Rally America Round 2: The 100 Acre Wood Rally

higgins100awRally America has seven stops for their championship season and the first stop is in the northern part of Michigan in the dead of winter. You expect everything to be covered in snow and the temperatures to be cold enough to slap you in the face, and you’d be correct. What you don’t expect is to experience the same ridiculous weather at the next round of competition. But as my flight landed in St. Louis, there was news announced that the state of Missouri had declared a state of emergency from the epic snow storm that had just dumped six feet of snow. Not a problem for a seasoned Life Blaster with, I kid you not, mere days of snow driving experience.

EMV_6888Round two of the Rally America season took place in the small town of Salem, Missouri, in the heart of Winnie the Pooh’s 100 Acre Wood. There is definitely something about seeing a sunrise in a snow covered landscape that I will never get over. It’s definitely a beautiful sight to behold.
EMV_6896Day one of competition started with a shakedown stage. Not every competitor took part in the shakedown, as most were trying to figure out tire situations for the event.
EMV_6898Not 48 hours before, the road conditions were muddy and many of the teams had prepared for a mud and gravel event. The top teams were out early testing tires and driving styles to be suit the conditions.
EMV_7083Antoine L’Estage and Nathalie Richard, both from Canada, are probably the best on icy and snowy road conditions and looked incredibly fast during the shakedown stage. Maybe Crazy Leo (also Canadian) would have been fast too, but he broke a bunch of bones in a skiing accident in Austria just a week before the rally and wasn’t able to make it.
EMV_7050In fact, coming almost directly out of Sno*Drift conditions, many of the top teams were ready for the snow and ice.
EMV_7133I know Ken Block gets plenty of snow hooning practice since he lives in the mountains in Utah.
DSC_2975The conditions would change drastically from the first drivers to the last as the layer of snow and ice would be shaved down into slush and mud.
DSC_2984Even still, drivers were pushing hard early in the morning to get a feel for the slippery road surface.
EMV_7157One of the most famous corners in the 100 Acre Wood Rally is midway through the second stage. It is a fast right hand bend where drivers come through almost flat on the throttle while spraying the spectators with dirt and snow. As photographers, we get a seriously up close and personal feel for how quickly rally cars change direction and put down power. Even the 0 car got sideways on this corner, to the delight of the local fans.
EMV_7178Ken Block was the first competitor to come through and I don’t think I have ever seen a driver so committed through any corner, in any condition, in any form of competition. Ken was sideways the entire way through the corner, easily carrying 10-15mph over the closest competitor, layering the group of spectators in a nice haze of snow.
EMV_7203Some drivers don’t get the corner perfectly and end up pointing the car in your direction. Peter Fetela almost lost it coming out of the bend and cleared me with just inches to spare. Safety first! Peter and the team stayed at the same hotel I did, maybe I should’ve told him what’s what later that night.
DSC_3062It was a solo mission for me out to the 100 Acre Wood Rally and I decided to mount a remote camera on the inside of the turn to be my second shooter. If I could wire up Bohan with a pocket wizard, I’d probably do the same.
DSC_3073Since you aren’t with the camera panning with the action, you have to set it up with a ridiculously fast shutter speed to freeze the action. Fortunately with snow and dirt and a rabid rally car, you get a fantastic sense of speed even at those high shutter speeds.
EMV_7227The Super Production and FWD classes seem to get faster and faster every event we attend. Mason Moyle and DVW. They’re young but they’re fast.
EMV_7239 I don’t know what else to say except that DVW was killing it until he crashed late Saturday and ACP took the win.
EMV_7283A fascinating bit from following rally is how quickly the service teams set up in the harshest conditions. A full service pit can be put up in minutes, whether on the side of the road or in a high school parking lot, etc. They have to be ready for any type of repair but also need to be ready to pack up quickly and move to the next service or parc expose location.
EMV_7292It’s a great place for spectators to pop in and out, to see your favorite driver, and grab an autograph. Rally America does a fantastic job of bringing the action right up to the fans.
EMV_7300Service is also a great time for competitors to take a minute to enjoy time with friends and family while the team is taking care of the car. Competitors regularly tackle three to four stages before coming in for service and it’s one of the few times they can step out of the car to stretch or grab a bite to eat before heading out for more stages.
DSC_3100As the competitors are in service refueling themselves, we the photographers quickly make our way to the different stages to try to find a good photo location.
EMV_7317Our adrenaline is running as fast as the competitors’, and it’s almost mandatory for us to take a breather as well.
EMV_7318The scenery out on rally stages is just spectacular and just a few minutes worth of a hike will bring you out to areas of complete silence.
