28 Jan Sno*Drift Rally Recap
Article originally written for American Rally Association website here.
Atlanta, Michigan (January 28, 2019)
Piotr Fetela and Dominik Jozwiak won a bitterly cold Sno*Drift Rally this past weekend. The finish represents the pair’s second winter victory on Michigan’s lower peninsula and their first in American Rally Association (ARA) competition.
The 2019 ARA National Rally Championship Presented by AMSOIL kicked off this weekend from Atlanta, Michigan with Sno*Drift Rally. Round 1 of the championship is historically known for it’s challenging conditions and 2019 lived up to that reputation while setting a new bar for cold weather conditions.
A low of -25F this weekend is one of the coldest Sno*Drift rallies on record. The sub-zero temperatures and overnight snowfall combined to create extremely slick stage roads where a fresh coat of snow concealed a thick base of ice. Unlike at other large winter rallies, Sno*Drift disallows the use of studded tires, a decision that raised the challenge of the event even higher. Fortunately for drivers, the recently plowed Sno*Drift stages were also lined with snow banks. A soft cushion to bounce off or to get stuck on.
This weekend saw 34 competitors tackle 118 miles of stages split into 16 tests and each day provided unique challenges. Friday’s 6 stages and 44 miles of competition saw teams bolt on the light pods and race into the evening; the dark conditions limiting visibility and confidence. On Saturday, teams tackled 74 miles of stage road throughout the day. Many of the rally’s standout locations were on Day 2’s itinerary, including two runnings of the Super Special, the 15.8 mile East Branch Plus stage, and a single pass through the highly-regarded Bonfire Alley.
Piotr Fetela and Dominik Jozwiak rose above the extreme conditions to take victory at Sno*Drift Rally this weekend. The win marks their second at Sno*Drift and their first in ARA competition. The pair were running in second place behind Barry McKenna and Leon Jordan until a transmission issue ended the front-runner’s rally on Stage 8. Fetela and Jozwiak took on the lead and solidified it with stage wins on each of the day’s remaining 8 tests.
Second on the podium were Cameron Steely and Preston Osborn of O.D.D. Racing. Sno*Drift was the team’s first winter event in a Limited4WD (L4) car, but you wouldn’t guess that from their smoothness and consistency on the snow and ice. The pair secured a podium spot early Saturday morning and brought it home 4 minutes behind Fetela and 8 minutes ahead of third.
Third overall and second in the L4 class were Travis Nease and Matt James in their first rally together. The strong finish marks the first overall ARA podium for both Nease and James. The DirtFish drivers drove a mostly steady rally, but ran into driveline issues late in the event. With 6 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.
Fourth overall and first in the Open 2WD (O2) class were local favorites Shawn MacDonald and Jonathan Cannis in “The Punisher” 1996 Honda Civic. The pair showed their experience driving in the conditions right out of the gate to win all but one of Friday’s stages in class. On Saturday, the team continued to push, winning 8 of the day’s 10 stages.
Fifth overall and winners of the Naturally Aspirated 4WD (NA4) class, Jon Kramer and Jason Smith of Heavy Metal Motorsports had a strong recovery to a tough situation at Sno*Drift Rally. After a quick start to the event on Friday, the team ran into trouble near the end of Saturday’s first stage loop. An off and a car stuck in the snow cost the team 15 minutes, dropping them to second in class behind the father/daughter team of Mike and Lauren Engle. Kramer and Smith pushed hard into the afternoon, ultimately taking back the class lead and finishing the rally with a 2 minute advantage. The Engle car finished sixth overall and second in the NA4 class.
Seventh overall and second in the O2 class, Brad Morris and Doug Nagy fought a battle for overall position with Mike and Lauren Engle. The Engle car took an early 10 second lead on Friday afternoon, but lost over 4 minutes to Morris and Nagy during Day 1’s night stages. The Engle and Engle fought back hard on Saturday’s stages to make up the deficit and take the position back by Stage 15, ultimately securing sixth overall by 20 seconds.
Eighth overall and third in L4 were Ele Bardha and Corrina Roshea in their first-ever rally. Both are Detroit-based movie and television stunt drivers who have been attending Sno*Drift Rally as spectators for over a decade. The pair took the plunge into driving after buying an N4-spec Prodrive Subaru STI formerly raced by David Higgins in British competition during the mid-late 90s. The crowd-favorite car wasn’t afraid to pitch it sideways or get dirty. Bardha and Roshea even towed out several competitors who were stranded in snow banks.
Zach Whitebread and Cameron Carr finished ninth overall after battling mechanical problems throughout the weekend. The pair suffered driveline issues early on Friday that made the car unstable and spun in many corners. Despite the troubles, the former Sno*Drift winners brought the car home. Rounding out the top 10 and finishing third in NA4 were Jordan Locher and Thomas Addison.
The National Rally Championship Presented by AMSOIL reconvenes in 6 weeks time on March 15-16 for Round 2, the 100 Acre Wood Rally, we hope to see you there for, hopefully, warmer weather.
But the winter ARA rally action isn’t over just yet. The regional event Missouri Ozark Rally takes place this Saturday, February 2nd, in Eminence, Missouri. A primer event for 100 Acre, MOR will be a perfect spot for its 11 registered teams to shakedown and play in the snow ahead of the next championship round. More details on that event later in the week.
Photo Credit: Tedrick Mealy