When it comes to Northern Michigan the word “Unpredictable” is most descriptive. Whether referencing the frequency of a suitable rest stop, cell phone service, the weather, or more importantly road conditions.
As the first stop on the Rally America tour, Montmorency, County and the Sno*Drift Rally is a challenge unparrelled for teams and drivers alike.
This year’s event which was held on January 25-26th certainly held its own bag of tricks for competitors. Early season blizzards followed by ice storms left roadways in treacherous condition. Typically flat surfaces were riddled with hidden holes and ruts; ice incrusted banks provided no padding on the rough shoulders, and temps that rose from -3º during Technical Inspections on Thursday were near balmy at 26º by Saturday afternoon.
The trails and two tracks where rally thrives were rough, slippery, and exciting. Teams were scrambling to keep up with the possible conditions on each of the 20 stages that compromised the 2013 Sno*Drift. 8 stages on Friday and 12 on Saturday sets a fast pace and drivers and navigators also struggled to keep composure and precision at a rally that was eager to chew up and spit out competitors in the northern Michigan back country.
The 2013 Sno*Drift did not make its mark as a fast rally, but instead it will be remembered as one for precision, perseverance and excitement. At the end of the first stage it looked as though last years Sno*Drift champions David Higgins and Craig Drew would be repeat winners in their no.75 Subaru WRX, but stage 5 saw a new name atop the leader board. Antoine L’Estage and his navigator Nathalie Richard drove their no.17 2011 Mitsubishi Evo to the lead and stayed there through stage 7, but their lead fell on the final stage of the night back to Higgins and Craig who held through the night with a mere 0.5 second lead. The no.75 team started Saturday strong and although their lead slipped to only 0.4seconds at one point during the day, by stage 18 of 20 they were keeping L’Estage and Richard at bay with a 21.3 second lead.
Although the no.75 team had its sights set on the prize, the epic Subaru vs. Mitsubishi battle came down to playing the last two slippery sections of road to perfection, and with a stellar stage 19 L’Estage had closed the gap to less than 2 seconds and when the snow finally settled it was L’Estage and Richard who found their way into the winners circle by a mere 6.2 seconds over last years champions who had a stage time of 2hrs 24mins 28.2seconds. “Crazy Leo” Leonid Urlichich and his navigator Carl Williamson drove their no.111 2007 Subaru Beast to a podium finish as well with a time of 2hrs 36mins 12.4seconds.
Taking honors as the highest ranking 2WD competitor was “ACP” Andrew Comrie-Picard and navigator Jeremy Wimpey who drove their no.20 2012 Scion XD to an 8th place overall finish with a time of 2hrs 50mins 57.5seconds, which is very impressive for a car with the aerodynamics of a household appliance and very little weight.
With Mitsubishi’s, Subaru’s, Ford’s, the Scion, and a host of other manufactures getting back in the game rally is once again becoming not only a great competition of skill, but also machine and it whether you are a die-hard big three fan or love imports; Rally racing has something that can appeal to anyone.
It truly is racing in its most honest form; real cars, real roads, real fast. Each and every year I fall in love again with this form of motorsport, and although the first event is in the books there are still several more on the Rally America schedule throughout the nation. And if a regional event looks appealing, there is no better place to visit in spring then Michigan’s Upper Penninsula where Newberry, MI will be playing host to a single day rally named “Magnum Opus” on April 20th.
If you have never been to a rally, it is definitely a must do. They are primarily free to spectate, non-profit events; so find a rally and a big tree and spend a weekend in the woods!