Rally America Round 7: Ojibwe Forest Rally
Last weekend the Rally America circus rolled into Detroit Lakes, MN for the Ojibwe Forest Rally, the seventh of an eight-event National Championship. Over the course of Friday and Saturday some of the series' top competitors would race through more than 130 miles of fast dirt and gravel roads, encompassing a total of fifteen individual stages. The fast and smooth roads of northern Minnesota proved to be quite dry and loose, with lingering dust clouds creating minor visibility issues for all but those at the front of the pack. Dense forests and countless kettle lakes threaten to crush the aspirations of any driver overzealous enough to tempt fate.
After last month’s New England Forest Rally, Subaru Rally Team USA’s David Higgins had gathered enough points to win the season championship, and was on track for a season of perfect first place finishes. This impressive achievement has not been accomplished by anyone since John Buffum in 1987 with an Audi Quattro. Buffum currently keeps the Subaru Rally Team organized and on schedule as the team manager. Subaru packed their roster with guest drivers Travis Pastrana and Canadian rally champion Antoine L’Estage, ensuring that Higgins would need to push hard to continue his streak for a perfect season.
Day one would open to parc exposé in downtown Detroit Lakes, where the throngs of spectators, drivers, and crew members would gather before transiting to the first stage near Akeley. Right off the bat, driver’s would be tempted by one of the biggest jumps on the rally directly in front of a group of excited spectators. Not wanting to wreck on the very first stage of the weekend, most teams chose a conservative altitude to cruise past the crowds. Contenders for the Super Production Championship, Scott Putnam and Lauchlin O’Sullivan were eager to showcase their newly liveried Lucas Oil Subaru STi and easily took top flight of the day.
Almost immediately there were some big upsets in the fight for first in the Open class. Stage two would serve up punctures for both the first and second place drivers of David Higgins and Antoine L’Estage, with L’Estage’s ’14 Impeza STi also suffering some suspension damage. As a result, the ’15 Impreza STi of Higgins would be fifty seconds off the pace set by teammate Pastrana after stage three, while L’Estage would be slowed to the bottom of the standings. Issues continued to plague L’Estage as the day progressed that would cause him to retire with a DNF after stage five.
FY Racing’s Adam Yeoman was fast and clean for all of Friday, holding firm to third place overall. Unfortunately, after stage six they came to discover that the fuel cell in their Open class ’07 Impreza STi was leaking significantly, and without a replacement on hand they were forced to retire. FY’s Brenten Kelly faced a plague of minor issues with his own Open class ’07 Impreza STi over the first three stages, none of which sidelined the car but definitely slowed him down and made it difficult to build a confident pace. Over the final stages of the day he became progressively sick, which slowed his pace considerably, and he reluctantly decided to retire in order to focus on his health. Both Yeoman and Kelly will be rejoining the competition at next month’s Lake Superior Performance Rally in Houghton, MI.