Courtesy of Sharon Cox
American Keanna Erickson-Chang has gained impressive climb in Motorsport career ladder racing 2019 American Rally Association (ARA) Championship in Ford Fiesta R2T together with stage Rally in France and JWRC (Junior World Rally Championship) in Wales.
Quite a year for the inspiring 24 year old, who first tasted the race-track in 2013 and went on to earn ‘Rookie of the Year’ in street legal classes while ice racing in 2014.
Hooked on rally driving with the love of racing on gravel as opposed to tarmac, Keanna proved potent force racing and qualifying 7th out of 250 to gain place amongst 20 drivers in 2014 Wells Fargo Invitational Autocross Shoot-out. She remains the only women to have qualified for the invitation.
And, that is not all that year. Keanna managed her own Team- ‘G-Tron a 3-5 car Audi 90 race team’ moving to American Endurance Racing by the end of 2014. With outright 2nd place finish in the American Endurance Racing Season Championship in 2015, Keanna followed-up with 2nd in 2016 and 2017 in B-Spec category and placed 3rd in the 2WD Championship with both Rally America and the American Rally Association.
2018 was importantly accumulating solid results in stage-rally racing in America in R1, all the while pushing Keanna to make out-of-comfort zone decision to grab opportunity offered to race R2 for 2019 season.
Keanna: ‘When Barry McKenna reached out to me at the end of last season with the opportunity to be in an R2 for 2019, and an M-Sport-built, ex-JWRC car at that, I was quick to answer’.
‘I relocated at the start of 2019 as well, nearby to McKenna Motorsport. This has made things much easier logistically, as before I was living in Manhattan and working with O.D.D. Racing out of Colorado, and before that, Team O’Neil in New Hampshire’.
‘We work with McKenna Motorsport on an arrive-and-drive basis, but proximity to the team makes getting things like seat fittings and sending my safety gear with the car to events so much easier’.
Logistics aside, it is Keanna’s ability to zero in sights on where, when and how to best develop her rally driving skills which had fed off back of results earlier this year in ‘the Rally in the 100 Acre Wood in March, which was my final event in the R1. I also competed in Sno*Drift in January with the R1, but we lost power just eight corners into the first stage which was a big disappointment since we were a favourite to win 2WD there’.
Making progressive headway in 2019 America Rally Association (ARA) season, Keanna held fast on thoughts for improving performance.
Keanna: ‘Something that has always stuck with me is, if you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse’.
‘Not making the move to an R2 in the 2018 season as originally planned left me feeling like I didn’t grow throughout the season as I had planned, so for 2019, I really wanted to put more emphasis on learning. Competing in a mixed-surface rally had been under consideration– the thought of giving tarmac rallies a try stemmed from that’.
‘In my mind, tarmac rallying screamed France. I did my research and reached out to some friends, and decided that the Clio R3T Trophy would be a good fit. I knew going in that it would be difficult and I’d probably be at the back of the pack (spoiler: I was), but it was all I wanted it to be… a very good learning experience!
And the switch in rally cars- from Ford Fiesta R2T to Clio R3T- how was the transition?
Keanna: ‘I had my first experience in the Clio R3T before I had the chance to drive the Fiesta R2T, which was really interesting. I had the opportunity to test the Clio in Catalunya prior to Lyon-Charbonnières, where I was getting used to being on tarmac, and being in a new car, but also to having a sequential and so much more torque’.
‘Coming back from Charbo and jumping straight into my first test in the R2T, I had a very difficult time. My runs felt slow and I had myself quite worried about my performance in the rally that was directly following the test.
‘I’d also committed myself to a new note system for the rally, as if a new car wasn’t enough! Add onto that a nine hour time difference… I was probably more tired and worked-up about it all than I should have been.
‘At the end of the test, I found out how my times actually stood up and felt better going into the rally. Coming off tarmac and becoming accustomed to that level of grip, then getting on a technical, and quite loose, test road was more of an adjustment than I expected it to be’.
‘I prefer gravel to tarmac though, this is why I switched to rally from circuit racing after 2015. Tarmac rallying was certainly a challenge for me, being quicker than gravel rallies and not having the added benefit of getting to know the corners like in circuit racing’.
Part Two: driver and co-driver partnership, changing pace-notes, challenges of stage rally racing and working with F1 In Schools – a STEM based programme.