Lawless/Sharkey Win International Rally New York
Tom Lawless, the 2005 United States Rally Champion, with the Irish codriver Brian Sharkey (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9), emerged as the winners of the International Rally New York 2009, a two-day test where the result was in doubt until almost the final mile.
Going into the second day, an accomplished Finnish crew of Jani Paasonen/Mika Rajasalo (Subaru Impreza), had a lead of 43 seconds. With a competitive car and more experience than their rivals, United States Rally Championship (USRC) regulars assumed that the visiting Finnish team would be able to cruise to a victory. At the time, Lawless/Sharkey were second, 43 seconds behind, despite a bit of turbocharger and fuel pump trouble on the first day. Seamus Burke/John Buffum were third, but would soon withdraw from the rally due to a head gasket failure.
And then the momentum of the event went the other way: Paasonen's car broke an axle during the final morning, which slowed Paasonen enough to allow Lawless a 13-second lead. Paasonen responded by taking back seconds on each special stage -- despite heavy rain, mud, and deep puddles which limited his and everyone else's speed. The margin was down to about three seconds at lunch time. But as Paasonen should have surged ahead on the final two or three stages, the Subaru broke a differential. Paasonen/Rajasalo decided to pace themselves and finish, falling to 1 minute and 17 seconds behind the winners.
Martin Donnelly/Stephen Duffy (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo) placed third. They were far enough behind the leaders, 6-3/4 minutes, that Donnelly joked afterward that they became spectators in the rally. United States Rally Championship hopefuls Daniel O'Brien and Brendan McCabe finished under Super Rally rules. This was not enough to secure the Championship title. Keith Jackson/Marra Estep (Subaru Impreza) took fourth, garnering enough points to wrap up the United States Rally Championship in the All-Wheel-Drive category. Shawn and Jennifer Hudspeth (Mitsubishi Eclipse) placed fifth overall and secured the USRC All-Wheel-Drive Production Cup for the season. Both teams traveled to the final round of the 2009 USRC season in New York from California.
Like the overall victory, the Two-Wheel-Drive win was not settled until late in the rally. United States Rally Championship contenders Josh & Jeremy Wimpey (Volkswagen Golf Mark 2) and Dan Brosnan/Shane McCann (Nissan Sentra) both suffered mechanical breakages on the first day, broken suspension and steering, respectively. Likewise, the very rapid Ken Block/Alex Gelsomino (Ford Escort Mark 2) were stopped by a broken differential. And so, in the heavy rains of the final afternoon, Wojtek "Al" Kulpa/Adam Pelc (Volkswagen Golf Mark 3) raced with the father-son team of Simon & Kieran Wright (Ford Focus ZX3). Kulpa/Pelc reached the final control with an advantage of 39 seconds for the trophy.
Dan Brosnan and Shane McCann finished under the Super Rally rules, which was enough for them to secure the United States Rally Championship in the Two-Wheel-Drive category. It might have been a golden opportunity for the up-and-coming team of Michael Reilly/Josh Benthien (Ford Focus SVT), but they were delayed by an off-course excursion while leading the Two-Wheel-Drive classification. In the end, they finished tenth overall and won the 2009 USRC Two-Wheel-Drive Production Cup.