Rally in the 100 Acre Wood

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Rally has always been an adventure for me. This year’s second round of the Rally America Championship – the Rally in the 100 Acre Wood – was no different. With cold temps and snow in the forecast I hopped in the car and made the 10 hour drive from Minneapolis to Salem, Missouri, to check out the all the action.

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The drive through Iowa is somewhat boring so I was happy once we entered Missouri, and this being my first visit to the Show Me State I decided to stop in Jefferson City for lunch and make a quick stop at the State Capitol. Then it was time to check into the hotel and map out which stages I was going hit on day one.

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Friday as always started out with Parc Expose. The fans are always enthusiastic, even as David Higgins was trying to give an interview. He seemed more focused than usual; with the stages expected to be more ice and snow than gravel he would need to be on his toes and so would the rest of the drivers. The big gamble would be which tires to use.

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The first stage I went to was the Super Special. Conveniently enough it was located at the same place as Parc Expose so travel was minimal.

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This super special was quite short and the cars were in and out pretty quick.

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The stages were looking quite tricky; last year’s fast and smooth gravel roads were replaced with slippery half gravel, half ice and snow covered ones.

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The opening stages of Friday found David Higgins in the lead with Adam Yeoman and David Sterckx hot on his heels.

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Sterckx was looking very solid, this was his second event in the Open class after making the move from super production. The Super Production battle was taking shape early between Nick Roberts and Lauchlin O’Sullivan, but Stage 2 saw both Roberts and O’Sullivan go out. Roberts, who brought a brand new car to this event, suffered a MAP sensor failure and O’Sullivan hit a tree puncturing his radiator. It would spell the end of day one for both drivers.

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No matter the conditions the drivers were still pushing as hard as they could. Matthew and Lauren Conte of Team Conte were evidence of that, almost spinning on Stage 4. They were able to hold on and continue to rocket through the woods.

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As the day continued the cars soldiered down the icy forest roads.

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As the final stages before first Friday service were coming to an end, Higgins was still in the lead. Sterckx and Yeoman were still close in the battle for second and third.

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Andrew Comrie-Picard had a rough opening day; he struck a piece of debris and suffered a broken tie rod. A repair was made on stage, costing him 28 minutes. The fight in the 2WD class between Cameron Steely and Troy Miller was close one; they finished the opening day within 2 seconds of one another.

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The cars finished and headed in for a service.

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Teams frantically worked on cars for the upcoming night stages. The conversation on which tires to go with was still on a lot of teams’ minds.

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I headed to one of the night stages hoping that the light would last a little bit longer; that was not the case and it quickly got dark. I spent the better part of 20 minutes finding a good spot, a tree to stand behind, and an exit route in case a car lost control, which was key since this part of the stage was glare ice. Soon the near silent woods were lit up with the sounds and lights of David Higgins.

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This would be my last stage of the night, I had walked about a quarter mile in to the stage and I really had no time make any others. The day ended with Higgins leading, Sterckx in second and Piotr Fetela taking over third place. Adam Yeoman suffered an engine fire caused by an oil leak, and his weekend was over.

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I skipped Parc Expose on Saturday morning due to the snow moving in. Plus, I didn’t want to fall behind on getting to the stages I planned on shooting. Higgins was the first car through on stage 10. His car was wider than at Sno* Drift and was also sporting his new livery.

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Drivers seemed to be pushing really hard in the morning, it was the only time of the day where the snow wasn’t coming down that hard, and with the prediction of 3-5 inches I’m sure they wanted to drive as flat out as possible before it really hit.

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Day two saw the return of Nick Roberts, but his return was short lived. A bad engine harness connection caused him to DNF again. It was obviously not the their weekend but that’s racing.

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Lauchlin O’Sullivan was also back out on day two and was driving like nothing had happened.

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The roads around Steelville are somewhat confusing in a snowstorm. I had made a wrong turn and was unable to make one of my planned stages, but that was no reason to panic and I headed to my backup stage. I was late to get there but that was not a problem since it was delayed 45 minutes in order to let a not-so-happy mail lady through to deliver mail.

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By the time the stage had restarted the snow was really coming down and I decided to make my way to the Cattle Gate Jump on Stage 14.

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It was really snowing by this point.

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We were playing a waiting game at 14; many factors played a role in the delays but the main reason being an unrelated car accident on the treacherous roads that required Stage 13’s ambulance to leave its post. The stage ended up being canceled.

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The rally was delayed close to three hours when the cars finally showed up at 14. To me it was worth the wait.

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Watching the cars launch over the jump was pretty awesome. Brenton Kelly of FY Racing had one of the most impressive jumps; in the process his co-driver Niall Burns had the wind knocked out of him and chipped a tooth.

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I could’ve sat and watched this all day.

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The weather was continuing to grow worse and worse. We had gotten a good four inches during the afternoon.

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It had gotten to the point where the rally was ended after Stage 15, canceling 16, 17, and 18.

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In the end David Higgins took the win, having won every stage. David Sterckx finished second overall and Piotr Fetela in came in third. Garry Gill would take the SP Class win, Cameron Steely would win in 2WD, and James Robinson took the B-Spec win. This year’s Rally in the 100 Acre Wood was filled with action and another rally adventure for me. I had a frustrating weekend but in the end was worth every second and am ready for the next time I head to one.

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The next morning was started off the same way Saturday night had left off. The weather caused all sorts of headaches, even shutting down the highway. Luckily I was able to get off just in time.

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I made a quick stop at the Gateway to the West, the Gateway Arch, and then got back to my ten-hour return drive to Minneapolis.

Rally America will now head west for the Oregon Trail Rally at the end of April. If you are in the area of any of the rounds I suggest attending one. You will not be disappointed.

Lapinski

instagram: @peter_laps, @lifeblasters

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