Piotr Fetela and Dominik Jozwiak open ARA season with win in Atlanta, Michigan

Article originally written for Autoweek website here.

Piotr Fetela and Dominik Jozwiak won a bitterly cold Sno*Drift Rally this past weekend in central Michigan. Subzero temperatures, falling snow and slippy conditions produced what is likely to be one of the most challenging rallies of the year.

Round 1 of the American Rally Association championship, Sno*Drift is an event unlike any other on the calendar. Based in the northern part of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, the rally regularly sees lake effect snow and ice. But owing to local county laws, teams are forced to compete on normal winter tires. The studded tires common at other winter events, like WRC Rally Monte Carlo, are disallowed.

The forced tire choice made Sno*Drift a real test of car control. The lack of grip reduced the advantage of horsepower since high-powered cars couldn’t effectively put that power to the ground on ice. Snowbanks also lined the stage roads and provided an enticing risk-reward proposition to many drivers. At certain speeds and drift angles, a driver could bounce off a snowbank to reach a corner exit speed that was otherwise unattainable. But if the calculation was off, a team could easily stuff the car into a snowbank; getting it stuck and losing valuable time while digging it out.

This year’s Sno*Drift Rally was one of the coldest on record as lows of -25 F stressed the mechanical components of vehicles and the fleshy components of drivers. Engines and transmissions had trouble getting to operating temperatures and showing bare skin for more than a few minutes could have led to frostbite or other health risks.

But rally doesn’t have red flags. So teams drove out into the woods despite the conditions.

Thirty-four rally teams set out to tackle 16 tests over the rally’s two days and 118 stage miles of competition. Friday challenged teams to six stages and 44 competitive miles. The first 3 stages were run in daylight while the latter half was done at night with stylish light pods strapped on the car’s hoods. On Saturday, teams tackled 74 miles of stage road throughout the day. Many of the rally’s standout locations were on the second day’s itinerary, including two runnings of the Super Special, two passes of the lengthy 15.8 mile East Branch Plus stage, and a single drive through the legendary Bonfire Alley.

To say Bonfire Alley is a fan favorite is an absolute understatement. Thousands of the most hardcore racing fans in the country line the 5-mile road from start to finish and build gigantic fire pits to stay warm. When drivers pass by, some throw gasoline on the fires to create huge fireballs that shoot up into the sky. Not even the deep freeze and subzero temperatures deterred these fans. Their party along the stage road started as early as 8 a.m. and some braved the subzero cold for over nine hours while waiting for the 5:30 p.m. start of the stage. These folks deserve a shoutout for that amount of dedication. They’re legends.

Back to the competition, Piotr Fetela and Dominik Jozwiak of the Fetela Rally Team rose above the extreme conditions to take victory at Sno*Drift Rally in their Open 4WD class Proto Fiesta. The car, a Polish-built car with a Ford Fiesta shell mated to a Mitsubishi Evo X driveline, was originally built for rally competition in Europe but was imported to the US two years ago.

The win this past weekend marks the team’s second at Sno*Drift and their first in ARA competition. The pair were running in second place behind Barry McKenna and Leon Jordan for much of the weekend until a transmission issue ended the front-runner’s rally on Stage 8. Fetela and Jozwiak then took on the lead and solidified it through stage wins on each of the day’s remaining eight tests.

On the other steps on the Sno*Drift podium stood two teams driving lower spec Limited 4WD class machines. Second overall were Cameron Steely and Preston Osborn of Colorado-based O.D.D. Racing. While the team has taken class victories at Sno*Drift before, this year marked their first winter event in a Limited4WD car. But you wouldn’t guess it from their smoothness and consistency on the snow and ice.

Third overall and second in Limited 4WD were Travis Nease and Matt James of DirtFish Motorsports in their first rally together. In rally, a trust in communication needs to happen between a driver and a co-driver in order for the pair to extract the best performance from their car. At the top levels, drivers and co-drivers typically work together for years to build that connection. That makes Nease and James earning an overall podium, a first in ARA for both, a big accomplishment.

But it didn’t come easy, with six stages to go, Nease’s car lost front drive and the advantages that come with it. Unable to fix the issue in service, Nease and James finished Sno*Drift as a rear wheel drive car and still placed it on the podium.

Finishing fourth overall for the national classes and topping the Open 2WD class podium were local favorites Sawn MacDonald and Jonathan Cannis in “The Punisher” 1996 Honda Civic. The car is a home-brew naturally aspirated beast with 250 horsepower in a car that was delivered with under half that. The local crew showed their experience driving in the conditions by winning all but three stages in their class.

