February 15, 2022

Team O’Neil established in 1997 and have become a center to learn vehicle control, learn about and drive rally, and instill a mindset to finish a rally, all while having fun. At the end of the 2021 American Rally Association (ARA) season, a former Team O’Neil student achieved a lifelong goal of a national championship. Mark Piatkowski, number 35, after a whole season of rally became the 2021 ARA National LN4 Champion and also won the NA4 Cup. He attributed his driving success to the teachings of Team O’Neil and the mentality to finish.

Image (7)

Photo provided by Mark Piatkowski

Mark was born into rally racing with his father Andy Piatkowski being a rally driver in the 1970s and 1980s. In 1992 Andy brought Mark to Mark’s first rally, STPR (Susquehannock Trail Performance Rally). Since that moment, Mark has been involved in rallies. At 14, Mark did his first pendulum turn. “There’s a nice rock quarry right next to my house. I did my first Scandinavian flick there, but I think my journey actually started at Team O’Neil.” In 2007 Mark received a high school graduation present to attend Team O’Neil.

Image (3)

Photo provided by Mark Piatkowski

That fall, Mark attended the Team O’Neill Rally School. “The Team O’Neil facility was fantastic. I learned a lot of skills. It was actually the first time I started left foot braking.” Mark learned vehicle platforms, vehicle dynamics, and he learned to drive an underpowered car to its potential. “To add more depth to it, Tim was actually one of the instructors for my session. He taught me to use momentum and to look at my lines. Using lines, using momentum is the advantage I have at the end of the day. He taught me that and I’ve kept it throughout my career.”

Beyond driving, Team O’Neil provided knowledge of vehicle setup and mechanical sympathy, which is still part of the curriculum to this day. The mechanical sympathy class taught Mark proper setup of a rally car. “I use that ethos, prepare your car to the top of your skillset. It was all a grounding experience for me. Not only did I get to drive different cars, but I also got a little bit of competitive advice as well, along with car prep.” Upon completion, he felt more prepared as a rally driver. “It’s not just car control, but you get a holistic experience of what rally is.”

Image (1)

Photo provided by Mark Piatkowski

In 2008 he got his first car, it became his first rally car, a 2000 Subaru Impreza 2.5RS. Mark took two years to build this car. It was primarily stock with the modifications being a rally suspension setup and underbody protection. “All of this was done on a college budget. My whole rally career has been on a shoestring budget, and I can even say that about today.”

In 2010, Mark started off in what was then known as the Open Light Class. He emphasized the importance of having a reliable car, “It’s very difficult to have a strong foothold in the sport of rally when you’re battling mechanical issues.” Starting off at STPR and then going to New England Forest Rally (NEFR) in the same year, he won both in his class with veteran rally driver, Constantine Mantopoulos as his co-driver (Check out our Team O’Neil Story video on Constantine and his son, Aris’s visit to Team O’Neil: click here). “That was the starting years of my rally career. I had a great co-driver, a very reliable car, and the results helped as well.”

Image (2)-1

Photo provided by Mark Piatkowski (photo credit: Fred Stanford)

By 2013, he won the Eastern Regional Rally America Championship. He felt he achieved a good amount of success with that car. Mark turned to his father for advice, “The best time to sell a car is when it does well, because people assume that it’s the car doing the job and not necessarily the driver or team behind it.” The car was put up for sale and sold within 48 hours.

The next step was the Super Production class. Mark purchased a rally prepped 2004 Subaru Impreza WRX STI. “Looking back, that was the demise of my Super Production days. I could barely afford to buy the car, let alone, race it.” To the readers, “The car cost is one thing, but it’s really the prep, the maintenance, the running cost required to properly run a car that I don’t think a lot of people realize until they’re like five feet deep into it.” With the higher-powered machine, it required more maintenance. “I remembered dumping so much time and energy into the car, the prep, that I was not enjoying the driving.” In 2015 at NEFR Mark had an accident where the vehicle rolled into a series of trees ending his Super Production class campaign.

Image (9)

Photo provided by Mark Piatkowski

After the accident Mark did some thinking, “I want to rally and have fun again.” He knew the NA4 class (Open Light), so he built a car of that class to his spec. The car debuted at NEFR 2017, a 1999 Subaru Impreza 2.5RS. It kept the ethos of reliability, easy to maintain, and fun to drive. “In the end I’m doing it because I love to rally.”

