Rally America Banks on Snow for Its Opening Season
Rally is so much more than just a race. It’s about dedication, hard work and camaraderie among friends and competitors. It’s a sport that brings a unique niche community together from all parts of the world, and the challenge and diversity pushes the teams and their cars to the edge of control.
The most challenging aspect of stage rally racing is the varying course conditions, especially during Sno*Drift, Rally America’s 2017 season opening event. Upper Michigan’s winter weather guarantees fluctuating cold temperatures, and a day splattered with rain, snow and sleet isn’t uncommon.
Conditions ranging from slush to ice, combined with exhausted rut-filled gravel roads, make proper tire compounds and tread pattern top priority. Competitors commonly use high-performance snow tires such as NT90Ws, Nitto’s studless winter tires. For icy conditions, some teams will further customize their tires by using a tractionizer (rollers with rows of spikes) to chew up the rubber compounds on street tires for clingy, Velcro-like traction. Tire groovers, a tool that resembles the shape of barbershop clippers, are used to cut into the rubber, forming thick, blocky treads that trudge through snow and slush.
For the teams, the race is a test of the mind. The driver must trust the co-driver’s guidance through each obstacle, and the co-driver must trust the driver to carry through, otherwise the result could be dire. And don’t forget about the pit crews that bend over backwards to keep the cars in the competition. During winter rallies they are often found rolling around on the frozen ground chipping pounds of packed-in snow from the vehicles. Fortunately for everyone, there were no major mishaps during this event, aside from the typical mechanical failures and disfigured bumpers.
Stage rallies put the fan’s dedication to the test with the cold, wet conditions. There may be snot dripping down each spectator's face, but everyone is grinning from ear to ear, cheering and bringing on the cowbell and air horns. What’s even more amazing is how eager everyone is to swarm like bees on a honeycomb, despite their heavy layers of winter gear, to push stuck vehicles out of the ditch and back into the race.
In this instance, co-driver Derek VandenBroek was so in awe of the support that he gave each spectator a high-five while running back to the rally car.
Before each race day, fans and teams gather for the Parc Expose to chat about their cars, the upcoming race and to reminisce about prior competitions. This is also the best time to see the rally cars up close in all their glory. On day one, the cars are cleaned up and looking their freshest, and by day two, the carnage from the race the day before is evident.
While the teams battled it out through the washed out roads, miles of ice and boulders of snow, we focused on bringing you the most memorable imagery from Sno*Drift. As you browse through the gallery, imagine the smells of race gas wafting by, enhanced by the crisp, dry frigid air and the sounds of backfires echoing through the still woodland.