SCCA ProRally championship round four set to climb the hill this Saturday. COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (June 26, 2003) -- Challenging weather has been the theme of the 2003 ProRally season -- first snow in Michigan and then rain and muck in...
SCCA ProRally championship round four set to climb the hill this Saturday.
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (June 26, 2003) -- Challenging weather has been the theme of the 2003 ProRally season -- first snow in Michigan and then rain and muck in California and Pennsylvania. After all of that, the Championship now heads to the top of the Rockies, where its not unusual to experience all four seasons in a single day, for the 81st Race to the Clouds at the Falken Tire Pikes Peak International Hill Climb (PPIHC), the fourth round of the 2003 SCCA ProRally Championship.
The 17 competitors who have entered this round will have a challenge unlike any in the Championship as they compete against each other and severe altitude changes for only one, partially-gravel, partially-paved, 12-mile stage (for full points) to the 14,000-ft. summit of one of Colorado's most famous peaks.
This round of the Championship could very well be the toughest test to date for Open Class points leader, Team Mitsubishi Motor Sports America driver David Higgins. Higgins, who leads the points standings with 66 overall after winning the first three events of the season, is a native of the Isle of Man in the United Kingdom and has never driven at the altitudes he will face in the PPIHC. His co-driver, Daniel Barritt, is also from Great Britain, meaning he will have to acclimate to the heights as well. Mitsubishi as a team, however, may have a trump card as Higgins' teammate, Lauchlin O'Sullivan, raced in this event last year and placed an impressive third overall, competing in the Open Class in a 2001 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 6.5. A stage-six accident and a subsequent DNF at Susquehannock Trail earlier this month was a setback for O'Sullivan's championship hopes, however the team has rebuilt the front of O'Sullivan's 2003 Lancer Evolution and expects him to rebound.
Just short of halfway through the 2003 Championship season, Subaru Rally Team USA is still searching for its first win of the year. It has been an up-and-down year so far for the team's top driver, PPIHC defending champion Mark Lovell. Lovell, who last year became the first U.K. citizen to ever win any class overall, placed second at Rim of the World, but sandwiched that showing in-between a pair of DNF's. Lovell's teammate, Ramana Lagemann, has had his own struggles this year and has yet to see the podium in 2003. His fifth-place finish at Rim of the World was his best, and only, finish in three events this year.
In the Manufacturer's Championship, Team Mitsubishi has capitalized on Higgins' early success and Team Subaru's struggles and has opened a commanding 82-21 lead in the standings with just six events remaining in the Championship.
The FIA Group N Drivers' Championship points race has been tight all year and promises to be that way again this event as Mark Utecht, who leads Group N standings with 22 points, along with co-driver Jeff Secor, are set to battle late entry and current-second place driver Shane Mitchell. Mitchell (20 points), and his co-driver Paul Donnelly, entered the PPIHC very late - just a few days ago -- after discovering how close the points separation is between him and Utecht.
Further proof of how competitive Group N is, last year's PPIHC Group N winner Wolfgang Hoeck and Julie Lin have returned to defend their PPIHC title. Hoeck will be driving his 2001 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VII, the same car he won in last year.
The Two-Wheel Drive exhibition class only has two entries in this round, but both are highly qualified, ProRally veteran drivers in Chris Havas, in his 2001 VW Golf; and Doug Shepherd, who is in his 2003 Mopar supported Dodge SRT-4. Havas is coming off an 11th-place finish overall at STPR and a Group 5 win. Shepherd suffered from mechanical problems and did not finish.
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