The Sno*Drift Rally
As part of our quest to bring you more motorsports coverage in 2012, one of our fans volunteered to cover Rally America’s Sno*Drift Rally this past weekend in Michican. Eric Delaney, a photojournalism student at Eastern Michigan University, loves racing and loves Life Blasters, so we decided to give him a shot! See what you guys think!
Every year during the last weekend of January, the little towns of Atlanta, Lewiston, and Hillman, Michigan, are filled with Subarus, Evos, Audis, and many other vehicles to see the first round of the Rally America season. The Sno*Drift Rally is the opening rally in the middle of nowhere, Michigan, in snow and wind. Snow isn’t really something people look forward to, but there’s nothing more fun than watching cars slide and struggle their way over ice covered dirt roads.
The first glimpse of the cars are at the parc exposes that are held in the morning on Friday and Saturday. Friday morning is when the cars are at their best, and won’t look this clean until this time next year. Most of the cars are getting their final touches so they’re ready for the days ahead.
It’s not every day you see a Continental and a rally prepped STi next to each other.
This was one of the biggest years for the Sno*Drift, with over 60 cars starting. Trying to line the cars up in downtown Lewiston was probably a nightmare with the mix of cars and people.
During the expose, it’s common to run into some of the drivers when they too are out looking around. Tingwu Song, a Chinese Championship driver, is starting his first full-time season in Rally America this year after one rally last year. His Co-Driver is from Ireland, so I can only imagine the conversations they have!
Then it was finally time to get to the stage. Depending on when you arrive, you either have to walk a few hundred feet, or a mile. Unfortunately, we were the latter on the first stage and had a hefty walk in front of us. It’s never easy; the roads usually have a nice ice covering, so it makes the walk not only long, but a little nail biting. There’s always someone who can find a way around the walking though.
After the walk though, it all pays off. The spectator areas actually give a pretty good view of the action, aside from the few branches that always seem to get in the way, no matter where you are.
It never fails, every stage has someone that stands out from the crowd. Having a vuvuzela is a good way to bring attention to yourself. It makes being at rally something different. The vuvuzela mixed with some cowbells and an air raid siren lets you know when the cars are coming. Not to mention the yelling.
Most of the action was down at the bottom of the hill, an icy hill might I add. Out of the 66 cars entered, I believe just four made it around the 90 degree turn without an off shoot. Others, like a ’95 Celica, overshot the turn, and almost took out the hot dog stand! No!
It probably wasn’t the best time for the drivers, but there’s a point where you just have to laugh. It doesn’t help when there’s a few hundred people screaming and cheering you on.
It turned out the drivers weren’t the only ones having ice troubles. While leaving the stage, we had a little hill to get up. One thing I love about rally, whether it be WRC, Dakar, or Rally America, people are always there to help. Three cars were stuck and each car had a group behind it. Luckily, our Saab 9-3 had some General snow tires, and made it up without a problem.
I’m assuming there was a magazine like Auto Week or Car and Driver out this year to see the rally, judging by the fact that there was a new Bentley Continental, Audi A5, and BMW 6 Series convertibles out and about. Seeing a new Continental in the middle of nowhere at 8 o’clock at night is a sight worth seeing, and seeing a Continental covered in dirt is a nice sight too.
I’m pretty sure anyone who has been to a rally will agree that night stages are some of the most fun. Being miles away from anywhere at night with tons of people is a ball. When there are no cars, it’s pitch black with thousands of stars and voices all over.
There’s always a fire somewhere and you never fail to see one at night. Usually, the fire turns into a bonfire and people gather around and enjoy the night. This year was a little different when a fight almost broke out. Alcohol, moods, and wind blowing smoke can really make some interesting times. Also, note the “Buried Gas Pipeline” two feet away from the fire. Rally people live on the edge.
Night also forces the teams to bring out the fog lights, and when they come around the corners, there’s no mistaking what’s coming. The lights always make the atmosphere exciting, and seeing them making their way around the trees always builds up the excitement.
If you want to be a fan favorite, it never hurts to spin out right at a spectator point. I’m sure all the flashes from cameras don’t help the concentration.
By the way, we had a GMC Sonoma racing this year. It’s not uncommon to see a couple RWD cars, but a pickup is something totally different. Although, back in the yearly days, it wasn’t uncommon to see Jeeps and pickups running near the top.
Day one was pleasant weather with temperatures in the mid to high 30s and sun. Day two however was cloudy, snowy, windy and cold. Exactly what the Sno*Drift is known for. Although it’s fun, it gets a little uncomfortable when your feet turn into blocks and there’s no feeling.
