Southern Ohio Forest Rally Wrap Up
By Steve Gingras
The newest event in the Rally America Championship promised very challenging roads and great competition. The Southern Ohio Forest Rally did not disappoint. The extremely twisty roads and high temperatures tested both the teams and race vehicles. How difficult and challenging was this race to finish? Only 56% of the teams that started the event made it to the finish. That being said every team I spoke to loved the event and promised to be back next year. Driver Steve LaRoza commented “As of today I have my new favorite rally.” The competition did not disappoint either, with 6 different teams claiming stage victories including a 2wd car winning 3 stages and three different overall leaders.
The inaugural Southern Ohio Forest Rally kicked off with a festival like atmosphere on Friday afternoon under a blindingly blue sky and temperatures in the high 80s. Excitement was high as the cars left park expose for the first of 25 stages.
Rooney/Holter won the first stage to take the early lead. Donoghue/Browne won the next 3 stages to build a 22 second lead over the championship Leaders of Gruszka/Wronski in their Mitsubishi Mirage. On stage 5 Donoghue gave up 3 minutes due to a fuel system problem. The Mitsubishis of Donoghue and Gruszka continued to slug it out like heavy weight prize fighters with Donoghue cutting the lead to 2 minutes by the end of the first night. Rooney/Holter were sitting in 2nd only 57 seconds out of first with Burke/Brady in 3rd overall with their 2wd Escort only 30 seconds back.
Would Gruszka stand on the podium or could Donoghue overcome their earlier problem? Donoghue won 2 of the first 5 stages on the final day to and moved up to 3rd overall. Sadly, the Evo’s motor would give up the chase on Stage 21. Gruszka/Wronski won their 3rd race in row with Rooney in a well-deserved 2nd overall. The surprises continued with a 2wd car on the Overall Podium for the first time in about 20 years, but it’s not the 2wd car everyone was thinking of. Wallingford/Crescenti stayed on the road and earned 3rd overall honors.
Andress/Moser would be the first casualty of the high heat and very twisty roads as they retired with from the event after 3 stages with the co-driver exhibiting signs of heat stroke. He would not be the last. From the word go Kaltak/Vohs were on a mission to put the rest of the NOL field in their dust. At the end of the first day they had built a lead of 4 minutes over LaRozas mostly due to a 2 minute off on Stage 7.
Reid Andress came back on Saturday and had drafted Jared Lantzy to take over the co-driving duties. Though they were a DNF for the overall national event, they could still earn valuable championship points plus they were able to run some of the best rally roads in the country. They promptly took charge and won stage 16. Andress, LaRoza and Kaltak all continued to swap stage wins for the rest of the day. Andress/Lantzy even won the coveted Super Special stage in front of 4000 screaming fans.
Kaltak/Vohs would not be denied and finished 5th overall and 1st in NOL. The father daughter team of Steve and Allison LaRoza came home 2nd with Balzer/Arpke earning a fine 3rd in class.
Rooney/Holter won the 1st stage and Usher/Langosch took the 2nd stage to move into first. Rooney came storming back to take over the lead with a string of stage wins. It was not easy as he was being pushed hard by several Open Lights including Kimmett/Moore, Whitebread/Weiss and Surdyke/Vickman. After a hard fought day Rooney/Holter held on to a 42 second lead over Kimmet with Kramer only 30 beyond for 3rd.
Saturday continued to be a battle with top OL/SP teams trading stage wins. The biggest challenge coming from Surdyke. They won stage 11 overall and 5 of the day’s 10 stages in class to move up to 2nd only to drop out on stage 24. In the end Rooney/Holter won the class and finished 2nd overall with one of his best drives since he started rallying again. Usher/Langosch came home 2nd three minutes back and Johansen/Little overcame early problems to finish 3rd in their big blue Audi.
With the roads being very twisty no one expected the 2wd cars to be very competitive compared to the awesome AWD cars. If you thought that way you would be wrong. Not only did a 2wd team win a national stage for the first time in forever, but they also did it 3 times and a 2wd car was even on the overall podium. Thirty-nine of the 63 cars that started the event were 2wd making it the biggest attended class. The competition was great too with 5 different teams claiming stage wins and 8 different lead changes.
Steely/Osborn would win the opening stage in their Ford Fiesta with Wallingford/Crescenti right on his heels to take over the lead on stage 3. Robinson/Penza in their new Honda Civic with a stock motor and suspension won Stages 3,4 and 6 to take the class lead. It was short lived as Wallingford and Steely continued to trade stage wins and the lead. That was until Burke/Brady decided to take over the race and won the next 9 stages and take the lead. It was a lead they would hold until stage 18 when they drove off the road and were stuck. Steely then grabbed the lead and traded stage wins with Robinson. On Stage 24, the last real forest stage and only a short distance from the finish, Steely/Osborn broke an axle, ending their quest in despair. Wallingford/Crescenti picked up where they left off and took the class win and 3rd overall. Robinson/Penza finished 2nd - a great outing for the new car. I can’t wait to see it at the Colorado Rally with the full spec R motor and rally suspension. Yuvali/Nomer brought their BMW 318 home in 3rd place.
The Spec B class also had its share of dramatic finishes, close racing, and something that hasn’t happened in a long time, if ever. The class would be very competitive with all three teams leading and winning stages. McCarron/Blake started off by winning the first stage by a mere .5 seconds over Erickson-Chang/Barbera-Pullen. Their lead wouldn’t last long as E-C/B-P would win the next 7 stages in row. On stage 5 McCarron and Blake would join the famous rally club of those who have. They only lost 11 minutes as they rolled their Fit off the road and on to its side. A quick yank and spank by safety sweep and they were back in the hunt, but way down the leader board. Could they possibly make up 11 minutes?
Erickson-Chang’s string of stage wins was stopped by a broken shift linkage and the team was forced from the lead to the DNF list. Erickson-Chang commented that “After McCarron rolled I was just taking it easy and then the stupidest little part breaks” Gardiner/Hall took the lead on Stage 9 with a 5 minute lead over the hard charging McCarron. McCarron would win the next 6 stages then trade stage wins with Gardiner before retaking the lead on stage 16. Though officially listed as a DNF Erickson-Chang charged hard all day and won several of the stages.
The team of McCarron/Blake had quite a rally. Not only did they win their class and join the roll over club, but they also joined the exclusive roll and win club. Road racers and their childish spin and win club have nothing on them!
Bialobrzeski /Jozwiak win the Press On Regardless Award – they pulled the engine in the parking lot after DNFing on Friday, did a head gasket job, reinstalled the engine and ran on Saturday.
The Engle/Carr car was attacked by an angry snow fence that maliciously cut the car’s brake lines putting them on the DNF list. Don’t ever trust a snow fence in the summer!
It was the first rally for the father son team of Hopf/Hopf and they bought a car that had not been rallied in a long time but they were told it was ready to go. They arrived at tech and discovered that the stock door bars had been removed and the cage was not legal without them. They ran home and traded a buddy for the stock doors off his car. They ran the rally, had a great time and finished. No word on if they need to return the doors or not.
The last class of winners that needs to be recognized is the organizers and workers of the Southern Ohio Forest Rally. They took an idea and in few short months nurtured and grew it in to a very successful, extremely well attended national rally! Great Job to the entire organizing committee!
I can’t wait to see what you cook up for next year - can we hit 100 cars like the old days?
See you at the Colorado Rally!