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ATLANTA, Mich. - Just a few short months ago, Ford Racing was celebrating an overall win at Olympus Rally with Ken Block and co-driver, Alex Gelsomino, and two Rally America Championships. Chris Duplessis and co-driver, Alex Kihurani, finished first in the two-wheel-drive class which sealed the class championship in their DirtFish Rally School Fiesta R2. Verena Mei and co-driver, Leanne Junnila, finished fourth in the two-wheel-drive class and the TrueCar Racing Team won Rally America’s Inaugural B Spec Championship in Fiesta.
With the first 2013 Rally America National Championship event about to commence, Rally America announced the addition of the 2013 Manufacturers’ National Championship in a recent release. Ford Racing is a proud sponsor of the championship and is looking forward to another season of heightened competition starting at Sno*Drift rally in Atlanta, Mich. (Jan. 25-26).
Ford Racing Rally Driver Preview: Sno*Drift
Driver: Ken Block | Co-Driver: Alex Gelsomino | Class: Open | Car: No. 43 Fiesta H.F.H.V.
In 2010, Ken Block debuted the Monster World Rally Team 2011 Fiesta at Sno*Drift Rally making his first start as a Ford driver. Block won the first Stage but was forced out of the competition early with a suspension component failure in Stage 7.
With a fresh 2013 livery on the Fiesta HFHV and a new team name, Hoonigan Racing Division, Block and Gelsomino return to Sno*Drift Rally to kick off their race season at Rally America’s first National Championship event.
Q: You and co-driver, Alex Gelsomino, won three out of three North American rallies entered in 2012, . did Did the success from last year encourage you to take on a full Rally America (or RA Championship) schedule this season?
A: Yes, it certainly factored into the decision to go for the championship this season. That and my Fiesta is a lot of fun on stage roads.
Q: You've tackled a demanding race schedule each year which includes a wide-variety of disciplines, what is the most challenging aspect of the Rally America series?
A: Sno*Drift, because the rules don't allow for the running of studded tires which means you're pretty much fighting for grip the entire race and on the edge of flying off the road at any moment.
Q: Are you driving the Fiesta HFHV at Sno*Drift and if so, will you drive the Fiesta HFHV throughout the 2013 Rally America season?
A: Yes, and I'm looking forward to every mile I'm able to put on it this year.
Q: You have not competed at Sno*Drift since your first race with Ford in 2010 where you debuted the MWRT Fiesta -. What are you most looking forward to on your return to the Northern Michigan Rally?
Q: How do you prepare to race in extreme weather conditions such as the dust seen at Olympus Rally in 2012 or the potential snow and ice elements seen at Rally America's Sno*Drift?
A: As a rally driver, I'm used to driving in adverse weather conditions and even driving on three wheels if necessary!
Driver: Dillon Van Way | Co-Driver: Andrew Edwards | Class: 2-Wheel Drive | Car: No. 600 Fiesta
Dillon Van Way will make his fifth debut appearance at Sno*Drift Rally in a Ford. No stranger to the Rally America event, Van Way has consistently finished in the two-wheel-drive class top three since 2009 with one class win in 2011. The 20-year-old architecture student is entering the rally with an all-new 2013 Livery livery and co-driver, Andrew Edwards, who will be running his first rally in the states.
Q: Looking back on your 2012 Rally America season, you faced a lot of challenges. Can you talk about your season, in general, compared to years passed?
A: The 2012 Rally America season for me can be summed up simply as bad luck. I'd like to be able to say "we learned a lot" or "we've made major improvements", etc. but the truth of it is that the reasons we had such a bad season were nothing that could have been foreseen. Things were breaking that had never given us problems before or since so I have basically come to believe that it was just not our year.
Q: You have already established yourself in Rally America's two-wheel drive class with a championship in 2009 and runner-up in 2010 and 2011. How has the two-wheel drive class progressed since your first season?
A: When I started rallying in 2009, the two-wheel drive class was definitely less competitive and really less interesting than the SP and open class championships. Now I believe that the two-wheel drive championship is the the most competitive and most interesting class in the championship. In open, there really are only two guys that are fighting for wins, but in two-wheel-drive last year, there were at least six guys capable of being on top.
Q: Starting your Rally America career in a Ford, making the transition from a Focus into a Fiesta in 2011, what has it been like to see more Ford's out there?
A: The increase of Fords competing in Rally America has been interesting to watch. My family have always been die-hard ford people so the Focus was the natural choice for my first car, but i think the biggest factor in the rise of Ford cars in RA is the European style cars we are staring to be able to get here now. The Fiesta has proved itself to be the car for the job in rallying.
Q: Along with your new website, what else do we have to look forward to this year?
A: This year we are making much more of an effort to document the craziness that is my life. From rushing from class to the airport to make it to a race, to the crazy shenanigans me and my brothers get into around the house. We are putting it together in a Web series that should be really fun to watch.
Q: You've said that to do well in racing stage rallies, you have to be self-motivated. How do you stay motivated to constantly improve or practice in the offseason?
A: My motivation primarily comes from just being competitve. I still race motorcycles as much as I can, and I think just staying in a racing mindset keeps me sharp.
Q: You've podiumed in the two-wheel-drive class at Sno*Drift since 2009. Why do you think you consistently done well at the event?
A: The key to doing well at Sno*Drift is not crashing. I think that I've done well there because, being from Louisiana, I never get to drive in snow so I am probably more cautious than most other drivers.
Q: While you are running the full Rally America Championship, what event are you most looking forward to?
A: My favorite event is always Oregon Trail Rally, but I really look forward to every event.
Q: Can you talk about the new livery you'll be running this year?
