Rally America Round 1: The Sno*Drift Rally

sno*drift rally america higgins l'estage ken block crazy leo michigan cold snodrift eric 197The 2013 Rally America season kicked off last week in Michigan, with 40+ teams and a myriad fans descending on the sleepy little towns of Atlanta, Lewiston, and Hillman in rural northern Michigan, turning them into bustling centers of activity. Alex Wong and I flew over to check it out.

sno*drift rally america higgins l'estage ken block crazy leo michigan cold snodrift thursday 103After a hellish drive through up from Detroit and some much needed sleep, we met up with Guestblaster Eric Delaney and headed over to tech.  There we got a preview of the cars and the cold. 30 below freezing at 3pm? Sure, why not?
 
sno*drift rally america higgins l'estage ken block crazy leo michigan cold snodrift thursday 106Alex had never been this cold before. Luckily I have Viking ancestors to protect me. Kinda.
 
sno*drift rally america higgins l'estage ken block crazy leo michigan cold snodrift thursday 186I was actually looking forward to hanging out in the snow. Most of the snow here was lake effect. It’s a different consistency from what I’m used to in the mountains in the West.
 
sno*drift rally america higgins l'estage ken block crazy leo michigan cold snodrift thursday 121FY Racing’s Adam Yeoman and Jordan Schulze always do fairly well when they can stay out of the trees. They earned a podium finish at Oregon Trail last season, amid an unusual amount of fifth place finishes.
 
sno*drift rally america higgins l'estage ken block crazy leo michigan cold snodrift thursday 112Ken Block wasn’t even on the driver list when I checked it on Tuesday night. Then on Wednesday morning on my way to the airport I saw his press release with the new livery and stating that he was running the whole season.
 
sno*drift rally america higgins l'estage ken block crazy leo michigan cold snodrift thursday 114Considering that he won both rounds he competed in last season, he’s a serious contender for the championship. Higgins would have to watch out if he wanted to defend his title.
 
sno*drift rally america higgins l'estage ken block crazy leo michigan cold BO3Q0032After a brief stop at Parc Expose on Friday morning, we headed out to Stage 1. The start order sheet I had said it would go Block-Higgins-L’Estage, but Crazy Leo was the first one out. Ahh I had missed rally racing, and this was a great way to start 2013.
 
sno*drift rally america higgins l'estage ken block crazy leo michigan cold snodrift friday 051L’Estage was next. It seemed like the French Canadian had driven on snow before. Go figure.
 
sno*drift rally america higgins l'estage ken block crazy leo michigan cold snodrift friday 067Block came next. I must say, the new livery looks pretty dang good.
 
sno*drift rally america higgins l'estage ken block crazy leo michigan cold snodrift friday 087Higgins was looking solid of course, and also with a new livery. It looks the part but I still prefer last year’s.
 
sno*drift rally america higgins l'estage ken block crazy leo michigan cold snodrift friday 111I had my fingers crossed for Yeoman. It would be good to see these guys get on the podium again, as they are one of the fastest teams without huge corporate sponsorship.
 
sno*drift rally america higgins l'estage ken block crazy leo michigan cold snodrift friday 131ACP’s new car sounded like a chainsaw so you always knew who it was way before he came around the corner.
 
sno*drift rally america higgins l'estage ken block crazy leo michigan cold snodrift friday 211Alex was pretty sure the extreme cold was making us into legitimate tough-guy photographers. Formula D’s sweltering events would be nothing compared to the misery of this rally. Hiking out to your shooting spot isn’t so bad, but if you’re standing around waiting for the cars, you’ll get really cold really fast.
 
sno*drift rally america higgins l'estage ken block crazy leo michigan cold snodrift friday 246He also found a perk to being surrounded by snow: camera/lens/monopod combos can stand up by themselves.
 
sno*drift rally america higgins l'estage ken block crazy leo michigan cold snodrift friday 214It’s pretty spectacular when cars overshoot a turn and ride up on a snowbank. This fit and its Civic teammate make up Honda Racing’s two car team for 2013.
 
sno*drift rally america higgins l'estage ken block crazy leo michigan cold snodrift friday 290Ford is trying hard to win the new-for-2013 constructors’ championship. There were Fiestas everywhere.
 
