I have to start by saying this year’s 100 Acre Wood may be one of the best Rally America events in recent times. Not just because of a few notable names, but also due to the almost perfect weather and roads. Last year there was still snow, like we didn’t get enough of that at Sno*Drift. The temperatures this year were around the 50s and 60s with smooth, fast gravel roads. After the absence of Block in Round 1 and the delayed return of Travis Pastrana until this round, the field finally felt complete in Missouri.
Before we even got to the rally, Alex and I took a little detour. Between being jetlagged and not sure on where the shakedown stage was on Friday morning, we woke up a little late and decided to head to Missouri’s capitol, Jefferson City.
On the drive out we passed a Volkswagen junkyard. There really was no need to talk; we both knew we needed to check it out. The owners of the yard were awesome people and let us roam around a little bit and check out the cars. I’ve never seen so many Karmann Ghias and Type 3s. While the rally was awesome, this little junkyard was my highlight of the weekend.
Our little detours though may have came back to bite us. We got to Friday morning’s park expose to get our media vests, and they had run out. We still were given the usual wrist bands and a lanyard with a credential, but there were no promises on full access. Luckily all the officials were cool and let us move around a little bit.
The weather was dry and some of the roads were a little dusty. To avoid giving an advantage to either Block, Higgins, Pastrana or L’Estage, Adam Yeoman was sent out first as a guinea pig to kick up dust. They took full advantage of the open road to hang in the top all weekend.
But even on Stage 2 it seemed Block was going to be almost impossible to catch.
David Higgins is always Mr. Consistent, and Antoine L’Estage can never be counted out either, so Block had to be on his toes if he wanted that seventh win.
While it seemed like a normal rally for the most part, there was one person that caused a big commotion: Travis Pastrana. The 199 Subaru was back in the series that he almost dominated for four years. Between Block and Pastrana, the crowds were larger than any rally I ever remember seeing.
It wasn’t just the Open class that was going all out. The Two Wheel Drive class also had a battle going. ACP with Ford and Matt Johnson with Scion were back to battling it out after Johnson came out on top at Sno*Drift. Will Hudson in an O’Neil Fiesta was absolutely flying too, hanging in there with ACP and Johnson. Although his all-out driving did catch up to him later in the rally.
A different and fun thing with the non-snow rallies is that more RWD cars come out and that makes the entry list more of an eclectic mix of cars. These Volvo guys are crazy though, having entered Sno*Drift for as long as I can remember.
I don’t think there was anybody at the rally that weekend that didn’t think the Saab 96 was the best car racing. The mix of 4-cylinder turbo and non turbo engines were broken by the two stroke 3-cylinder. I want one.
We hung out on the same stage and waited for the next run, in reverse. By the time it started the sun had set, another pitch black stage it was. While night stages are fun for spectating, shooting is a whole other animal. Just about every photographer we ran into said they hate shooting night, but it must be done…or attempted.
The next day the park expose was held in the city of Salem. This was one of the busiest park exposes I’ve ever seen. Most of the cars were exposed, but between Block, Pastrana and Higgins cars, you’d be lucky to get within six feet of them.
Here’s something really cool that was going on at this rally: there were two drivers who raced with hand controls. If you think it must be to race rally with a fully functioning body, racing without being able to use your legs is simply mind blowing.
Some of the drivers were out talking with fans or other drivers, while most of the co-drivers stayed back at the cars looking over the pace notes for the day.
Peter Fetela might have the most dedicated fans out of anyone in the series. At every rally there are Polish flags being waved to cheer on their driver.
Before the start of the day the drivers and co drivers starting making their way up to the front. Again, while Pastrana, Block, and Higgins were busy with an onslaught of fans, everyone else managed to get through the crowds and talk amongst themselves.
Day two started off nice and sunny. It was a perfect day for rally, especially when you’re from Michigan. With all the buzz of Pastrana and Block, Higgins and L’Estage went under the radar. They managed to hold onto second and third respectively throughout day one and into day two.
But rally cares for no one individual. L’Estage went out with a broken power steering housing and a snapped serpentine belt.
The biggest upset was Higgins. Right after the first stage of day two his engine blew, taking him out of the rally. DNFs are not uncommon in Rally America, but this was Higgins’s first time off the podium in 22 rallies!
Adam Yeoman lost the lead to Block earlier in the rally, but quick consistent stages kept them in fifth overall behind Pastrana. After L’Estage and Higgins dropped out, FY slid into third and would keep it the rest of the rally.