Rounding out the top five nationally were Naturally Aspirated 4WD class winners Jon Kramer and Jason Smith. The Heavy Metal Motorsports team had a tough Sno*Drift after a big off on Saturday got them stuck in a snowbank and cost the pair 15 minutes. The team pushed hard through the rest of the day to retake the lead and crossed the finish with a two-minute advantage in the class.

The regional classes were won by Autoweek staff member Jimmy Pelizzari and Kate Stevens. The Blind Deer Motorsport team were running in fourth overall position when an off-track excursion saw them get stuck in a snow bank. Despite losing 10 minutes to the off, Pelizzari and Stevens reclaimed fourth overall before the end of the event and took top honors for regional competitors.

The second step on the regional podium was taken by Jacob Bryant and Steven Stewart of Fever Rallysport. The team had some issues keeping their windscreen defogged during Saturday’s cold minus-25-degree morning, but a clever workaround and some ingenuity allowed them to press on and finish fifth overall and second in the regional classes.

Eric Carlson and Camille Carlson stood on the final step on the regional podium at Sno*Drift Rally. The eighth overall placement represents one of their best overall finishes to date.

Next up for ARA is the 100 Acre Wood Rally, March 15-16. Warmer temperatures are promising to bring out all of the big names in US rally and some totally wild cars.

194 – Fetela /  Jozwiak 02:20:04.5 
2824 – Steely / Osborn02:24:01.50:03:57.0
381 – Nease / James02:31:51.90:11:47.4
4887 – Pelizzari / Stevens02:36:33.00:16:28.5
5440 – Bryant / Stewart02:39:28.10:19:23.6
6845 – MacDonald / Cannis02:41:17.90:21:13.4
7777 – Kramer / Smith02:43:54.50:23:50.0
8608 – Carlson / Carlson02:45:02.70:24:58.2
9123 – Engle /  Engle 02:45:32.90:25:28.4
10386 – Morris / Nagy02:45:52.40:25:47.9
1198 – Bardha / Roshea02:53:51.80:33:47.3
12815 – Whitebread / Carr02:56:05.60:36:01.1
13305 – Iglesias / Kassel02:58:46.10:38:41.6
14722 – Olona / Pfeil02:59:13.20:39:08.7
15221 – Usher / Schumacher03:00:13.30:40:08.8
16686 – Locher / Addison03:00:42.20:40:37.7
1785 – Niemi /  Passuello03:05:51.90:45:47.4
18927 – Michel / Michel03:06:06.00:46:01.5
19853 – Skelly / Feistel03:09:44.40:49:39.9
20417 – Hughes / Ray03:10:09.70:50:05.2
21930 – Robinson / Gonzalez03:18:01.30:57:56.8
22256 – Sanders / Mettetal03:21:35.61:01:31.1
23810 – Hayosh / Nouhan03:24:28.01:04:23.5
24174 – Schmidt / Anderson03:27:12.41:07:07.9
2510 – Purzycki / Wernette04:05:55.31:45:50.8
26235 – Rokus / VanAlphen04:37:42.52:17:38.0
2747 – Rooney / Vohs05:05:39.02:45:34.5
2872 – Erickson-Chang / Gelsomino05:18:35.52:58:31.0
DNF747 – Didorosi / Helmetag  
DNF97 – McKenna / Jordan  
DNF248 – Banes / Arpke  
DNF79 – Witt / Miller  
DNF201 – VanDamme / Carlson  
DNF92 – Johansen / Little  
DNF393 – Brock / Marsh  
 *Denotes Rally Restart under Super Rally rules
 National Regional
 94 – Fetela /  Jozwiak  887 – Pelizzari / Stevens
 824 – Steely / Osborn 440 – Bryant / Stewart
 81 – Nease / James 608 – Carlson / Carlson
Limited 4WD   
 824 – Steely / Osborn None entered regionally
 81 – Nease / James None entered regionally
 98 – Bardha / Roshea None entered regionally
Naturally Aspirated 4WD  
 777 – Kramer / Smith 887 – Pelizzari / Stevens
 123 – Engle /  Engle  440 – Bryant / Stewart
 686 – Locher / Addison 221 – Usher / Schumacher
Open 2WD   
 845 – MacDonald / Cannis174 – Schmidt / Anderson
 386 – Morris / Nagy 10 – Purzycki / Wernette
 930 – Robinson / Gonzalez 
Limited 2WD   
 256 – Sanders / Mettetal 305 – Iglesias / Kassel
   722 – Olona / Pfeil
   85 – Niemi /  Passuello
No Comments

Post A Comment