Higgins and Drew Dominate at New England Forest Rally

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?


Higgins and Drew

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.

Pastrana Donut

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.

NEFR-Block

NEFR_Roberts-Gelsomino

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.

NEFR-HeyLucy

porsche-guh

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.

NEFR-Ramana

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.

2015 Susquehannock Trail Performance Rally

The first weekend in June saw a return to Wellsboro, Pennsylvania in much warmer weather for the 39th running of the Waste Management Susquehannock Trail Performance Rally. Held over two days, the entire rally covers almost 422.6 kilometers (262.6 miels), 192.2 kilometers (119.4 miles) of  competitive stages split between dirt roads on Waste Management property Friday and public roads in state parks on Saturday. Drawing 70 regional and international teams, STPR is the fifth of eight Rally America Championships held in 2015. Past winners have included Subaru Rally Team’s David Higgins/Craig Drew, as well as Ken Block/Alessandro Gelsomino.

Parc Exposé

Parc Exposé

After a sunny Parc Exposé Friday morning, the teams left The Green in Wellsboro and headed to the Waste Management stages 1 – 3. Last year, a jump near the spectator area was added, and it did not disappoint… the spectators, anyway. It’s a sad thing to hear a driver tell his kid, “Tell mommy we’re coming home a day early. We broke the car.” Car 157 (Super Production 2008 Subaru STI Tomasorally) driven by Tomas Solnicky with co-driver Ray Vambuts bounced on landing off the jump and spun in a huge cloud of impenetrable dirt. When the dust settled, the car was off the course and unable to continue, though driver and co-driver were fine. All in all, 62 teams finished the 14.3k (8.9 mile stage.) By the time Stage 3 came around on the same course, 61 teams started and 54 finished.

Just before landing and spinning off course in Stage 1.

Just before landing and spinning off course in Stage 1.

All teams and volunteers then returned to the Tioga Fairgrounds for Stages 4 & 5. These “Super Special” stages see two cars on an almost half mile dirt course at the the same time, taking two spins around a twisting route and ending on a straight-away in front of the filled grands stands. The weather had other plans, however, and a violent thunderstorm blew in and stayed. After a constant downpour with too-close-for-comfort lightning, the evening Super Stages were cancelled.

Team umbrella, heading over to shield another car being repaired from the rain.

Team umbrella, heading over to shield another car being repaired from the rain.

Thunderstorm that ultimately caused the cancellation of Friday's Super Special stage

Thunderstorm that ultimately caused the cancellation of Friday’s Super Special stage

After an early morning Parc Exposé in town, 61 teams headed to Stage 6 – and 56 finished. Stage 7 saw William Petrow and Raphael Orlove – already out of contention and driving for exhibition only – roll over after taking a turn wide and clipping the embankment on the edge of the course. The Broken Motorsports 1992 Nissan 240SX came to rest off the embankment heading down into some brush, but media and rally volunteers pushed the car back on course and they sped off.

Pushing car back onto course after rolling onto roof.

Pushing car back onto course after rolling onto roof.

Service in Germania saw many teams frantically fixing limping cars. Robert Pepper, driving a 1991 Porsche 944S2 with co-driver Mical Davis, said his team had been up all night with about 20 minutes of sleep fixing the transmission, which was left with a hole the size of his fist after Friday’s stages. “That’s rally.”

Germania Service

Germania Service

The carnage continued from stage to stage, and by the start of the 14th and last trail stage, 46 cars started and 43 survived. The weather was spectacular on Saturday, so competitors headed back to the fairgrounds to meet the fans then complete the Super Special stage. The still-muddy course saw a few spins and lots of flying dirt, especially when Pink Curl Racing in the 2006 Mustang (Paul Cacioppo and Niall Burns) faced off against the crowd-pleasing Gary DeMasi and Stephen Kurey in a 1985 Ford Ranger. The Mustang just about made it to the end, but the 2WD swerved and got stuck on a berm. Ultimately, Subaru Rally Team’s Dave Higgins and Craig Drew faced off against FY Racing Team’s Adam Yeoman and Jordan Schulze for the podium. Overall rally winners were Higgins and Drew continuing their winning streak for their 11th win in a row, the FY Racing Team in second, and Nick Roberts with co-driver Rhianon Gelsomino taking third for Nick Roberts Global Rally Team.

Podium

Podium

Full gallery:

Seed 9 Rally

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Surrounded by the flashing lights and omnipresent din of casino games in Las Vegas, it’s easy to forget that the city is smack dab in the middle of nowhere. In a week filled with the spectacle of SEMA along with NHRA Toyota Nationals, SPEED Energy Formula Off-Road Presented by TRAXXAS, and Red Bull Global Rallycross season finals, it’s easy to not seek life – or motorsports – outside of The Strip. About 35 miles out into the nowhere around Las Vegas is a essentially a crossroads called Jean, Nevada, with a casino, a gas station, women’s prison, and a small town whose entrance is choked by a rather formidable biker bar. Everything else is desert, dirt roads, and rattle snake holes. Lots and lots of rattle snake holes.

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It is out on these Joshua tree and rock-lined gravel roads of Wilson Pass where the Seed 9 Rally took place on Saturday, November 9, 2014, the weekend after SEMA and its associated events. The regional stage rally and the last race of 2014 in the Bilstein Southwest RallyCup Series drew 22 teams from Arizona, Colorado, California, Ecuador, and even China with a wide range of experience. The rally cars ran the gamut as well, ranging from a 1971 Datsun 240Z, a 1994 Ford Ranger, to a 2013 Toyota GT86. Not the most inviting terrain for spectators, the course wound uphill to a turnaround, dotted with the occasional race official, volunteer, and photographer. Total mileage for is 35 with all stages completed. The first stage began around 2:30 in the afternoon.

