A large field of racers converged on Cheraw, S.C. for the Sandblast Rally, the first round of the Atlantic Rally Cup presented by RallyPro at the FIRM, and there were no easy victories. Two teams won the battle to the top: Jason Smith with navigator Jared Lantzy in All-Wheel Drive; and Kevin Turner and Matt Rhoads in Two-Wheel Drive. The rally, with more than three hours of live stage-side coverage streamed live via Internet, ran smoothly and was well supported by the hosting towns of Cheraw, Patrick, and Chesterfield.
The Two-Wheel-Drive class had a last-minute change that turned out to be a big shake-up. Pilot Paul Ferreira with navigator Ozgur Simsek came out strong in his Honda Civic, winning the first stage by 28 seconds. Kevin Turner and co-driver Matt Rhoads, in their front-wheel-drive Subaru Impreza responded by turning up the wick on the next stage, matching Ferreira’s speed. Ferreira came back on stage three with a blistering drive that pulled 42 seconds on Turner. With an established lead, and looking to be the final victor, Ferreira, whose loud, high-revving car was a crowd favorite, continued to widen the gap, until he was catastrophically taken out with mechanical issues before the final stage.
This bumped Turner into the lead, and also, more critically, left Turner to pedal the fastest Two-Wheel Drive time on the final stage, resulting in instant qualification for the NASA National Rally Championship. Brad Morris with navigator Doug Nagy in their Mitsubishi Lancer captured second place with a focused and disciplined drive. Carlos Filipe and Aris Mantopoulous brought out a fantastically prepared Peugeot 206, which they drove to the final podium spot.
The All-Wheel-Drive division also had its share of podium drama take place, although earlier in the race. Jason Smith and navigator Jared Lantzy in their Subaru Impreza just managed to squeak a win on the first stage, which left Pete Hascher and navigator Greg Dorman in their Subaru WRX STi just seconds out of qualification. Also part of this tight grouping was Dunker Felix and navigator Santiago Jarrin, with their Subaru WRX in third. Smith widened the gap on Stage 2, and Hascher brought the fight back to him on Stage 3. Ultimately Smith kept the skinny pedal down longer as the day wore on and vehicles battled the sand, and his lead over Hascher grew. And when it finally came down to that last stage and the instant qualification for the NASA National Rally Championship, Hascher was just seconds off pace, leaving the honor of the first qualifier of the year to Smith.
Sebastian Kokoszka was the fastest RallySolo driver, and without the aid of a co-driver, he took fourth overall. We should also note the promising opening performances of Colin Bombara and George Georgakopoulos, who both put in inspired drives early in the race, but ultimately did not finish. Other names to watch are Hollen Groff, a proven performer in the series, who didn’t manage to bring it home this year, and Matt Gottlieb, whose early times seemed like they would have tracked to a podium position if he could have gone the full distance.
The next stop on the calendar for the Atlantic Rally Cup presented by RallyPro at the FIRM is the Empire State Performance Rally. Coming up quickly on the weekend of April 20, the event will have teams switching to tarmac tires to roar through the closed roads of Rock Hill, N.Y., just 90 minutes from New York City.