by Chris Leone // Website // Twitter

What’s more exciting than a well-loved rally in a supportive community with fun and challenging stage roads?

A well-loved rally in a supportive community with fun and challenging stage roads that anyone can win.

Such is the case for this year’s Southern Ohio Forest Rally, the next event of the 2018 Rally America National Championship and one of the most popular on the schedule. Featuring stage roads with decades of history that have been conquered by legends of the sport, you wouldn’t have known SOFR was a first-year event after how successful last year’s event was.

With 68 vehicles on the entry list for this weekend, and many of them demonstrably quick, who ends up on this year’s podium is anyone’s guess. In fact, last year’s top three overall finishers competed in three separate classes. With that in mind, here’s just a sampling of names we might see on the overall podium on Saturday night:

#198 Arek Gruszka/Maciej Sawicki :: Open :: 2014 Mitsubishi Mirage RS

Last year’s inaugural SOFR winner, and the defending Rally America National Champion, Gruszka took six stage victories on the way to a 1:44 victory over Tim Rooney. Unfortunately, a DNF at Sno*Drift left a major dent in his hopes to repeat, and while he was second in the Open class at Rally in the 100 Acre Wood, he was only fifth overall. Seeing him 21st in the championship standings coming into this weekend’s action is almost unbelievable, but all just might be fixed if he can pull off a repeat victory.

#94 Piotr Fetela/Dominik Jozwiak :: Open :: 2017 Ford Fiesta FRT Proto

The most recent Rally America race winner, Fetela took the top spot overall at 100AW by over three minutes on Rooney to fight back after a DNF at Sno*Drift. As a result, he’ll hit the roads second this weekend, two cars ahead of defending winner Gruszka. After missing a majority of last season, Fetela’s 100AW victory—taken at the same rally where he suffered a massive incident just two years prior—helped boost him to third in the championship heading into SOFR, with 30 points to his name.

#47 Tim Rooney/Anthony Vohs :: Super Production :: 2015 PMR Motorsports SR009

You’ve already read Rooney’s name more than once in this article, so it should be no surprise that he’s the current Rally America National Championship leader. That’s right—with two podiums in the first two races, the Super Production points lead is ahead of Sno*Drift winner Dave Brown by five, and Fetela by 15. As a native of Dublin, Ohio, the PMR Motorsports driver is one of the top local favorites in this weekend’s event, and won the inaugural stage of SOFR, Webb Hollow North, last year.

#115 Joseph Burke/Ole Holter :: Open :: 2006 JRD Lancer Evolution

Though he’s yet to compete in SOFR, and failed to finish due to a mechanical issue at 100AW, Burke will actually lead the field onto the stages this weekend. Longtime fans of the sport won’t be surprised by this, but the Georgia native’s speed factor of 105.38 is the only triple-digit number in the entire field; Fetela’s 94.51 is second. The 2010 Rally America Rookie of the Year, Burke will chase the Open and overall victories as he looks to claim his first podium since 100AW five years ago.

#25 Seamus Burke/Martin Brady :: Group 5 :: 1977 Ford Escort Mk2

With all due respect to a certain famous American, Burke’s second-generation Escort has been bringing throwback Ford rally thrills to stages across the States for the past year and change. After Burke made his return to the stages in 2016 in the same car that his son now drives, he brought the 2WD Escort to a number of class and stage victories last year, and he’ll be back for more at SOFR this weekend after winning three of the last four stages last year and five of the 25 overall.