The New England Forest Rally (NEFR) is the fifth of six rallies on the American Rally Association (ARA) in the organization’s first year. As in previous years, the stages are run over two days on forest roads from Bethel, Maine and Errol, New Hampshire. Started in 1991, previous winners include Patrick Richard/Nathalie Richard, Travis Pastrana/Christian Edstrom, Antoine L’Estage/Nathalie Richard, Ken Block/Alex Gelsomino, and David Higgins/Craig Drew.
With a list of 45 entries, the first two stages of the rally kicked off at Concord Pond after Parc Expose at Sunday River Resort, and the race of attrition began. After service and Stage 3, Stage 4 was cancelled; first there was a bit of miscommunication about an injury to Robbie Durant, Travis Pastrana’s co-driver, but after it was resolved communication was lost and the stage was cancelled. Durant suffered an impacted spine and couldn’t continue after Stage 4, then Pastrana put in a formal request to switch co-drivers. Rule books were consulted, and the race steward approved Pastrana continuing the rally on Saturday with a new co-driver. An available, licensed co-driver was found in Greg Dorman, also SRT USA’s Marketing and Public Relations Coordinator. An unusual situation to say the least, but ultimately within the rules.
Saturday started off dramatically when car 111 – Luis Teixeira and Kadence Verge – had an off requiring medical attention and Stage 5 was cancelled. Laughlin O’Sullivan and Scott Putnam had an off on Stage 8 – Sturtevant Long and had to leave the stage with the car on the back of a tow. By the end of Stage 12, both Pastrana and Higgins had damaged right rear suspension, but both were repaired enough in service to continue to the final stage on North Road.
Pastrana won overall with Dorman, Higgins and Drew in second, and Jeff Seehorn and Karen Jankowski in third in only their second time competing at NEFR. Pastrana, ever the sportsman and good-guy, jumped off the podium after the champagne spray and gave his trophy to a young girl in front. Completely speechless, he told the girl to come back next year and he would autograph the trophy for her.
Andrew Comrie-Picard and Jeremy Wimpey drove an all new Ford Focus RS rally car to first place in Production 4WD, and frequent regional competitors Alvin Fong and William Machin had their first ARA national podium in second in the 2006 Mitsubshi Evo 9. Sumit Panjabi and Matt James rounded out the podium in 3rd.
Clinching the Open 2WD Championship was Ryan Millen and co-driver Rhianon Gelsomino in the Toyota RAV4.
There was a noticeable increase in spectators since 2015, boding well for rally in North America. NEFR efforts have paid off and the VIP bus has gone from a bus ride on a school bus to a spectator areas on a couple of stages to a VIP experience offering food and drink in addition to the transportation.
ARA has one more rally in its 2017 – Ojibwe Forests Rally August 25-26. While there were some growing pains with the controversy over Pastrana’s co-driver switch and questions over Higgins’ car being underweight at the end of NEFR, the non-profit organization is addressing the issues for future rallies.
…and still no mooses.