Three Championships Open as ARA Begins Final Event of the Season at Ojibwe

Article originally written for American Rally Association here.

Walker, Minnesota (August 25, 2017)

Five events down and three championships yet to be decided, the Muscatell Ojibwe Forests Rally will be hotly contested in all classes.

One of the longest rallies in North America at 154 stage miles, Ojibwe is known for its smooth, quick and flowing stage roads. But there are a few surprises this year, weather leading up to the event has dampened the event’s traditional dust, but it’s also left many of the rally’s tighter corners rutted and difficult to navigate. Also tough to surmount will be several miles of tight, rocky, and muddy ATV paths incorporated into the stages.

“Really looking forward to the rally,” said championship leader David Higgins, “ I love these stages, love the roads, so I’m feeling pretty relaxed. What will be will be with the championship, but whatever happens nobody can win more events than we’ve won this year and nobody can win more stages than we’ve won this year. We’re going to finish with at least an equal amount of wins, even with a bad result. Feeling good, but I want to go out there and put a pretty poor July to bed and hoping for a good August!”

Friday features the Red Bull jump, one of Ojibwe’s signature locations. The jump is a fan favorite, over the crossroads separating a straight section of stage road from a twisting one. Bravery and skill are needed here. Friday also sees competitors take on the infamous ATV trail sections which are exceedingly narrow, barely a car’s width, and full of large embedded stones. These road bits of road account for only a few stage miles, but will undoubtedly cause several punctures for those pushing too hard.

In Open class and Overall, the championship battle between Subaru Rally Team USA teammates David Higgins and Travis Pastrana is going down to the wire. Last time out, Pastrana won in one of the most dramatic finishes in recent memory. Both Subaru machines went wide on NEFR’s penultimate stage and made contact with a large boulder on the side of the road. Higgins’ rear suspension collapsed and forced him to finish the stage and transit 25 miles on only 3 wheels.

The win in New England kept Pastrana’s championship hopes alive, forcing the title fight to the final round at Ojibwe. Both drivers have a very real chance of earning the inaugural ARA Championship, but Higgins has the advantage with three wins to Travis Pastrana’s two. This means the #199 team needs to finish first to force a tie. If that happens, the champion will be determined by stage finish positions over the entire season. Heading into the final rally weekend, Higgins has the advantage, but only by two points. The ARA Championship could very well be decided on the final stage on the final day in Detroit Lakes, MN.

“I don’t like thinking a lot,” said Pastrana, “this rally is really simple. We just have to go out and win more stages and win the race!”

The fight in Restricted Open 4WD is the closest it’s been this season. Just three points separate championship leader Travis Nease from a hard charging Jeff Seehorn. Both teams have already declared their drop events, Nease skipped STPR while Seehorn sat out Perce-Neige. That means Ojibwe will be a straight fight to the finish and both drivers have a strong chance of winning.

“Between Travis [Nease] and I, the old adage of the tortoise and the hare is often mentioned,” said Seehorn, “It’s time for the hare to make a comeback and get his win! You hear that Travis Nease? We’re comin’ for you!”

At New England, Nease suffered an uncharacteristic issue, losing a brake caliper to dirt and rock intrusion in the wheel well. Driving most of NEFR with only front brakes, the Dirtfish instructor kept his championship lead, but just barely.

“Wow, with a 3 point lead we have to either win this or crash the car trying!”, said Nease, “There’s really no good reason to not take a risk. Jeff is pretty quick, but we are going to try our very, very, best to catch Jeff if we can.”

Production 4WD sees RKT Motorsports’ Dennis Romero leading Minnesota-based CPD Racing USA’s Lauchlin O’Sullivan by three points in the championship standings. Last month, at NEFR, Romero took the championship lead after O’Sullivan suffered a rally-ending crash and roll in a high speed corner.

Also in the mix for a rally win is Sumit Panjabi. After a tough STPR, Panjabi bounced back and showed a strong performance at NEFR. He could very well be in the podium fight.

Rounding out Production 4WD is long time Canadian competitor, Nick Spencer in a newly built WRX. Spencer is running Ojibwe as a shakedown ahead of Rallye Defi next month having just finished the build last weekend.

The 2WD championship is the only championship already decided ahead of Ojibwe. Toyota Racing’s Ryan Millen and co-driver Rhianon Gelsomino locked up their title at last month’s NEFR. That doesn’t mean there isn’t an achievement left to earn as Millen and Gelsomino are one win away from a rare perfect season, having won the previous five ARA events. Can they make it six for six and solidify their place in the North American rally history books?

Follow Ojibwe Forests Rally all weekend long on your phone, tablet, or desktop with the ARARally App. Download the App here and keep track of all your favorite drivers.

We will also have a series of live streams and video recordings from stage posted throughout the day. The schedule for those broadcasts is as follows:

Friday August 25, 2017
11:00 – Press Conference
13:25 – Stage 2 Live
15:00 – Service 1 Live
19:00 – Stage 6, Crossroads Jump
20:00 – Paul Bunyan’s Ride Regional Podium

Saturday August 26, 2017
9:30 – Paddock Walk Live
12:25 – Service 1 Live
16:00 – Stage 11, on the lake
16:30 – Service 2 Live
19:20 – Detroit Lakes Super Special Live
20:30 – National Podium and 10,000 Lakes Regional Podium Live

More information on spectating and on the VIP bus at Ojibwe can be found in the Ojibwe Forests Rally Spectator Guide.

The Organization, About American Rally Association (ARA)

We are a member driven organization dedicated to the sport of stage rally by providing a transparent and inclusive sanctioning body. A 501 (c)(3) non-profit, ARA is lead by elected and appointed board members who deliver a framework for safety, competition, promotion, and educational forums for all aspects of the sport. The common goal of our members volunteers, and organization is a thriving stage rally program in America.

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