EMV_7459Unfortunately, the light faded before any competitors made it to where I was situated and I had to make due with shooting in pitch black darkness.
EMV_7351As Ken Block made his way around the hairpin, I noticed there was quite a bit of damage to the front end. I later learned that earlier on the stage, Ken had hit a steep crest and while landing, caught a patch of ice, sending him into a fence and tree. He would be done for the day after this stage.
EMV_7364Hot on the heels of Ken Block were David Higgins…
EMV_7402…and Evan Cline.
EMV_7442The awkward moment when you get bad directions from your co-driver and head straight for a group of spectators. They always let the drivers know when they mess up, be it with cowbells, airhorns, or good old fashioned insults about their mothers.
EMV_7504Day two began in downtown Salem and it was filled with spectators that braved the cold and horrid road conditions to hang out with their favorite drivers.
EMV_7560I had missed the Super Special Stage on Friday, which usually gives you the most photo opportunities. Fortunately on day two, Stages 9 and 11 were identical and I was able to hang out in one area and grab a ton of photos. With Ken Block losing almost 8 minutes (I think) to David Higgins after his crash the night before, Higgins was charging hard to make sure Block would have a hard time catching up.
EMV_7572That just gave Block more motivation as he pushed event harder and after the first three stages of day two had knocked a few minutes off Higgins’s lead.
EMV_7598Evan Cline was kicking ass and he’s now third in the Rally America standings.
EMV_7719Viorel Dobasu’s Evo had ridiculous launch control and was loud as fuck. That is all. LOL
EMV_7728Need to wrap your car? Use duct tape instead!
EMV_7779I ♥ 2.5RS’s
EMV_7811This Honda Fit never really does that well but it’s nice to see something your mother would drive flying through a forest.
EMV_7848There were a pair of BMW E36’s in the mix and every time, every single time they came around a bend they would slap you with whatever was on the road. Awesome.
EMV_7894Day two was sunny and warm (35º) and although that was great since it was so cold the past few days, the ice and snow would melt and everything became slush. If you stood under trees, you’d get ice rain and if you stood long enough in one area, the warmth from your feet and shoe would melt through the snow and you’d end up in a puddle.
EMV_7931This would play a huge factor in driving conditions later on, as the now melted snow and ice would re-freeze at night.
EMV_7944You could definitely tell the competitors were pushing hard as the ice on the roads gave way to gravel and slush.
FY Racing is usually very quick and competitive but they were suffering from boost issues and were never able to attack the front runners.
EMV_8032There was a great battle in 2WD class with ACP, DVW, and Fast Eddie within seconds of each other the entire day.
EMV_8158Back at service, many teams were doing last minute adjustments to ensure they had the best car for the warmer and muddier road conditions. Joseph Burke was suffering from electrical problems but was able to get back out on the roads in no time.
EMV_8166It’s definitely a sore sight to see a rally car with its service team packed up. Ken Block’s car had a massive electrical problem after Stage 10 and the drive-by-wire throttle system gave out. They were making great progress shaving minutes off David Higgins and the Subaru Team’s lead but had to call it quits after the team couldn’t figure out the electrical gremlins. The team’s six win streak and quest for a seventh would end.
EMV_8184Hearing this news, David Higgins drove a bit more conservatively knowing that Ken Block had DNF’d with mechanical and Antoine L’Estage DNF’d with a blown head gasket.
EMV_8198Joseph Burke used this as motivation to attack the podium.
EMV_8276Dillon Van Way was still fighting hard against ACP for the 2WD class win. DVW would crash on Stage 11 and had to DNF.
EMV_8412And I don’t know what else to write haha.
EMV_8480The last stage I would make it to was Stage 16 and it ran parallel to private farm land.
EMV_8481The awesome thing about rally is the welcoming the locals are. The owner of this farm let spectators park on his field and sold hot dogs all night. Awesome.
EMV_8488As I had mentioned earlier, the snow and ice melted during the day but at night the temperatures dropped quickly and the roads froze over again. I overhead on the radios that the starters on the stage were warning drivers of the icy road conditions. David Higgins ain’t care.
EMV_8506And neither did many of the competitors as they swung around the corner at the same speeds they were earlier that morning. Lauchlin O’Sullivan fast enough for an overall podium finish.
EMV_8560ACP took it easy with news of Dillon Van Way crashing out.
EMV_8608It was pretty cool seeing cars come through with brake rotors glowing.
EMV_8624Owner of the Team O’Neil rally school, Tim O’Neil himself,  is still showing the kids how it’s done.
EMV_8757With Block, L’Estage, and Crazy Leo out, Higgins easily won this round. Joseph Burke managed to get all the way to second place overall, with Lauchlin O’Sullivan rounding out the podium.  Evan Cline missed the podium by just one place!
-Alex Wong

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