sno*drift rally america higgins l'estage ken block crazy leo michigan cold snodrift friday 329It’s impossible to shoot consecutive stages, so we went straight to Stage 3. We were just in time to see Crazy Leo come by again.
 
sno*drift rally america higgins l'estage ken block crazy leo michigan cold snodrift friday 350L’Estage wasn’t far behind. Actually he was whittling away at the lead.
 
sno*drift rally america higgins l'estage ken block crazy leo michigan cold snodrift friday 357Higgins moved into the second slot while Block was conspicuously missing. I overheard one of the marshals saying he had an electrical problem and was done for the day. Higgins must have been happy to hear that. He was in the lead anyway, but anything can happen. With Block out he just had to stay ahead of L’Estage and Crazy Leo.
 
sno*drift rally america higgins l'estage ken block crazy leo michigan cold snodrift friday 366I hadn’t seen Ugo Desgreniers drive before, but he was hanging in there with the big dogs.
 
sno*drift rally america higgins l'estage ken block crazy leo michigan cold snodrift friday 37115mph advised? Not for Yeoman. Not even on snow and ice.
 
sno*drift rally america higgins l'estage ken block crazy leo michigan cold snodrift friday 383ACP had gotten on the 2WD podium in the last four Sno*Drifts and he was well on his way to his fifth.
 
sno*drift rally america higgins l'estage ken block crazy leo michigan cold snodrift friday 421Mason Moyle is always someone to watch out for in SP.
 
sno*drift rally america higgins l'estage ken block crazy leo michigan cold snodrift friday 434Dillon Van Way was starting to make a small dent in ACP’s lead.
 
sno*drift rally america higgins l'estage ken block crazy leo michigan cold snodrift friday 485There are plenty of nice scenes out on the stages. I kept humming “Walking in a Winter Wonderland” to myself.
 
sno*drift rally america higgins l'estage ken block crazy leo michigan cold snodrift friday 608Alex and Eric were both following Noble Star Rally’s Amanda Skelly and Derrick Rudisel. Running in Open Light, they are the quintessential grassroots team.
 
sno*drift rally america higgins l'estage ken block crazy leo michigan cold snodrift friday 632It turns out Block’s alternator was possibly hit by a rock and stopped working. Either way the car spent the rest of Friday in service.
 
sno*drift rally america higgins l'estage ken block crazy leo michigan cold snodrift friday 848We were too late for Stage 7 so we headed out to Stage 8, which was the last one of the day. It’s kind of spooky to be out in the dark, frozen woods at night.
 
sno*drift rally america higgins l'estage ken block crazy leo michigan cold snodrift friday 682In Stage 4, L’Estage took over the lead, but Higgins barely got it back in 8, by just half a second.
 
sno*drift rally america higgins l'estage ken block crazy leo michigan cold snodrift friday 704I didn’t even know DVW was making flames until night. Cool!
 
sno*drift rally america higgins l'estage ken block crazy leo michigan cold snodrift friday 731Art Gruszka’s car is always an easy one to spot, and it looks great kicking up snow too.
 
sno*drift rally america higgins l'estage ken block crazy leo michigan cold snodrift friday 751I forget which car this was but it ran wide and almost hit my tripod! Hanging out in an impact zone has never been more fun.
 
sno*drift rally america higgins l'estage ken block crazy leo michigan cold snodrift friday 882After 8, we rushed back to the cabin for a hot dinner and some much needed sleep. Saturday would be an early day.
 
sno*drift rally america higgins l'estage ken block crazy leo michigan cold snodrift saturday 004The Super Rally rules allowed Block to restart on Saturday. Under Super Rally, the driver is given the same time as the fastest driver for each missed stage, plus a five minute penalty for the first missed stage and a three minute penalty for each additional missed stage. Since Block missed six stages, he racked up 20 minutes in penalties.  Still, that’s a lot better than going home with nothing.
 
sno*drift rally america higgins l'estage ken block crazy leo michigan cold snodrift saturday 033FY Racing was giving out posters with one of my photos from the Olympus Rally on it. Awesome!
 
sno*drift rally america higgins l'estage ken block crazy leo michigan cold snodrift saturday 038Higgins had to be all business. With only half a second separating him and L’Estage, there would be no room for error.
 