Starting off in 2021 Mark began his season with a goal to win the NA4 Cup. The events on the list to race consisted of Sno*Drift, Southern Ohio Forest Rally (SOFR), New England Forest Rally (NEFR), and Susquehannock Trail Performance Rally (STPR). Mark entered nationally.

Image (6)

Photo provided by Mark Piatkowski (credit: CJ Mira)

Moments of the 2021 Season:

  • Sno*Drift – In one of the early stages Mark beached his car in a snowbank. Not giving up he was able to break free and continued. Mark finished 5th overall, 1st in LN4 and 1st in NA4.
  • Southern Ohio Forest Rally – “This rally has been a bit of a family curse.” Historically Mark and his father have not performed well at SOFR. Mark broke the curse and secured another 5th overall, 1st in LN4 and 1st in NA4.
  • New England Forest Rally – A star studded event with a field of 80 entries. Mark took 2nd in LN4 and 2nd NA4, and 10th overall. “I still got top 10 overall, I didn’t even think it was possible.”
  • Susquehannock Trail Performance Rally – Canceled as a national event. He was approached to go for the National LN4 Championship. Mark talked with his father and decided to pursue the championship. “I remember him saying this so specifically, ‘If I were in your shoes, I would’ve already sold my house and I would already be chasing the championship.’”
  • Ojibwe Forest Rally – Mark went head-to-head in a tough competition against Ele Bardha for national LN4 championship points. Day two at the land bridge stage, Mark went all out, gaining a 12 second lead. He finished 1st in LN4, 1st in NA4 and a 6th overall with only a 1.8 second margin. “I’m glad I gave it my 100 percent. I took risks that I usually don’t, and it ended up working. I was really happy about that.”
  • Lake Superior Performance Rally – Day two of the rally, Mark’s car suffered transmission damages and lost his third gear. “I didn’t even know if I was going to finish the event.” Mark finished 6th overall, 3rd in LN4 and 1st NA4 despite losing his third gear.
  • Oregon Trail Rally – Through the support of Era Motorsports, Mark was able to relieve the pressure of towing across the country. “I had an incredible time with Claudia and my team. The pressure was off us, but we were still here to put in some great stage times.” Mark finished OTR 11th overall, 2nd in LN4, 1st in NA4.

The 2021 season concluded with Mark winning the 2021 ARA National LN4 Championship and the 2021 ARA National NA4 Cup. He achieved the LN4 Championship in a Naturally Aspirated 160 horsepower Subaru Impreza.

Image (8)-1

Photo provided by Mark Piatkowski

“Anybody who is looking to get into rally. If you’re looking at it from a performance standpoint, go to Team O’Neil. You’re going to learn more than car control. Skills that I learned back in 2007, I still use till this day. People want to try rally, but don’t necessarily know which car to choose, which platform to use. Team O’Neil provides an excellent base to try out different cars. I know that the folks there are very experienced. Unlike any other rally school in the nation, Team O’Neil has real roads. Those are real roads you’re able to practice and hone your skills on. The folks behind the program are really passionate about it. I highly recommend people to do it. I’m really glad I got to go to Team O’Neil, it gave me a great foundation that essentially ended up with me winning a national championship. All thanks to the skills I gained from Team O’Neil, so I’m really proud of that as well” - Mark Piatkowski

At Team O’Neil we train our students to have the skills and mindset to finish a rally. Mark’s 2021 season echoed the mindset to finish. “I’ve used that mindset (finish the rally), with a reliable car. You won’t be able to do that without a reliable package, a stout package. There are folks who get into rally, wreck a car, and they’re out. I’m here for the long run and that is also an approach that Tim personally taught me, ‘make sure you finish, but you’re in it for the long run.’”

If you’re interested in following Mark and his team, check out map-rally.com, and follow MAP Rally Team on social (Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube).

Image (4)-1-1

Photo provided by Mark Piatkowski

If you'd like to share your Team O'Neil story with us, please submit it here: Your Story

If Mark's story has you interested about Team O’Neil and what we do? Check us out here: Team O'Neil

Looking for video content, we've got you: Team O'Neil YouTube Channel

For more stories and blogs, check out our blogs: Team O'Neil Blog

If you're ready to book your driving course: Book Now!

Remember to join our E-Newsletter listing, scroll down, add your email and subscribe.