by Chris Leone // Website // Twitter
Images via Jason Swoboda

The 2019 stage rally season finally kicks off in the United States with Friday and Saturday’s Sno*Drift, the traditional opening event on the calendar and one of the most unique rounds of the year. Many of the sport’s top teams will be competing this weekend, with a wide open field set to pursue the victory over 16 stages and nearly 120 stage miles.

There’s plenty of buzz and lots to talk about for those who are in Michigan this weekend, but if you can’t be there, here are some of the top storylines to follow as we kick off day one:

Fetela vs. McKenna: Round 1

Piotr Fetela/Dominik Jozwiak and Barry McKenna/Leon Jordan are two of the most preeminent Ford Fiesta and Open 4WD crews in the United States, but until today, they’ve never faced off in an event before. They’ll start first and second on the road this afternoon, with McKenna leading Fetela and the rest of the 30-plus entrants into the first pass at Halberg-Blue Lake at approximately 4PM ET.

The cars may look similar, but under the hood, they’re anything but. McKenna/Jordan will drive a brand new, R5-spec car built by M-Sport, which won the last two World Rally Championships with driver Sebastien Ogier and the 2017 manufacturer’s title. Fetela/Jozwiak will race a car built by Polish group Proto that is based on a Mitsubishi Evo platform, and won multiple events last year. Fetela/Jozwiak also have the advantage of a past Sno*Drift overall victory in 2016.

Limited Spec, Unlimited Battles

It’s hard to think of a deeper class in North American stage rally right now than Limited 4WD, which boasts many of the sport’s fastest vehicles despite an assumed disadvantage to the Open class cars. Even though two-time class champions Jeff Seehorn/Karen Jankowski won’t make their 2019 season debut until Rally in the 100 Acre Wood in March, there are more podium-caliber entries competing this weekend than spots on the class podium.

PMR Motorsports’ Tim Rooney/Anthony Vohs are third in the start order and first in the class. Rooney finished third overall at Sno*Drift in 2018, winning multiple stages along the way. They’ll be followed by Cameron Steely/Preston Osborn of O.D.D. Racing, who earned podium finishes at both 100AW and Southern Ohio Forest Rally in 2018; Zach Whitebread/Cameron Carr of Toasted Racing, who will look to back up Whitebread’s four stage wins here last year; and Travis Nease/Matt James of Hi Camp Racing, who will pair up for the first time as Nease makes his Sno*Drift debut.

National vs. Regional

Unlike in years past, Sno*Drift competitors are no longer eligible to declare themselves as both National and Regional entries, splitting the entry list in half and allowing competitors to better focus on chasing individual championships. In all, 17 of the 35 crews on today’s posted start order are Regional starters, so while many of the top names are competing in the National rally, the Regional entry list is also fairly deep.

Blind Deer Rallysport’s Jimmy Pelizzari/Kate Stevens will be the first crew on the road this afternoon, starting eighth overall after finishing fourth here last year. Just over a month after taking an overall podium at Nemadji Winter Trail Rally, Paul Johansen/Susi Little will be the next regional crew on the road at 12th on the start order. Tim Michel/Michelle Michel (13th), Kevin Schmidt/Jay Anderson (14th), and Jacob Bryant/Steven Stewart (16th) will be the next three Regional crews on the road.