Over the past year the Two-Wheel Drive (2WD) Class has been a hotly contested segment delivering a number of thrilling stories in the Rally America National Championship. The 2WD revival has mainly been fueled by dynamic driver personalities and the entrance of new manufacturers offering modern platforms, which in turn has stimulated a number of future driver’s rally dreams and attracted more interest from fans.

The 2WD Class’ profile certainly improved when the SPARCO Rally xD Team arrived with a project rally car in 2010. Driven by one of North America’s best drivers, Andrew Comrie-Picard (ACP). Both Scion and now Ford have helped inject a more youthful, colorful and modern presence into the 2WD Class

When Ford launched the sixth generation Fiesta in 2010 that the 2WD Class gained even more prominence and Ford achieved a level of fan loyalty resembling Subaru.

It was craftily designed when Ford Racing picked up Ken Block and continued producing Gymkhana viral videos using a hyperactive widebody Fiesta sporting AWD. Ford Racing in turn supported their Fiesta launch with a social media based program called Fiesta Movement giving influential social media mavens a Fiesta for 6 months that aided in winning over a wider audience’s taste.

That background helped set the desire for the Fiesta in Rally America’s 2WD class. The world rally scene had already been moving towards a compact design and now the Fiesta’s availability in the States gave rally enthusiasts the sensation of joining the world ranks when pursuing their rally racing quests.

The organized effort has thus far seen a sizable increase in Ford Fiestas campaigned in 2012. Since the model first competed in 2010 the Fiesta was outnumbered by the Focus in competition. Not much changed through 2011 until the very end of the Championship when Chris Duplessis began entering with a Fiesta.

For 2012 the number of Fiestas in the 2WD category shot up with 7 Fiestas competing at the 2012 STPR Rally. Already 19 Fiesta entries are recorded in the first four events of the season. That is three more Fiestas than all the Fiestas entered in 2011 and 2010 combined with two more events to go.

Ford Racing’s Business Manager, Scott Denby, reasons that Ford “started with a great car… The 2WD category, specifically in the U.S., hasn’t had much attention over the years so we put together a fairly comprehensive program focused around rally enthusiasts.”

Perennial Ford driver, Dillon Van Way from Carencro, LA has been a key competitor flying the Ford flag since the very beginning of the his rally career. He started in a Ford Focus and moved to a Fiesta at the beginning of the 2011 season (later adding a turbo).

Said Van Way, “Our switch to the Fiesta in 2011 came from a combination of support from Ford racing and our need for a fresh new car. The Fiesta really was the ideal platform because of its size, agility, and potential to be a really quick car; with well developed parts available from Europe.”

When the Team O’Neil Rally School in Dalton, NH was selected to be Ford Racing’s official rally school in 2010, Ford Racing supplied the facility with a large supply of European Ford Fiestas. As a result O’Neil student’s first experience in a rally car is likely going to be in a Fiesta and the school has been instrumental in supplying Fiestas to Rally America’s 2WD top drivers to compete in the circuit.

Chris Duplessis from Bethlehem, NH is the most recognizable name coming out of Team O’Neil's and has largely took the Fiesta to new heights. Campaigning a Ford Fiesta R2 at most Rally America events Duplessis continued dominating 2WD in a Ford Fiesta winning 4 out of 6 events entered.

Team O’Neil’s also supplies a TrueCar sponsored Ford Fiesta to drift driver turned rallyist, Verena Mei, who currently trains at the Team O’Neil Rally School. Team O’Neil’s top mechanic, “Fast Ed” McNelly, from Oxford, ME, has also stepped up in 2WD driving a Fiesta R2 this season and successfully made the podium at the Oregon Trail Rally this year.

New teams are attracted to the 2WD category as they see the Fiesta and Scion upping the class profile. First time rally driver, John Concha, cites seeking these cars and choosing to run a 2011 Ford Fiesta in his first event at the 2012 STPR Rally.

“I chose the Ford Fiesta platform because after seeing a couple compete at last years STPR, I knew right away my goal was to run the following year in one of these cars,” said Concha.

Just before the New England Forest Rally, the next round in the Rally America National Championship, Duplessis currently leads ACP by 14 points, followed by McNelly in third in another Ford Fiesta. Fords now hold three positions in the top 2WD five. In fact Scott Denby noted that “…there hasn’t been a race without a Fiesta on the podium in the last year and a half!”

The 2WD Championship isn’t locked up yet with Duplessis leading the Ford Fiesta charge. ACP is a formidable foe in his Scion and has the skills and equipment to break Duplessis stranglehold on the top position and the New England Forest Rally twisty roads should provide an even playing field for the two manufacturers to duke it out.

Catch all the New England Forest Rally action on http://www.rally-america.com on July 14-14th with event videos, news and results.

Photos: Scott Rains