For the 25th anniversary of the New England Forest Rally based in Newry, Maine – and encompassing rally stages in both Maine and near Errol, New Hampshire – speculation was high. Subaru’s rally team – Dave Higgins and co-driver Craig Drew – were so far undefeated this season, but some formidable competition was posing a serious challenge. Would the streak continue to win the championship with Adam Yeoman (2011 Rally America Rookie of the Year) and Jordan Schulze, the inimitable Ken Block with Alex Gelsomino, Dave Sterckx with Renaud Jamoul, Nick Roberts / Rhianon Gelsomino, and team mate Travis Pastrana and Chrissie Beavis in the mix?
In short – yes. And there was some bad rally juju for the others along the way. After hanging tight in second place, FY Racing’s Yeoman and Schulze were out after Stage 10 with a ball joint failure. Sterckx and Jamoul had a flat on day one and lost three minutes, then on the second day – in stage 11 of 13 – lost another two minutes to an electrical issue, knocking them out of podium contention.
As early as Stage 2, Pastrana / Beavis were facing some disappointment; the car had some frantic repairs on the side of Route 5 heading to the start of the stage, arriving around four minutes late. They couldn’t continue, however, and after a couple of donuts for the fans and marshalls hanging out at the start, it was back to service for the team – Pastrana saying that they would definitely be back on Saturday to start Stage 4.
Block and Gelsomino weren’t without their own challenges. Block struggled with some engine issues, and had to finish the sixth stage with a throttle pedal zip-tied together after losing a disagreement with a bank. Roberts / Gelsomino had a flat in Stage 1, rolled in Stage 2, then the engine lost power in Stage 5 and they couldn’t continue after stalling on the way to service.
Ultimately, Higgins and Drew handily maintained their winning streak coming in first overall to win the championship, with Block / Gelsomino in second, and Pastrana / Beavis making up some incredible time for the third place.
Beyond the battle for the top three podium spots and the chance to spray some champagne, there was a whole lot of other things going on at NEFR. Lucy Block, married to some guy named Ken, drove an Ford Fiesta R2 with the best livery this side of the Martini-inspired Porsche.
M-Sport partnered with partnered with Team O’Neil to introduce some new Fiestas to the American market with Ramana Lagemann driving a Ford Fiesta R5 2000cc, and Brendan Reeves piloting the R2 1000cc. Ken Block is also in an M-Sport, the Fiesta HFHV.
Another surprise entry to NEFR was Colombian Gustavo Yacaman, better known for driving a Ligier LMP2 in the FIA World Endurance Championship. While he competed in GRC Lites in 2013, NEFR was his first stage rally, racing in a 2WD 2009 B-Spec Honda Fit.
The New England Forest Rally is held in otherwise serene forests on either side of the Maine and New Hampshire border chock full of beautiful views, thick pine trees, lots and lots of mosquitos, deer flies, and the looming spectre of a wayward moose. Fortunately, there are way more spectators than mooses, and it gets quite crowded from the Parc Expose to the final stage. Congratulations to all winners, both national and regional – and congratulations to the New England Forest Rally for 25 years of success.