It’ll be hard to top last year’s Southern Ohio Forest Rally, but that’s exactly what its organizers are going for in 2018.
One of the highlights of the North American rally season when it debuted in the Rally America National Championship last year, SOFR attracted over 60 entries as the sport returned to thrilling stage roads it hadn’t seen in years. The entry list is even bigger this season, with 68 teams signed up to take on the latest round of the schedule.
Leading them off of the start line, though, will be two drivers who didn’t contest this event last year. Joseph Burke returned to stage rally for the first time in five years at Rally in the 100 Acre Wood in March and shook off the rust fairly quickly before a broken rear control arm ended his weekend. He and Ole Holter will take to the roads first, followed by Piotr Fetela and Dominik Jozwiak, who won the 2018 edition of 100AW just two years removed from a frightening crash over the Cattle Guard jump.
In fact, you’ll have to go down to fourth place to find last year’s winner, Arkadiusz Gruszka, on the start order. Gruszka, the defending national champion, has struggled in the first two rounds of the season, falling out of Sno*Drift and placing fifth overall at 100AW. He’ll look to jumpstart his title defense with a much-needed victory.
While Burke, Fetela, Gruszka, and Paulo Ferreira will make for a thrilling Open class battle early in the stages, the current RA points leader is actually a Super Production driver. Tim Rooney of PMR Motorsports took podiums at both Sno*Drift and 100AW to build a five-point lead over Open Light driver Dave Brown, and will be one of this weekend’s local favorites. The SP class is exceptionally strong for the weekend, with Cameron Steely and Patrick Brennan starting right behind Rooney.
Rolling off fifth overall, and first of the 2WD cars, Seamus Burke and Martin Brady return to SOFR in their 1977 Ford Escort Mk2 after winning five stages here last season. Meanwhile, Jon Kramer and Zachary Jacques will lead the Open Light drivers at ninth on the start grid; Jason Smith and Jared Lantzy will start first in Group 2, rolling off 26th; and Doug Gekiere and Matthew Hoffman will be the first B-spec crew to roll off in 40th.
As for the stages themselves, expect a lot of the same excitement that defined SOFR last year, with the addition of an entirely new forest stage named Outdoor Drama. A majority of stages are five miles or less, with Irish Ridge the longest of Friday’s 15 stages and Saturday’s Airport to Brutus East the longest of the rally overall at 9.68 miles. Like last year, the event ends with a Super Special stage at the Ross Country Fairgrounds, which will see two cars go head-to-head on a two-lap, two-lane course of just over two miles.