24 Jan Sno*Drift Rally Kicks Off the Most Anticipated US Rally Season Yet
Article originally written for American Rally Association website here.
Atlanta, Michigan (January 24, 2019)
The 2019 American Rally Association National Rally Championship Presented by AMSOIL starts this Friday with Sno*Drift Rally, a 118 mile race in the northern reaches of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. The traditional start of the US rally season, Sno*Drift pits the best rally drivers in the country against some of the year’s harshest conditions – snow, ice, below zero temperatures, and nighttime’s darkness. All without the aid of studded tires.
Regarded as one of the more challenging rallies of the year, Sno*Drift Rally is a fan favorite. The conditions frequently change from lake effect snow to packed snow, wet snow, dusted ice, and sheet ice. While the weather makes for a tough challenge on its own, the rally ups the ante thanks to tire regulations. Unlike at winter rallies north of the border, studded tires are disallowed in Michigan; limiting the maximum grip available to competitors. A unique approach to driving is necessary for success at Sno*Drift.
Driving at Sno*Drift is about car control; the slick surface reduces the advantage of power and punishes those who lapse in concentration. Adapting to the conditions and controlling wheel spin makes all the difference, and upset victories are common. A fast driver in a slow car can beat a higher seeded team on the snow-packed roads.
For the fans, Sno*Drift offers terrific spectating opportunities at multiple points along its 120+ stage mile route. The Super Special stage is a favorite spot that attracts one of the largest stage-side crowds of the season. Run in a gravel pit, fans on the rim get a bird’s eye view of the rally action and never miss a corner. The crowd packs in early for the signature stage of Sno*Drift, Bonfire Alley. Campfires and bonfires line the 5 mile stage, built by spectators who light up the night and make an experience unmatched by any other event in North America.
Thirty-four cars will compete at the thirty-fourth Sno*Drift Rally and tackle the winter weather in one of five different classes:
- Open 4WD (O4) – Factory teams and high-profile privateers build cars from the ground up or import World Rally Championship caliber machines to the US.
- Limited 4WD (L4) – Independent teams buy showroom stock cars and modify them for high-level rallying.
- Naturally Aspirated 4WD (NA4) – A class for weekend rallyists driving cars without turbos or superchargers.
- Open 2WD (O2) – Another class for factory teams and high-profile privateers, but for cars with two driven wheels instead of four.
- Limited 2WD (L2) – A class for weekend two-wheel drive rallyists.
The top battle in the O4 class will be a first-time meet up between talented drivers, as Barry McKenna and co-driver Leon Jordan will face off against 2016 Sno*Drift winners Piotr Fetela and Dominik Jozwiak. Both have Fiesta-bodied cars, but they’re built with two different philosophies in mind. McKenna will be driving a brand new Fiesta R5, a WRC-spec machine built by rally powerhouse M-Sport, while Fetela will compete in a Proto Fiesta. The Polish-built machine was designed for the European Rally Championship using an upgraded Mitsubishi Evo X driveline married to a Fiesta shell.
Moving down the order, the L4 class is shaping up to be a four-way fight between former champions and past Sno*Drift winners. Tim Rooney and Anthony Vohs won Sno*Drift in this class last season, while Zach Whitebread and Cameron Carr pulled off the same feat in 2017.
2017 ARA championship runner-up Travis Nease and Matt James both have experience at Canadian winter events, but have never been to Sno*Drift before. And while they aren’t driving their new Focus RS just yet, Cameron Steely and Preston Osborn will be out with their venerable Subaru STI. They won the 2WD class at Sno*Drift in 2016, but this will be their first time here in a 4WD car. Also listed on the Sno*Drift L4 entry list is a Prodrive Subaru WRX STI to be driven by Ele Bardha and Corrina Roshea.
In the NA4 class, well-known competitors Amanda Skelly and Amy Feistel will celebrate a homecoming this weekend. Skelly is a Michigan native, but hasn’t competed in the midwest in several years. They’ll be battling against Leo Hughes and Glen Ray, who rally to benefit the Phoenix Project, a veterans organization.
Honda Racing HPD will bring a fan-favorite car back to competition, as Colin Robinson and Ricardo Gonzalez will pilot the team’s K20-swapped Honda CRZ. This will be the first rally for the drivers and car since an engine failure at an event last August ended their 2018 season early. Challenging the factory team will be Keanna Erickson-Chang and Alex Gelsomino in a Ford Fiesta R2, another WRC-spec car.
If you’re looking for live updates, Sno*Drift will be heavily covered on the official ARA Rally App and its social media channels, and most competitors post frequent updates online. But the best way to see rally is in person, so if you’re in Detroit, take the three-hour drive north and watch along. There’s a free spectator guide that gives you the full event viewing schedule and directions on how to get around.
To download the spectator guide, click here.
Photo Credit: Alex Wong