Once the two safety cars drove past, the first team of David Sterckx and John Reed barreled by in a 2011 Subaru WRX STI. Billows of dust undulated behind each car as the teams came through one by one, snaking along the course, adding layers of dust between the road and the setting sun. Early on in the course was a deep gully – some teams slowed down to navigate, but a couple teams were caught by surprise and hit it too fast; all cars made it past, but a few cars were worse for wear. As in all stage rallies, time is of the essence – teams were looking to beat course bests as well as other driver’s personal bests.

Seed9Sunset

The sun finished setting as the racers looped back down the course for the service break. The Gold Strike Casino lot was lit up with work lights under tarps as team mechanics worked feverishly on the cars, adjusting here, welding there. The informal atmosphere of the parking lot paddock, drivers and supporters alike friendly and chatty, is one of the many positive aspects of regional and grassroots racing. Pro Tip – the best grilled chicken ever tasted can be found in the paddocks at Seed 9. While some lamented the challenges of competing with heavily funded teams, it was agreed that all in all it was fun.

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At this point, my friend Lecia and I had to leave. Exhausted from SEMA, needing another layer of fleece, still rattled from narrowly avoiding a head-on collision with an either tweaked out, suicidal, psychopathic (or all of the above) Harley rider driving the wrong way in our lane, and not really able to shoot much at night amongst rattle snakes anyway, we hit the highway back to Las Vegas. The rally continued on in the dark desert, and David Sterckx scored the best time of 29:08, George Plsek second with 33:17, and Doug Chernis in third with a time of 35:37.

Next year’s date has been announced – November 25, 2015. One more Pro Tip: If you drive a Prius, rent a Jeep for the day.

This 13 year old is a better driver than you will ever be!

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Many have wondered over the year just why Finland has created so many of the world’s greatest rally (and F1 for that matter) drivers. Given the rural nature of much of the country, many young kids start driving on the family farm well before they get a driver’s license. Then of course there are those who have rally car drivers as parents.

Take 13 year old Kalle Rovanperä as a prime example. The son of WRC veteran Harri Rovanperä, Kalle has been driving rally cars since he was 8 years old and has chronicled his adventures on YouTube. The latest addition to his channel shows Kalle taking his Mom for a leisurely drive through the forest. She is very relaxed. Or not.

Going further back to when he was just 8, check out they boy’s skills at the wheel of a rear wheel drive Toyota Starlet.

Canadian Rally Championship 2014 Teaser

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As a Canadian rally fan, journalist and past competitor, I obviously have an affinity for the sport here in this country. For many years, rally in Canada has been a very small niche sport, largely because many events are held in very rural settings. With the advent of modern media though, perhaps driven by the success of series like the X-Games and Global RallyCross, the scene has become much more vibrant in recent years as potential fans can see just how exciting the sport is from home.
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Coolest Granny ever tries RallyX in a Subaru

At 91 years old, most of us are are being force fed energy shakes and munching on crushed ice from a foam cup, if we are still kicking at all. Youtube user YoungunnR’s Granny isn’t like most of us. This hard core old girl recently strapped in behind the wheel of a Subaru and headed out to do it in the dirt. Go Granny Go!

Check it out after the jump.
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Gumball 3000 Rally Begins in New York City

As I type, 150 brightly colored, wrapped and logo’ed cars, SUVs and anything in between are arriving in Toronto on the first day of the Gumball 3000 cross-country rally. The festive exotic-heavy field of participants lined up Thursday night in New York City’s Times Square in spite of fog, rain and and huge crowds. Tightly packed, the cars filled up two New York City blocks. [Read more…]

Think motorsport is expensive? Try making a movie about it!

Ok, so maybe making a movie isn’t quite as expensive as campaigning a top flight race or rally car, but the costs can easily eclipse those incurred by grass roots racers who’ve been known to fund their team by returning empties. Just ask Matt Johnston, who is making what might just be the first ever feature length movie about the U.S. National Rally Championship.

So far, Johnston has sunk ten grand of his own money into the project and anticipates that he will need close to $50,000 to complete the film. If these numbers aren’t high enough, remember that Johnston has done almost everything by himself and already owns much of the super expensive gear needed to shoot wickedly high quality video.
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Massive rally crash caused by missing roof vent!

We’ve all seen the funky scoops that rally teams use to draw in fresh air to keep the humans cool, but who knew the scoops perform another, more safety related function. These scoops allow air to enter the car, while maintaining positive air pressure that prevents dust clouds from entering the car.

During the recent WRC round in Mexico, Ford driver Evgeny Novikov lost his roof scoop when he clipped a fence or some such obstacle. The resultant dust storm inside the car caused a rather massive crash and a Fiesta RS in kit form.

Check it out after the jump…
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Ride to 2nd at 100 Acre Wood with Mark Higgins

Block may have taken his sixth win at the woods that Christopher Robin played in, but reigning Rally America Champion Mark Higgins wasn’t going to let him win easily. Being second on the road however, Higgins had to content with the dust that was left hanging in the air as the Ford driver attacked the stages. Even with the addition of a “dust minute”, the Subaru America team still had a tough time seeing the road through the haze.

Check out Higgins in action after the break.
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