Saturday, June 2, 2012

Higgins suffers suspension issues but still in the game: it's anybody's rally

Jon Kemp comes across the finish of the Waste Management II
stage in his Open class Mitsubishi Evo./
Photo: Tim White
 The Waste Management Susquehannock Trail Performance Rally®, presented by Citizen's & Northern Bank, began this afternoon in downtown Wellsboro, Penn.  Starting along the town square, 65 cars took the green.

Subaru Rally USA Team David Higgins of the U.K.'s Isle of Man and co-driver Craig Drew of Bristol, U.K., were the first car on the road, but during the first stage suffered a broken front differential, leaving them with only rear-wheel-drive in their 2012 Subaru WRX STI.

Drew commented that they limped it through the end of Stage 3 to get back to service despite losing over three minutes.  Stewards are also looking at a possible time penalty for their extra service between Stages 2 and 3.  Back at the fairgrounds, the crew was able to mend the issue.

"It's not the best way to start," Higgins added, "but our wheels are still turning so we've got a chance."

Higgin's chief rival, the Rockstar Energy Drink Team of Antoine L'Estage and Nathalie Richard, took the early lead despite their 2011 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X suffering overheating issues.

Although Higgins has almost cinched the Rally America National Championship, coming into STPR with 61 points overall, L'Estage is not throwing in the towel. After three stages, he is still leading half a minute ahead of Leonid "Crazy Leo" Urlichich of Thornhill, Ont., Canada,  who is currently in second place overall in the standings.

After a mishap with a ditch on yesterday's
practice stage, Paul Martino showed no
mercy as he finished the Waste Management II
stage driving a Honda Civic Si  in
the regional Production class./Photo:  Tim White
"We had a big overheating problem. The guys in our service crew will have a lot to do," L'Estage said. "We are still faster than Leo. Hopefully we can fix this tonight and stay in the game. It could be much worse."

Leading the Super Production class is last year's STPR® SP class winner Ramana Lagemann, from Somerville, Mass., with co-driver Chrissie Beavis, from San Diego, Calif. Lagemann returned to classic form not having driven a rally car since the New England Forest Rally in 2011.

Lagemann holds a nine-second lead over second place Lauchlin O’Sullivan, of San Francisco, Calif., and Scott Putnam, of Minneapolis, Minn. 2011 Rally America SP Class winners Travis Hanson, of Woodsville, N.H., and Terry Hanson, of Williamsburg, Mich., are another 16.6 seconds behind O’Sullivan.

Under the threat of severe thunderstorms and a tornado watch, officials called the Super Special Stages 4 and 5 before the leaders had the chance to take the field.

In the 2WD class, the Summit Rally Team, Will Orders of Melbourne, Australia and Toni Feaver of Perth, Australia, are at the top of the leaderboard with a time of 26:36.1.  Next in line is Chris Duplessis of Bethleham, N.H. and Alex Kihurani of Philadelphia, Pa. following by a minute.  Chris Greenhouse of Cincinnati, Ohio, and Brian Johnson of Bethel, Conn., are in third, trailing by a minute and a half.

After three stages, the preliminary overall standings are as follows:

Position, Driver/Co-driver, Overall time
1:  L'Estage/Richard, 24:33.4
2:  Urlichich/Williams, 25:04.7
3:  Lagemann/Beavis, 26:00.6
4:  O'Sullivan/Putnam, 26:10.8
5:  Hanson/Hanson, 26:17.4

The competitors are looking forward to getting out to the forest tomorrow under better conditions.  Although the forecast is calling for scattered showers, the brunt of the storm has passed through this evening, effectively reducing tomorrow's dust load.