Subaru driver Brandon Semenuk and co-driver Keaton Williams got their American Rally Association (ARA) title defence off to the best possible start with a dominant display at the first rally of the season: the Sno*Drift rally in Northern Michigan.
Unlike a typical snow and ice rally, Sno*Drift is raced without studded tires due to local road laws. This year, unusually high temperatures in the build-up to the event added to the challenge for the competitors, with the ice on the roads turning into a softer slush-like surface. Additionally, rule changes were introduced ahead of the 2023 season aimed at bringing the performance of the top Open 4WD class closer in-line with the RC2 class.
All of that proved to be of little hindrance for the Subaru Motorsports USA team. Semenuk and Williams swept all six stages on the first day of the event before going on to win all of the remaining stages – including the power stage – on the second and final day to win the rally by comfortable margin and establish an early six-point lead in the ARA National standings.
Semenuk beat 2022 RC2 champion pairing Tom Williams and Ross Whittock, while sportscar racer Kyle Tilley and his co-driver Martin Brady took third.
On the first day of the rally, Semenuk wasted no time in establishing the pace, but Williams fought back on stage five, finishing that pass just 0.3 seconds adrift, setting up what could have been a tight contest on the second day.
Conditions on Saturday could have caused trouble, too, with an overnight freeze followed by bright sun that led to ever-changing conditions throughout the day. After closing to within 60 seconds of Semenuk, Williams had an off on SS11, dropping several minutes whilst stuck in a snowbank. Meanwhile Semenuk remained in control, clearing the day’s stages cleanly to remedy the events of last year when he retired from the lead on the penultimate stage.
“Yeah, redemption big time,” said Semenuk. “That’s the first thing we said when we came up to the last stage ‘this is what we were supposed to get last year’.
“I thought the last stage was going to be treacherous and honestly it was pretty good. It didn’t quite freeze up entirely and there’s some snow we were able to use, and yeah, we enjoyed the drive.”
Next up for Subaru Motorsports USA is the 100 Acre Wood Rally in Missouri, March 17th and 18th. The team has enjoyed great success at the gravel event in recent years, with Semenuk winning en route to the title last year, and Travis Pastrana taking victory there in his championship-winning 2021 season.