United States Rally Championship Approaches Exciting Climax

As the third season of the United States Rally Championship goes into the "home stretch," there is serious competition for the trophies, and an East-vs.-West battle may be in the offing.

This year, for the first time, the organizers of the championship have divided the country into two geographic areas, Atlantic and Pacific. Competitors score points in their own half of the U.S., with many competitors from both sides entering the final round. Six leading teams from the Atlantic region will each receive a $2,000 travel subsidy to contest the last rally, the Laughlin International Rally in Laughlin, Nevada, November 9-11. This system should reduce the travel costs to competitors, eliminating or limiting the need to travel back and forth across the country in order to enter enough events to contest a national series.

Since 2006, there have also been separate championships for all wheel drive (AWD) and two wheel drive (2WD) cars. This is intended to bring much-needed attention to the front-drive and rear-drive teams, who may not be as competitive in overall classification.

Atlantic Division:

Sandblast Rally (Cheraw, SC, Feb. 17) -- Celsus "Charlie" Donnelly/Noel Gallagher (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 8) took an immediate lead in points in the East, winning in sandy South Carolina by four and a half minutes. They were followed home by Bob Wall/Chad Edmunds (Subaru Impreza WRX) and Enda McCormack/Bernard Farrell (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 6). Seamus Burke (2006 AWD category national champ) and co-driver Eddie Fries (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9) started the season badly, sidelined by a mechanical problem.

Josh Wimpey/Jeremy Wimpey (Volkswagen Golf) won the 2WD category by a wide margin from Greg Healey/John McLeod (Datsun 280Z) and Rafal Listopad/Grzegorz Dorman (Volkswagen Golf Sport).

Rally New York USA (Narrowsburg, NY, Mar. 30-31) -- Celsus Donnelly/Noel Gallagher made it two in a row in New York's Catskill Mountains. Enda McCormack/Bernard Farrell and Daniel O'Brien/Dominik Jozwiak (Subaru Impreza WRX STi) took the other podium positions. Seamus Burke/Eddie Fries were unlucky again, going out early with electrical failure.

On the 2WD side, the brothers Josh and Jeremy Wimpey also made it two-for-two, and placed fourth overall against the all wheel drive crowd. Gustavo Garrido/Jeremy Neyhart (Nissan Sentra SE-R) were second in the category.

Rally Tennessee (Linden, TN, May 5) -- Seamus Burke/Eddie Fries struck back on the paved roads of Tennessee, winning by over five minutes from Charles Sherill/Josh Bressem (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 4). Celsus Donnelly/Noel Gallagher extended their points lead with third overall.

Josh and Jeremy Wimpey went three-for-three among the 2WD crowd, and placed fourth overall again. Rafal Listopad/ Grzegorz Dorman were the 2WD runners-up.

Rally West Virginia (Elkins, WV, Aug. 4) -- Seamus Burke/Eddie Fries repeated their victory this time on gravel roads in West Virginia, with Justin Pritchard/Kim DeMotte (Subaru Impreza WRX) about half a minute back. Charles Sherill/Josh Bressem were third. A transmission failure took out Celsus Donnelly/Noel Gallagher.

Kyle Sarasin/Mickael Johansson (Ford Focus) placed fourth and defeated Josh & Jeremy Wimpey, who damaged their suspension in a sharp dip, in the 2WD stakes by almost half a minute.

International Rally New York (Ellenville, NY, Sept. 6-8) -- Seamus Burke/Eddie Fries dominated when the series returned to the Catskill Mountains, with Cyril Kearney/Dominik Jozwiak (Subaru Impreza) and Enda McCormack/Bernard Farrell several minutes back. Celsus Donnelly/Noel Gallagher could only manage 13th after struggling with electrical problems all weekend.

Rafal Listopad, with Amy Feistel co-driving, was the clear winner in the 2WD race and fourth overall, well ahead of Hampton Bridwell/Josh Katinger (Ford Focus SVT).

With only one Eastern event left before the trip to Nevada (Black River Stages, Harrisville, NY, September 29), Seamus Burke/Eddie Fries are leading the AWD category among the Atlantic contingent. But Celsus Donnelly/Noel Gallagher and Enda McCormack/Bernard Farrell are within striking distance.

In 2WD, Josh Wimpey/Jeremy Wimpey are leading in points. Rafal Listopad (who worked with two different partners) is second on the driver's side from Hampton Bridwell, while Josh Katinger is second among co-drivers.

Pacific Division:

Subaru Rim of the World Rally (Lancaster, CA, April 28-29) -- For the Westerners, the season kicked off with the "Rim," held on dirt surfaces in the Antelope Valley Fairgrounds. Lisa Klassen/Guido Hamacher (Mitsubishi Lancer 6.5) defeated Bill Holmes/Kevin Carter (Ford pickup) by five seconds, followed by Marvin Ronquillo/John Burke (Subaru Impreza WRX). Lisa Klassen made history by being the first woman to win a national championship rally in the United States.

Holmes/Carter's second made them the 2WD winner over Tony Chavez/Mustafa Samli (Volkswagen Golf GTi) and 2006 2WD champions Bruce Davis/Jimmy Brandt (Dodge Neon).

Gorman Ridge Rally (Lebec, CA, Aug. 18) -- The two wheel drive crowd were in charge when they visited the dirt roads of the Hungry Valley Off Road Park, with Bill Holmes/Kevin Carter beating the all wheel drive leader Leon Styles/Matt Gaugher (Subaru Impreza WRX STi). 2WD competitors George Doganis/Thomas Smith (Nissan Sentra SE-R) and Rob Shibao/Amar Sehmi (Mitsubishi Mirage) placed third and forth. Rim winner Lisa Klassen and co-driver Matt Gauger did not finish.

With one Western round (Prescott Forest Rally, Prescott, Arizona, October 5-7) remaining, Roger Loeffer (Subaru Impreza) leads the AWD drivers' points race, based on consistency, with Lisa Klassen second. Guido Hamacher leads on the co-drivers' side ahead of Loeffer's navigator Colin Deere.

On the 2WD table, Bill Holmes/Kevin Carter are leading, with Bill Malik/Christofer Edstrom (Volvo) second.

Laughlin International Rally and Motorsport Festival (Laughlin, Nevada, Nov. 9 -- 11) is the final round of the United States Rally Championship that counts toward both the Atlantic Division and the Pacific Division. The results will determine the United States Rally Champions in the AWD category and the 2WD category.

The championships are, as the saying goes, up for grabs.

-credit: usrc