Piloting a lesser specification Subaru Impreza WRX STI at this past weekend's Rally Colorado, Subaru Rally Team USA (SRT USA) driver Ken Block hovered near the top of the time sheets throughout the event. Block was without his usual high-powered Open Class 2009 Subaru Impreza WRX STI and instead drove the Super Production (SP) Class Subaru Impreza WRX STI of fellow SRT USA teammate Dave Mirra, who did not attend Rally Colorado due to a schedule conflict with a BMX event. Block and his co-driver, Alex Gelsomino, put in an impressive drive in the lower-specification SP class car, running a majority of the rally in 3rd Overall and winning three stages outright. Unfortunately for Block, the impressive drive was annulled on the penultimate stage after his Subaru developed an engine problem, forcing Block to withdraw.
"I had to change my driving style to adjust for the power difference between the SP and my usual Open Class car, staying much smoother and less sideways," explained Block. "I thought it would take a few stages to get used to it and get up to speed but we won the first stage of the rally, which was really surprising. That gave me a lot of confidence for the rest of the event. It was satisfying that we were able to challenge for a podium position with the top Open Class competitors."
The SP Class, a new category in the 2009 Rally America series, features minimally modified, production-based cars. The budget-minded SP class features much more restrictive regulations on modifications than the Open Class, where Block has been driving for the past three seasons. The SP Subaru Impreza WRX STI features a stock engine, stock gearbox and very limited body shell modifications. Block crashed his Open Class Subaru heavily at the previous event, the Ojibwe Forests Rally: he and co-driver Gelsomino walked away unharmed but their Subaru rally car was terminally damaged. With insufficient time to prepare a spare rally car, SRT USA opted to provide Block with the team's Super Production class Subaru in Mirra's absence at Rally Colorado.
"Ken drove well in Colorado and further displayed the performance potential of the Subaru Impreza WRX STI in SP trim," mentioned James Han, motorsports marketing manager for Subaru of America, Inc. "By creating the competitive Super Production class, Rally America has established an attractive and more economical alternative to fielding an Open Class-specification car for the privateer entrant."
The SP class is always highly competitive with closely fought battles among privateers vying for nearly $13,000 in prize money per event offered by Subaru of America Inc. Block, however, was fighting his battle among the faster Open class cars at Rally Colorado. The first half of the rally saw Block amass a lead of well over two minutes to the closest SP challenger.
Block's Subaru Rally Team USA teammate Travis Pastrana was comfortably leading Day one of Rally Colorado when a minor driving infraction incurred the driver of the #199 SRT USA STI a seven-minute penalty.
"A disappointing scenario, essentially a matter of Travis hitting three traffic cones in a chicane placed by event officials on-stage, amounted to a time penalty which would have been very challenging even in optimal circumstances to overcome on the second day," said Han. "Given the lack of spare cars within the team's inventory, a decision to save the #199 STI for the final round of the Rally America National Championship was a prudent one." Travis Pastrana mathematically secured his 4th consecutive Rally America National Championship with a win at last month's Ojibwe Forests Rally.