sno*drift rally america higgins l'estage ken block crazy leo michigan cold snodrift saturday 039Crazy Leo had time to check his phone. The Internet service in northern Michigan is not very good so he might have just been frustrating himself.
 
sno*drift rally america higgins l'estage ken block crazy leo michigan cold snodrift saturday 041Sunrise through frozen trees was pretty cool. Actually it was about 10º.
 
sno*drift rally america higgins l'estage ken block crazy leo michigan cold snodrift eric 5d 045Alex wandered down the street to shoot the cars as they left Parc Expose to head out on stage.
 
sno*drift rally america higgins l'estage ken block crazy leo michigan cold snodrift eric 5d 057All the rally cars have to be street legal so they can drive to and from the stages. That’s probably the main reason there’s no Rally America stop in California.
 
sno*drift rally america higgins l'estage ken block crazy leo michigan cold snodrift saturday 113By far the biggest difference between shooting rally and other kinds of racing is the sheer amount of driving involved. Not counting going to and from the cabin, we drove about 135 miles to get to the different shooting spots.  Of course the rally cars just go to the start, run the stage, and go to the next start. We would go to the starts sometimes, but usually we’d find another road that took us to the middle of a stage, which is miles and miles through the woods. All of that extra driving really adds up.
 
sno*drift rally america higgins l'estage ken block crazy leo michigan cold snodrift saturday 114At stage 11 I felt like I was in a Bev Doolittle painting. I had to make sure I wasn’t being watched.
 
sno*drift rally america higgins l'estage ken block crazy leo michigan cold snodrift saturday 116We were only a little bit early but there was no one at the start. We decided to head to the next stage just in case, but then Higgins was in our way, followed by L’Estage, Block, Crazy Leo, and everyone else. Alex had to drive backwards to a spot where we could get out of the way again. He definitely deserved his cigarette after that one!
 
sno*drift rally america higgins l'estage ken block crazy leo michigan cold snodrift saturday 118It turned out our map was a bit off and the stage start was another quarter mile or so further in. Being in an Expedition we didn’t really feel like risking driving up a snowy single lane road and not being able to find a spot to turn around so we just hiked in.
 
sno*drift rally america higgins l'estage ken block crazy leo michigan cold snodrift eric 003Luckily we didn’t miss too much.
 
sno*drift rally america higgins l'estage ken block crazy leo michigan cold snodrift saturday 147The starters all have their own way of starting the cars. Many use a finger countdown. Others use fingers and their voice. Some go nuts with a green flag.
 
sno*drift rally america higgins l'estage ken block crazy leo michigan cold snodrift saturday 250It warmed up quite a bit on Saturday. 15º felt like summer.
 
sno*drift rally america higgins l'estage ken block crazy leo michigan cold snodrift saturday 278Verena Mei was back in 2013. She won the B-Spec championship last year and finished 4th in 2WD.
 
sno*drift rally america higgins l'estage ken block crazy leo michigan cold snodrift saturday 329There are no fast food chains in Atlanta. Gas station pizza would be our lunch. It was actually pretty good!
 
sno*drift rally america higgins l'estage ken block crazy leo michigan cold snodrift saturday 339The cars were in service so we had a little time to plan the remainder of the day and get out to the Super Special.
 
sno*drift rally america higgins l'estage ken block crazy leo michigan cold snodrift eric 154Special Stage 14 was in a gravel pit. I climbed up on a gravel hill to get a better look at the place.
 
sno*drift rally america higgins l'estage ken block crazy leo michigan cold snodrift saturday 400Some other media guys followed suit.
 
sno*drift rally america higgins l'estage ken block crazy leo michigan cold snodrift-saturday-342There were big enough open areas covered in virgin snow to make it seem like we were on our way to the South Pole sometimes.
 
sno*drift rally america higgins l'estage ken block crazy leo michigan cold snodrift eric 168The 0 cars were’t taking the jumps, so I didn’t even know they were there until Higgins did it. Then I knew why Eric was standing where he was. By the time I knew all these things I didn’t have time to walk down there to get my own jump shots. Bummer.
 
sno*drift rally america higgins l'estage ken block crazy leo michigan cold snodrift saturday 428It was still a pretty good show from the top of my hill though.
 
sno*drift rally america higgins l'estage ken block crazy leo michigan cold elestagejumpIt was shaping up to be a pretty epic battle between Higgins and L’Estage. They were neck-and-neck throughout the day.
 
