Frigid! It is the single word that best describes the kick-off for the 2014 Rally America series. Typically that would not be a favorable word to describe a rally race, but when the first event of the season is named the Sno*Drift Rally, extremely cold temps are always a very real possibility.
The two-day event kicked off on Friday, January 24th with a Parc Expose in Lewiston, Michigan located in the northern part of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. With nine stages on tap for Friday alone, competitors had an already grueling schedule; but add to the equation 4-6” of fresh snow, 30-50 MPH wind gusts, and visibility hovering around ¼-mile; the event began to fulfill its name in short order. Snow covered icy roads and temperatures which never reached the double digits on the positive side created a multitude of challenges for competitors and the running order was a constant shuffle throughout the 56-car starting field. By the end of day one, five competitors had already been relegated to the sidelines.
With competition cars that are mandated to run public roads between the stages of closed sections of road, rally racing is truly racing in its most pure form. On icy dirt back roads Subaru’s, Fords, Mitsubishi’s, Scions, and even a Mini Cooper laid down times that are almost unimaginable. Overall Event winners David Higgins/Craig Drew drove their no.75 2014 Subaru WRX STi through all 20 treacherous stages covering 130 stage miles in only 2hrs 28mins and 30.7seconds. Despite struggling through an entire stage with the hood up and blocking their view, the duo managed to average a race speed of 52.52 MPH on roads where anything above 20MPH would be considered scary by most.
After losing the lead on the last stage of the 2013 Sno*Drift to Antoine L’Estage and Nathalie Richard, Higgins and Drew were determined to be the ones spraying the champagne at this years event. Although L’Estage and his new navigator Marshall Clarke drove their no.17 2011 Mitsubishi Evo to the lead early, before the end of day one Higgins and Drew had pulled ahead and never looked back as they won by two-minutes over L’Estage & Clarke who finished the course in 2:30:41.2.
Gaining a podium finish on the weekend was also Lauchlin O’Sullivan & Scott Putnam who drove their no.90 2008 Subaru across the miles in 2:41:42.3 which also placed them atop the leaderboard in the Super Production Class.
In a Scion which looks more at home in city commutes than desolate dirt roads, Matthew Johnson and Jeremy Wimpey proved that looks were deceiving by topping the 2WD class with a time of 3:00:38.6 and placing 8th overall in their no.46 xD.
On the regional side is was the no.777 of Jon Kramer & Jared Lantzy that picked up the overall win in their 1993 Subaru Impreza in the Drift Regional, while Erik Zenz and Dustin Masters conquered the Sno Regional event in their no.323 1988 Mazda 323 GTX.
Although the weather was fierce, the 2014 Sno*Drift Rally was a spectacular event which showcased why Sno*Drift was named Rally America’s 2011 & 2012 Rally of the Year.
The event is volunteer run, and despite temperatures that were more suited for hot cocoa and a warm blanket, the volunteers manning road crossings and spectator areas were in full force making it possible for all to enjoy!
With the exception of the Super Special Rally-X inspired stages, watching the rally is free to the public and an overall great family event.
Next years event is slated for January 30-31st, 2015 and the perfect vacation spot for anyone loving winter sports. To learn more about rally and this year’s Sno*Drift check out Rally America or Sno*Drift on the web or facebook.
If you missed out on the 2014 event, no worries…You can catch some of the exciting action on NBC Sports. The Sno*Drift recap will air at 2pm EST on Saturday, April 5th.