There’s something to love about every racing series, whether it’s the speed of open wheel, power of NASCAR or the technology in Prototypes. Rally has the pure brutality of racing on dirt back roads. Recce can help plot out a clean run, but it doesn’t matter once you’re in the zone. One turn cut just a little too close can lead to a spectacular moment. No damage was taken here, just an interesting entry.
A trip to service turned out to be an interesting journey for everybody. There was a bad crash on the main road south coming into town. A T-Bone involving two cars not involved in the rally shut down the road and required EMT’s to come from some of the stages. We managed to find our way back to service but only the last ten or so cars were there. We didn’t know at the time, but because of the emergency vehicles needed, two stages were canceled, one being only halfway done. There was a little confusion, but adjustments were quickly made and everything continued on.
It was obvious Block was still upset from losing the championship last year after his massive roll. Block has always been a fast driver, but the speed he was going here was more than I’ve ever seen. Even though he isn’t running the full season, Block was dead set on winning and extending his 100 Acre Wood wins total to seven.
While everybody in Rally America is awesome and love the fans, Pastrana seems to take it to a whole new level. His dislocated ankle needed icing during every service stop. But during the last service he turned down the icing and stayed outside to greet fans and sign autographs.
If he could stay ahead of Nick Roberts, Adam Yeoman knew he was going to take third place as long as he kept it on the road.
On our way to the next stage, a 2015 WRX was at the intersection with us. It was Higgins and his co-driver Craig Drew on their way back to service, then probably home, after their DNF. It must be a terrible feeling to have to drop out of a rally early, but I also think having time to sit back and watch isn’t the worst thing either. And having 22 consecutive podiums makes it acceptable for a DNF here or there.
Even with a huge lead, Block was in full attack mode for the rest of the rally. I don’t think he really has any other mode though, I feel like he needs to be at 110% when racing to be able to have fun.
ACP managed to stay ahead of Johnson in his old Scion this time. It’s amazing really how they can throw these FWD cars around like they’re nothing. Sno*Drift was so icy and slippery that most of the cars didn’t go flat out, but here they are almost like totally different cars.
The final service was all set to help get the cars ready for the remaining night stages. The massive light pods were fitted and LED lights were set up to light the way. Standing stageside at night really shows how important the pods are.
The final stage was a sort of meeting for some of the media. Alex and I, Scion, Hoonigan, FY Racing, Rally America, Launch Control and Subaru were all here for some last chance night shots. I still haven’t replaced my flash after it broke, but luckily between everyone here there were enough opportunities to steal someone else’s.
Block’s flame didn’t hurt either. That’s his way of celebrating the win I suppose.
Pastrana was again back at it signing autographs and posing for pictures with the fans. For the hour he was there, I think he spent about 45 minutes with the fans, right along with Block.
Rally America has a deal with NBC Sports for TV coverage this year, which is huge for the series. They now interview the drivers as soon as they finish the rally. It pushed the champagne celebration back a little, but the press they’re finally getting is more than worth it.
Block held the lead for most of the rally with really no trouble. Hungry from his crash last year it seemed no one would catch him. Pastrana was doing good for his first time back, and managed to grab second after the unfortunate demise of Higgins and L’Estage.
Yeoman had hisfirst starting seed on Friday, managed to use it to his advantage, kept up and to slid into third. It’s always good to see a smaller privateer team get on the podium, even better when it’s the overall podium.
Block now has seven wins at 100 Acre Wood. This rally was a huge event for Rally America with Block and Pastrana back and Higgins and L’Estage still mixing it up. Block won’t be competing in the full season, but you can bet the other rallies he competes in will be just as exciting.
Since Block didn’t attend Sno*Drift, his lack of points cancelled out Higgins’s retirement from 100 Acre Wood. Higgins is still in the overall lead, just one point ahead of Block. Dillon Van Way, in his first full season in a Subaru, is tied with Block at 22 points.
Before our flights home the next day, Alex and I had some time to kill. So we did the normal thing and hit up all the tourist spots in St. Louis.
Barbecue at Pappy’s Smokehouse, a trip to the top of the Arch and finishing it up at Ted Drewes Frozen Custard.
Photos by Wong and Delaney
instagram: @emotiveimage, @ericdelaney
For more information about Rally America: Rally-America.com