sno*drift rally america higgins l'estage ken block crazy leo michigan cold snodrift saturday 622And Block was making up a ton of time. It was unlikely he’d win, but he was still driving as if he could do it.
 
sno*drift rally america higgins l'estage ken block crazy leo michigan cold snodrift eric 360There weren’t many cars taking the jump outside the Open class, but Skelly got in on that action anyway.
 
sno*drift rally america higgins l'estage ken block crazy leo michigan cold snodrift eric 5d 078Alex was getting pretty confident driving the Expedition on snow, but then he drove us into a ditch like a boss.
 
sno*drift rally america higgins l'estage ken block crazy leo michigan cold nopulloutLuckily the guys in front of us saw us go off and called their WRX friend to come back and help us out.
 
sno*drift rally america higgins l'estage ken block crazy leo michigan cold snodrift eric 5d 097We are forever grateful to the helpful rally fans of northern Michigan.
 
sno*drift rally america higgins l'estage ken block crazy leo michigan cold snodrift eric 383After an incredibly long wait at Stage 19, someone in the distance yelled “car!!” and Higgins came screaming around the corner. He had extended his lead to more than 20 seconds by this point.
 
sno*drift rally america higgins l'estage ken block crazy leo michigan cold snodrift saturday 977 L’Estage wasn’t going to give up just yet though, and he cut Higgins’s lead down to under 2 seconds.
 
sno*drift rally america higgins l'estage ken block crazy leo michigan cold snodrift saturday 995Crazy Leo was more than 10 minutes behind at this point, so it looked like he’d take third if nothing catastrophic happened.
 
sno*drift rally america higgins l'estage ken block crazy leo michigan cold snodrift saturday 1056ACP was still leading in 2WD…
 
sno*drift rally america higgins l'estage ken block crazy leo michigan cold snodrift saturday 1069…though DVW was less than a minute behind him and still had a chance to win it.
 
sno*drift rally america higgins l'estage ken block crazy leo michigan cold snodrift eric 5d 101After Alex nearly got kiled by Skelly, we rushed all the way over to Hillman for the podium. We got there just in time to miss the Open class champagne spray, but the cars were still there. L’Estage took the win by a hair over 6 seconds, which I think is the smallest margin of victory in Rally America history. Crazy Leo finished comfortably in third. Desgreniers finished a respectable fourth and Yeoman, as if cursed, got yet another fifth place finish. Block finished sixth, which pretty damn impressive considering he started Day 2 with 20 minutes in penalties. He actually won 6 out of the 12 stages on Saturday! In 2WD, ACP ended up staying ahead of DVW by five seconds, while Edward McNelly coming in third.
 
sno*drift rally america higgins l'estage ken block crazy leo michigan cold pyramidsJust as we were getting used to the cold, it was time to go home. I was worried that California would feel like the inside of a volcano compared to northern Michigan. And you know what? It did.
 
 
 
.:Bohan
Photos by Bohan & Delaney
 
email: bohan@lifeblasters.com
instagram: @andrew_bohan, @lifeblasters
 
 
 

10 thoughts on “Rally America Round 1: The Sno*Drift Rally

  1. Actually, Pat Richard beat Stig Blomqvist at Colorado in 2005 by .4 second….and with that .4 second win edged Blomqvist out of the championship….so it actually DOES get tighter!

    Pos Num Class Driver/Co-Driver Hometown Vehicle Time
    1 1 GN Patrick Richard Squamish, BC 2004 Subaru Impreza 1:37:53.8
    Nathalie Richard St-Jean, PQ

    2 65 GN Stig Blomqvist Northants, England 2003 Subaru Impreza STi 1:37:54.2
    Ana Goni Northants, England

    Great narrative….thanks!

  2. Great stuff, guys!! Love the photos and the recap. It also clarifies why some guy was driving backwards on the transit :) What you surely didn’t see from inside your vehicle was that as Higgins drove up on the snowbank to get past you, he slid down it and came centimeters from kissing you with his rear! We watched comfortably from a car-length away. Keep up the good work. Missouri should be warmer, Alex.

  3. Alex: I love your pictures! Met you on stage 11 at the start and then hiking back to your Explorer… Now I know why you looked a little bit cold! You need to come back next year, when we have a real winter!

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