Last year’s winner, Travis Hanson, was one of the only drivers really pushing his car. Back when Travis Pastrana raced, he would put on a show around every corner. He’d Scandinavian Flick his Subaru like no one else. Since he left, the rally has still been fun, but Travis always added that little bit to make it memorable.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Plymouth Arrow before, so seeing it at a rally was a new sight. Being RWD, it made things interesting. Like this corner. Maybe a little too close to the apex?
Yep. Although he was able to keep it going and cruise right out of the bank. No harm, no foul.
A little more pickup love. Most drivers were taking this corner pretty easy, but a RWD truck will slide no matter what happens. Just being a pickup made him a favorite to watch every time he came by.
The marshals usually watch the yellow tape like hawks, making sure no one is in danger. Their yellow tape is can actually stop a car, so that’s why they worry about it. Although, when a car gets stuck on an icy hill, people will rush out to help. Again, the rally fans are there to help and will be glad to push.
On the other hand, the other drivers will just glide on past, with a beep of the horn to let the people know they’re coming.
Who said the sweep vehicles can’t have fun? Every year a different truck comes by and does a little drift. The crowd also loves it and always eggs them on. Seeing an extended cab Ram sideways is sweet.
Even the spectator vehicles are cool. This year seemed to be manufacturer heavy. This Cadillac was the heaviest camoed car. There was also an Abarth 500 and a Mini Cooper out and about.
The organizers ran the same stage twice a few hours apart. Some of us decided to wait it out and enjoy the little break. Most people sat in their cars and tried to get closer spots and warm up, others decided to have some fun and sled down the road. How many people can say they’ve sledded down a rally route?
Others decided to shoot snow balls and oranges across the street. They said if everybody around them pitched in $10, they’d launch a GoPro across the street. I don’t think they went through with it.
Black and White never fails to make pictures look good in my eyes. David Higgins never fails to push the car either. We had a nice view of a slight turn which a few of the cars would get a little sideways.
Some cars got a little closer to bank then they wanted.
Across the road was some private property. They could pretty much go where they wanted and the marshals couldn’t say anything. It wasn’t bad, but the guy riding a mid ’80s snowmobile in a cowboy hat was hilarious.
I overheard that it was this couple’s anniversary. I can’t think of too many better ways to celebrate an anniversary than by being a marshal at a rally.
The Skelly sisters were one of the girl duos in the rally this year. It’s their first rally this year from what I’ve read on their Facebook build. They’re fairly local to where I live, so I was rooting for them to finish. Also, there’s some green neon under the left side. Why neon? Because racecar.
You’re never really too sure of what will show up at the services, or anything really. There are different cars showing up all the time. Although this Volvo piqued my interested.
You can’t go too far without seeing something relating to Ken Block. It’s hard to describe how much bigger the Sno*Drift seems after Ken did his Gymkhana videos. Before that, there was a pretty good turnout, but after his videos there were people everywhere. He may be gone, but DC and Hoonigan were common sights. Also, the caulk around the sunroof is awesome. Who said rally cars need to be expensive?
This is the first time I’ve seen a Mini Cooper Coupe and whoever owns it didn’t waste any time throwing some Braid wheels on it. For a little coupe, it looks good on some meaty tires.
Frantic times at the last service of the rally just before the last Super Stage. Teams were working all over and cars were passing by both ways. I love the “Real Wheel Drive” and “Dan Gurney for President” stickers on the back.
Dustin Masters, the Co-Driver of the Sonoma, was pleased to get a little stretch in at the break. I bet it’s not comfortable in a Sonoma after two days on ice.
Carl Williamson, co-driver with Leonid Urlichich, popped the cork on his champagne a little early. His excitement for being in the podium was too much and he just wanted to celebrate. Although they finished third overall, they were later penalized three spots for not passing the inspection, making last year’s winner, Travis Hanson, the third place driver.
But nothing stopped Subaru driver David Higgins from pulling off the win. With 15 out of 24 stage wins, he dominated the rally. If not for an engine problem last year, it probably would of been Higgins’s second win. Antoine L’Estage made it into second place in his Rockstar Evo.
Last year, the Hanson team made history by being the first Super Production team to win the rally over all. The driver, Travis, decided to have a little fun with his license plate.
The weather was a little snowy through the day, but on the way back to the hotel, we hit a snow belt that just dropped on us. Almost the whole 45 minute drive was in snow, and a few times with almost zero visibility. It’s what to expect in Northern Michigan during the winter, so it didn’t hurt having a Subaru right in front!