Brandon Semenuk and Keaton Williams took a second-place finish at Ojibwe Forests Rally, fighting back from a crash on the first day to earn critical championship points and retain the overall lead in their season-long battle against Ojibwe winners Ken Block and Alex Gelsomino. Defending American Rally Association (ARA) champions Travis Pastrana and Rhianon Gelsomino retired due to an off while leading the rally on Saturday, dropping them to third overall in the championship.
Unlike the super-technical gravel and tarmac roads of Southern Ohio and fast, rocky stages of New England, the gravel roads of the northern Minnesota lake country have soft and sandy surfaces that can be forgiving but tend to form ruts by the second pass of the stages. This rally has traditionally favored Pastrana’s aggressive style, and true to form, he and Gelsomino took a nine-second win on the first stage and broke their own stage record from 2021. By the end of the first day, Pastrana’s lead over Ken Block was 5.5 seconds.
By contrast, Semenuk’s Friday was off the pace early after he hit a rock on SS1 and threw his front end out of alignment, dropping the #180 WRX STI off the pace for the next few stages. The alignment was addressed in service, but another incident on SS5 nearly tore the rear decklid and wing off the car and forced Semenuk and Williams to make on-road repairs to nurse the car through the remaining three stages of the loop and get back to service. With a large gap to the leaders but a solid lead over fourth place, Semenuk’s focus shifted to driving cautiously with the hope of maximizing power stage points on the second day.
After Block narrowed the margin early on Saturday to just over a second thanks to a win on SS9,
Pastrana’s rally ended early with a crash on SS10 that damaged his rear suspension. The car was able to be repaired and driven back to service, but the #199 was out of the lead and out of the rally. This promoted Block to first and Semenuk into second, setting up a showdown on the Power Stage for maximum championship points among the two top contenders for the title.
With a hard push on the Power Stage, Semenuk took a 13-second stage victory over Block and looked to have earned back a key championship point over his rival. However, the stage was then blocked due to a crash by the car running third on the road, meaning the remainder of the field was held up and the stage was stopped as a safety measure. The stopped cars were allowed to complete the stage at transit speed and stewards made the decision not to award Power Stage points to any competitors because of the stoppage.
Despite the lost opportunity for bonus points, Semenuk and Williams’ second-place finish maintains a four-point championship lead over Block and Alex Gelsomino, with 116 total points to their opponents’ 112. Pastrana and Rhianon Gelsomino remain at 90 points, holding the final championship podium position heading into the final two rounds of the year.
Subaru Motorsports USA will return September 16-17 at Susquehannock Trail Performance Rally in
Wellsboro, Pennsylvania, the eighth round of the ARA championship.