A: The new livery is an exciting change for me because my car hasn’t really had a personal identity like this since the Focus I originally campaigned. It’s the culmination of months of hard work on the new look, and I think it represents the vibe of the team really well.
Q: How do you use social media in your racing career?
A: I think that social media is one of the cheapest and most powerful tools every competitor/team has access to. If you have a story to tell, people will listen. We’ll be using our Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and our website to keep the conversation alive with our followers all year.
Q: This season, you have a new co-driver. How has the transition been with Andrew?
A: We haven't competed together yet, but we get along well and both have similar goals so I think it will be a great relationship.
Q: How do you think his success in the British Rally Championship will translate into the Rally America series?
A: I think that Andrew's experience in the BRC will be very helpful to my driving this year. He has already started to teach me new and different calls that describe the road much better than the system I was using before. I think he may struggle a little with the idea of one-pass race but it shouldn't be anything that he can't work with.
Q: What is the most important thing you look for in a co-driver?
A: I think the most important thing is that we get along well. We are trapped together in a tiny space for way too long not to get along. But he also needs to be able to read notes and do all that other difficult co-driver stuff. Another really important factor for where I am at in my career is to have someone with experience to help me to become faster.
Q: What type of challenges do you foresee this season, and what are goals to conquer those challenges?
A: The challenges are similar every season, trying to be fast and and consistent and finishing rallies. We are coming into this season with a good mindset as a whole team which should help a lot, because towards the middle of last season we were all becoming a bit frustrated. The car seems to be as strong as it can be. All that is left to do is go racing.
Driver: Verena Mei | Co-Driver: Leanne Junnila | Class: 2-Wheel Drive | Car: No. 335 Fiesta
Verena Mei and co-driver, Leanne Junnila will make their second appearance at Sno*Drift Rally in the TrueCar Racing Team Fiesta after a successful 2012 season. The pair finished fourth in the two-wheel-drive class and made Rally America history as the first female team to earn the inaugural B Spec Championship.
Driver: Edward McNelly | Co-Driver: Ole Holter | Class: 2-Wheel Drive | Car: No. 313 Fiesta R2
Edward McNelly will start the 2013 Rally America season with co-driver Ole Holter making his second debut at Sno*Drift Rally in a Fiesta. The Team O’Neil Rally School instructor ran all six of the 2012 Rally America national championship and won the honors of the 2012 Rally America “Rookie of the Year”.
Q: Your first Rally America National Championship season you claimed a spot in the two-wheel-drive class top three and earned Rookie of the Year. What was your experience like racing a Ford?
A: I raced a Fiesta in 2012, and loved it. The Fiesta is a very reliable car, and it’s a great platform for rally racing.
Q: Making your second debut at Sno*Drift Rally, can you talk about the challenges of the rally and how you prepare?
A: Sno*Drift is challenging because you have to focus on staying on ice covered roads. Luckily the Team O’Neil Rally School has amazing roads that I could test on to be prepared for the rally.
Driver: Bill Lauze | Co-Driver: Maggie Stiefvater | Class: 2-Wheel Drive | Car: No. 100 Fiesta
Bill Lauze and co-driver Maggie Stiefvater will make their debut at Sno*Drift for their first Rally America National Championship event. The seasoned Team O’Neil Rally School instructor ran his first Fiesta at Tall Pines Rally last year, in the Canadian Rally Championship, and earned first in class.
Q: Making your first debut at Sno*Drift Rally and in a Fiesta, can you talk about the challenges of the rally and how you prepare?
A: After winning first in class at Tall Pines last November in a Fiesta, I feel great about going into Sno*Drift. The challenges of Sno*Drift is being able to stay disciplined to dial it back. The best way to prep for Sno*Drift is to make sure you have well prepared suspension/brake bias adjustments and after that, it’s tires, tires, tires.
Driver: Edward Stiefvater | Co-Driver: Keith Hummel | Class: 2-Wheel Drive | Car: No. 107 Fiesta
Ed Stiefvater and co-driver Keith Hummel will also make their first debut at Sno*Drift in one of Team O’Neil Rally School’s five Fiestas.
Q: What is your experience in rally racing?
A: Of course, my experience at this point is my training at Team O’Neil Rally School as well as our first rally at Tall Pines 2012. We are enjoying driving the Fiesta immensely. For a small car, it is amazingly quick and agile. We finished 26th overall and 5th in our class at Tall Pines.
Q: What are you looking forward to in your first Rally America National Championship event?
A: We have not raced at Sno*Drift yet, so we're eager to experience it. We have thoroughly enjoyed our experience with Team O’Neil, and look forward to learning and growing more through that relationship.
Driver: Brent Hercelinsky | Co-Driver: Juan Orozco| Class: 2-Wheel Drive | Car: No. 175 Fiesta R2
Brent Hercelinsky, a student from San Diego, and co-driver Juan Orozco will make their first national championship debut start at Sno*Drift in a Team O’Neil Rally School Fiesta R2. Hercelinsky ran three regional rallies in 2012 after starting his racing career as a co-driver for 1,450 off- road trucks.
A: "We have not raced at Sno*Drift yet, so we're eager to experience it. We have thoroughly enjoyed our experience with Team O’Neil, and look forward to learning and growing more through that relationship."
Driver: Cameron Steely | Co-Driver: Billy Irvin| Class: 2-Wheel Drive | Car: No. 824 Focus
Cameron Steely and co-driver, Billy Irvin, will make their second debut at Sno*Drift in their 2002 Ford Focus. The Team O’Neil Rally School graduate finished ninth in 2012 and will aim for a spot on the podium at the first national championship event of the year.