Sandblast Rally: Weekend Preview
One of the largest single-day rallies in North America comes to South Carolina this Saturday, as the annual Sandblast Rally returns to the Sandhills State Forest. Some of North American rally’s most iconic names, from Seamus Burke to Paul Choiniere, have won previous editions of Sandblast; this year, an entry list of 82 competitors, including 37 cars, 44 motorcycles, and one side-by-side, will take on the event’s nine stages.
2019 will offer opportunities for new winners in both the car and motorcycle classes. Defending car winners Arkadiusz Gruszka and Maciej Sawicki aren’t entered in their Mitsubishi Mirage RS; last year’s top-finishing driver to return this year is Esteban Romero, who finished fourth in 2018. Likewise, while David Gilbertson and Dale Burroughs, last year’s second and third-place motorcycle finishers, will return, 2018 winner Bobby Wooldridge isn’t on the entry list.
But not having the defending winners show up doesn’t mean that plenty of quality racers aren’t on the entry list. Half of last year’s NASA National Rally Championship-eligible drivers are competing, including Romero/Andres Romero and Duncker Felix/Santiago Jarrin in Open AWD Heavy and Matthew Peterson/Lori Clute and Radek Wlodarczyk/Cameron Carr in Open 2WD Light. Peterson/Clute are part of a five-car contingent supported by Noble Star Rally, in what will likely be one of the largest team entries in North America this season.
After scoring the Open 2WD Heavy class win at Sandblast last year, Chris Greenhouse will return to action, partnering with Welsh co-driver Claire Williams for the first time. They’ll be joined by 2018 O2H runners-up Michael Hall and Darryl Smoot. A number of other crews that took DNFs in 2018 will return in hopes of finishing this year’s event, including Duncker Felix Jr./Jason Grizaniuk, Christopher and Joe Almon, and Nick Bragg/Dominic DePaoli.
Sandblast Rally features only a handful of repeated stages among its 86.66 competition miles, with Horseshoe Mountain the only one to be run twice in the same direction. The longest stage of the event at over 14 miles, Campbell Lake closes out the first section of the rally, while its reverse pass is sandwiched between the second and third services. The first car is due to start the opening Sugar Loaf stage at 9AM, while the first car is set to finish at Cheraw at 6:30PM.