L’Estage to be on attack, nor be on the pace right out of the gate.
Higgins was considerable faster than L’Estage on the first stage, and evidence of Antoine’s “unofficial” role in the team quickly because evident. Antoine would give up his road position in an effort to lessoning the dust impact on Higgins, David moved to second on the road heading into SS2.
At the end of day-one with a total of six stages completed, running off the front in a dust free world of their own, Block and Gelsomino were able to open a gap of over a minute on Higgins and Drew.
Antoine L’Estage clearly off the pace continued to come to grips with the Subaru while holding down third overall.
Back in Two wheel drive the hotly contested battle for the 2013 2WD Championship between Australian, new comer Brendan Reeves in the Fiesta R2 and Canadian [ACP] Andrew Comrie-Picard in the Scion XD, was back on.
Reeves has dominated 2WD since he jumped into the fray at Oregon Trail Rally earlier in the year, he has taken the overall 2WD victory in all of the three events he has entered in the USA to date. With nearly a three minute advantage over ACP at the end of day-one, it was looking like victory number four was in the cards for Brendan and his co-driving sister Rhianon Smyth.
Into day-two, again the overnight rains that every team with the exception of Hoonigan Racing were hoping/praying for, never happened, but the winds had significantly increased from day-one.
Competitors would open on day two with two short spectator specials around a local dirt track; it quickly became apparent that the stiff wind coming off the lakes was making short work of clearing the dust, therefor opening the window for Higgins to close the gap on Block.
Onto the first proper stage of day two, SS9 “Anchor Mattson” with little or no dust in Blocks wake and Ken still on gravel sweeping duties, David Higgins and Craig Drew were on full attack in the Subaru. Over the 9.97 mile stage somehow Block and Higgins would set the exact same time!, resulting in a tie.
As the saying goes, “he [Antoine L’Estage] would have no luck at all if he did not have bad luck”; the 2013 Rally America Championship has gone for the highest of highs to the lowest of lows for Antoine and Nathalie Richard.
Coming into the Ojibwe Forests Rally there was a positive felling in the Rockstar Energy Sponsored team of L'Estage and Richard that their year was ending on a high point with the newly acquired Subaru. But it was short lived, Antoine’s Subaru would refuse to start at the beginning of SS9, electrical gremlins had worked their into the cars system and their rally was over..
Block's good luck took a little left turn on SS9, when he had to bring the Fiesta to a crawl when it would not fit through one of the chicanes on the stage, Block and nine other competitors were giving a 30 second penalty for touching the very tight chicane on SS9. Had the events that unfolded on SS10 not happened , that Chicane infraction could have been a big issue for Block on the closing stages.
To add insult to injury while David was looking under the car at the end of the stage the medical sweep SUV ran over his ankle. David would struggle though SS11 loosing valuable time to Block before receiving some much needed medical attention in service.
David could have opted to throw in the towel at that point, but with the Championship in such a tight battle he had to continue. Heading into the final loop of 4 stages with a 3 minute gap over the injured Higgins, Block would back off his charge and focus on getting the his H.F.H.V. Fiesta to the podium.
David Higgins would win his only outright stage victory of the rally on the last stage ss15, “Anchor 3” with a 6 second victory on Block who was now in cruise mode.
Ken Block had won the 2013 Ojibwe Forests Rally, this event has bitten Block hard in the past, but on this night he climbed to the top step of the podium, and promptly shook the “Ojibwe Monkey” off his back.
“I’m really stoked with how this rally went for us this weekend,” said Block. “Historically, I’ve had some really bad outings here at Ojibwe. This is the first time I’ve actually finished the event, so it feels awesome to not only beat the competition, but to sort of beat the rally itself as well! Plus, with this win, we stay in the hunt for the overall 2013 championship. It all comes down to LSPR now in October and I can’t wait.”
Despite Team Subaru’s best laid plans by “unofficially” pulling L’Estage into their folds, in what was without question an effort to secure the Championship for Higgins at the penultimate round, had all unraveled for SRT/USA due to mechanical problems.
We have seen on several occasions in the past few years where David Higgins has comeback from some seemly impossible odds, and clawed his way back to the podium. Again we witnessed the grit of the Manxman, as he pushed on through the pain over the last loop of stages to join his co driver Craig Drew on the podium in second.
"We knew after the seeded draw and pre-event shakedown that we were in deep trouble this weekend with the dust, especially in the night stages on day one," explained Higgins. "The plan was to try and stay in touch with Ken [Block] and keep the pressure there for day two, hoping he would hit trouble. It started off well enough but then things took a bizarre turn, It was all unbelievable. At least we won the final stage of the rally, which I drove one-handed. It was clear that it was not meant to be though."
Rounding out the overall podium was one Brendan Reeves in his 2WD Team O’Neil Ford Fiesta R2, yes a 2wd car on the overall podium!!.
Yes, this was a tough rally for the top cars behind Block fighting dust, but this is the way it’s been since ever I recall, you draw your straw and you battle on, dust, unexpected snow and ice are all part of the challenge that makes this sport so special and unpredictable.
When conditions are like this past weekend, drivers running outside of the seeded draw don’t get the chance to run dust free, therefore making the achievement of Brendan Reeve and Rhianon Smyth all the more remarkable. Reeves, who originally started 8th on the road, finished in front of the entire AWD SP class, and numerous open class cars.
After celebrating on the overall podium, Brendan and Rhianon moved to their familiar place on top of the 2WD podium. “We came here to win, we don’t want to settle for second best,” said Reeves, “Rhianon has been great on the pace notes and the car has performed admirably”
They were joined in second by Chris Greenhouse and Peter Watt in the Dodge Neon, ACP and Jeremy Wimpey managed to claw back from a roll in the Scion on day two to grab the last spot on the podium, which helped preserve their overall point position in 2WD.
With Chris Greenhouse finishing 2nd on the podium ahead of ACP he has now opened the door for Brendan Reeves to win the 2wd Drivers Championship and also the 2WD Manufactures Title, if he can keep the streak alive at LSPR in October that is.
In the Super Production (SP) Class, local Minnesota resident Nick Roberts took his first ever class win in his rookie season while using a new co-driver, Steve Quin. Roberts is a candidate for Rally America’s Rookie of the Year and this class win strengthens his bid.
“It’s pretty cool and surreal to win Super Production,” added Robert, “I went into the rally only expecting to battle for third place. But the team kept me going and I just hung in there. I keep pinching myself.”
Longtime 2WD driver Dillon Van Way with co-driver Andrew Edwards switched to the SP Class at Ojibwe for the first time and finished only 19.7 seconds behind Roberts. Rally America’s youngest driver, Mason Moyle with co-driver Ryan Scott, took SP third place for his fourth podium finish this season, and keeps his second place position in the SP standings.
The stage is not set for an all out battle in all classes at The Lake Superior Performance Rally - the seventh and final round of the Rally America National Championship- takes place on October 18-19th in Houghton, Michigan.
In the Manufacturers' Championship Ken Block's overall victory helped Ford close the gap to Subaru who leads the standings. After Ojibwe Subaru leads with 112 points and Ford has 94 points. Each manufacturer must drop one event.
Before LSPR Ken Block has the final rounds of the 2013 GRC to deal with, and hopefully he can carry some momentum from Ojibwe with him..
Stay tuned, we will always bring you “the unsweetened, no salt, version of events”… Pass the Fries!
Photo: Hoonigan racing: