Rally America Round 3: The Oregon Trail Rally

otr3-354It’s been a year now since Alex and I started shooting rally. It was right here in the foothills of Mt. Hood where our adventure began and it felt great to be back to do it again. I’d been wanting to shoot Rally America for years, ever since I was doing vinyl work for Works Motorsports’s driver Lars Wolfe. Finally I had the chance so I grabbed it with both hands. By this time last year I already had tons of experience as a motorsports photographer: I’d been shooting Formula D for years and I’d been to countless local drift events, autocrosses, and trackdays, plus the occasional big race like Indycar, ALMS and the 25 Hours of Thunderhill. I’d shot at big prestigious tracks, street courses, ovals, and club racing tracks, and all of that experience combined barely prepared me for the chaos-fest that is rally.

otr 1-48The Oregon Trail Rally is a three-day event if you don’t count the pre-race days when the teams do their recce or the parc expose in downtown Portland. When the racing finally started on Friday night at Portland International Raceway, most of the people involved had already been in town for a week. Alex and I knew we would wear ourselves out if we tried to cover everything, so we went to PIR a few hours before the first stage.
otr 1-929I feel like most people don’t even know Rally America exists, and that’s a shame. I blame Americans’ lack of interest in racing in general. Subaru has had a factory team in Rally America since it was still SCCA Pro Rally, and its drivers (Patrick Richard, Travis Pastrana, and David Higgins) have been champions every year but one.
otr 1-26Ken Block’s popularity is bringing a lot of much-needed attention to the series, so you can’t blame Rally America’s PR crew for milking his presence for all it’s worth. Along with Antoine L’Estage (Rally America’s only non-Subaru champion) Block is keeping David Higgins on his toes, making the race for this year’s championship exciting.
otr 1-9Scion Racing is another factory team. Andrew Comrie-Picard used to drive the NOS Energy Drink Mitsubishi Evo but joined Scion Racing when they entered the series in 2011. He’s the defending 2WD Champion and in the lead again this season.
otr 1-64Most teams, however, are much more grassroots. In many cases the cars are built by the driver and co-driver and their friends, and those same friends are the crew at each round. A handful of these teams do the national tour, but most are regional competitors. Each national round is also a round of the local regional series, but from a regional driver’s point of view, one round from their series is huge and has all the national teams competing in it. To keep things fair, the scoring is kept separate.
otr 1-301Mt. Hood can be seen from almost every stage and service area of the Oregon Trail Rally. It’s about 50 miles east of Portland.
otr 1-307Matt Coffman is one of those local guys. I first met him when a bunch of us Norcal guys went to a Drift Evolution event in Medford. That exposure prompted him to start running in our Formula D ProAm series. Last year he entered the Olympus Rally as his first rally event.
otr 1-848Ken Block lost a wheel partway through Stage 3 and sparked his way through the rest of the course. Since there was no service until after the next stage, he ran all of Stage 4 in the same condition. He could have just quit and prevented damage to his brake rotor and suspension arms, but he had spares of that stuff so he kept on pushing. I’d say it was worth staying in the race since he finished 2nd overall.
otr 1-974
After Stage 4 the mechanics not only had to repair or replace anything that got damaged, but many teams were running a tarmac suspension setup that needed to be swapped out. The four stages at PIR were partially on the track so it wouldn’t make sense to run an exclusively dirt and gravel setup.
otr 1-1009Antoine L’Estage was debuting his newly rented WRC Lancer at Oregon Trail. Hopefully his crew got plenty of practice taking it apart and putting it back together before hand.
otr2-1This is where shooting rally starts to get crazy. After Friday night service at PIR, all the teams packed up and moved out. On Saturday morning, they set up an entirely new service area 76 miles east at the Hood River County Fairgrounds in Odell.
otr2-23The cars lined up for another Parc Expose for all the fans who couldn’t make it out to PIR the night before. Actually I wonder how many people are hardcore enough to go to both.
otr2-55Unlike the PIR stages, the stages on Saturday were not at the fairgrounds. To shoot Stage 5, we had to drive 7 miles further south on Highway 35 and then hike another mile up a steep dirt road. Don’t get me wrong, it’s totally worth the effort.
otr2-101Mt. Hood is only 15 miles south of this point.
otr2-189There was no service until after Stage 7, so we had to carefully plan out what we wanted to shoot and figure out if we had time to shoot everything. When a team finished Stage 5 they would go straight to Stage 6, which meant the fast cars already finishing 6 and going to Stage 7 while we were still shooting Stage 5. If we wanted to shoot Stage 7 at all, we could have only stayed at Stage 5 for the first five or so cars, then run back down the road (which was now an active stage and way too dangerous to be on) then drive 11 miles back up Highway 35 and up the side of Fir Mountain. We elected to stay a little longer at Stage 5 and then just go back to Odell for service.
otr2-243We checked out what everyone was doing. I had no idea John Reed’s AE86 had a Beams motor in it.
otr2-257The teams don’t refuel in their own pit space. Instead there’s a fueling area with a tarp protecting the grass. When they’re done with service they all line up and fuel in order, five at a time.
otr2-266It’s the perfect opportunity to shove your camera in a driver’s face.
otr2-342Stages 8, 9, and 10 were the same as 5, 6, and 7, so our plan was to catch the transit between 8 and 9 and then make the long drive to Stage 10. It’s so awesome to see race cars on public roads.
otr2-372We made it to Stage 10 just in time. It’s always good to see a crowd cheering and yelling and generally going nuts.
otr2-426Block was doing a good job keeping up with Higgins. After his problems at Sno*Drift and 100 Acre Wood he needed a solid finish.
L’Estage didn’t come around this turn but we didn’t know why. Later we learned that he had crashed pretty hard on Stage 9, but luckily he and Nathalie Richard are both okay.
otr2-460I kept noticing a car toward the front of a pack I’d never seen before. It turns out it was Rifat Sungkar of Indonesia, and not only was he killing it in the rally, he’s also been on the podium in Formula D Asia.
otr2-654Victor Bartosek’s ’83 Audi is one of my favorite cars to watch and is one of the reasons I like to stay on stage for the entire field instead of just moving on after the fast guys go by.
otr2-878After Stage 10 we went back to Odell for drinks and snacks while the cars were in service again, and then went down to shoot Stage 11, which was on the same road as Stages 6 and 9 but now being run in the opposite direction.
otr2-1109We were hanging out at the hairpin right at the finish line and kept getting showered with dust and gravel. Luckily there was sort of a trench to hide in.
otr2-1173This is why you need dust-resistant gear. The lens now looks as good as new and still works perfectly, in case you’re wondering.
otr2-963While we were finishing up Stage 11, the fast cars were finishing up Stage 12, so after that we made the 13 mile drive to Hood River for the block party at Double Mountain Brewery and Taproom. What a cool place!
otr2-986We met plenty of interesting characters.
otr2-997They were talking a big pizza game at Double Mountain. 700º coal oven? Rivaling the pizza in New Haven, the self-proclaimed pizza capital? We put those claims to the test, and I must say this is the closest thing to authentic New York Pizza I’ve had outside of Lombardi’s in Little Italy.
otr3-2The next parc expose and service area was in the Wild West town of Dufur, 37 miles east of Hood River. I’m really glad I’m not one of the guys who has to set up and tear down pit spaces constantly.
otr3-37Block’s wheels were showing some signs of wear.
otr3-106We drove 14 miles from Dufur to the spectator area at Stage 14 and then hiked most of another mile to the jump.
otr3-115Block had the best jump of the day, which I can’t say I was surprised about.
otr3-189ACP’s xD got pretty decent air as well, and it only has half the drive wheels!
otr3-328A year ago, Alex and I were the only full-time Formula D photo or video guys at the rally. I’m happy to see guys like Loren Haleston and Sully coming out now.
otr3-351We made a 14 mile drive to a different part of the same stage and waited for it to become Stage 16. A jump and a water crossing on the same stage! It’s almost like they plan this stuff.
otr3-383While Higgins plowed right through the middle, Block went way to the inside to avoid as much water as possible. Look how close he is to the GoPro!
otr3-557Evan Cline hit the water just right to completely soak Alex, who was up close getting wide shots.
otr3-625Brenten Kelley sucked water into his intake and almost ruined his car. Rally is fun but not when you almost have problems like that!
otr3-901There wasn’t enough time to hit Stage 17, which was the last stage of the rally, so we made the 42 mile drive back to Odell for the podium. The top cars had to get weighed to make sure they hadn’t been cheating.
otr3-1012Higgins came out on top again, but Block, in his first completed rally of the season, was only two minutes slower. Rifat Sungkar had a hell of a debut, finishing third, seven minutes behind Block.
otr3-1309Evan Cline made it all the way back to Odell with only three wheels.
otr 1-249Higgins is still leading the series overall, with L’Estage still in second even after his crash. Evan Cline slid into third and Block is way down in 11th. Though if he can keep up this momentum we should see Block climbing the leaderboard rapidly!
email: bohan@lifeblasters.com
instagram: @andrew_bohan, @lifeblasters

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