Pastrana Vaults into Rally America Championship Lead with Podium at 2008 New England Forest Rally
(July 14, 2008) Subaru Rally Team USA driver Travis Pastrana has jumped into the lead of the 2008 Rally America National Championship standings following a 3rd Overall finish at the New England Forest Rally. Pastrana and his co-driver, former WRC champion Derek Ringer, took a conservative pace in their new 2008 Subaru Impreza WRX STI to avoid the treacherous rocks which the New England Forest Rally is notorious for. Pastrana's SRT USA teammate Ken Block wasn't so lucky in avoiding those rocks, and found himself unable to continue after experiencing front suspension damage from a large rock while fighting hard for the overall lead.
The New England Forest Rally, Round 6 of the 2008 Rally America National Championship, runs in and around the Maine/New Hampshire border on over 100 miles of highly technical and rocky gravel logging roads. The rally is highly regarded for its unique combination of fast but rocky roads, big jumps and the occasional moose! The 2008 New England Forest Rally served as a "Last Chance Qualifier" for entry into X Games 14, to be held in Los Angeles this August 3rd. The event's top-finishing driver who had not already earned an invitation to the X Games would earn the coveted 'last-chance' spot.
This was Pastrana's first full rally in the all new Open Class 2008 Subaru Impreza WRX STI after crashing out of the last round in Pennsylvania. "I took a steady approach since I needed some miles in the new car and that strategy paid off because so many other drivers had problems," explained Pastrana. The 24 year-old, two-time reigning Rally America National Champion did have a few close calls, such as when his left rear tire punctured and then disintegrated, leaving Pastrana just a rim to drive on for an entire stage. But Pastrana pressed on and increased his pace gradually, eventually winning the longest stage of the rally. "The car felt great! It's faster than the 2007 car for sure, and there is more speed to be found as we tune the setup and just get used to adjusting to the car, but it's great to now be leading the championship in the 2008 STI!"
The second SRT USA entry of Ken Block with co-driver Alex Gelsomino, who recently drove the new 2008 Subaru Impreza WRX STI to a win at the Rallye Baie-des-Chaleurs in Canada, were gunning for another victory in New England. However, a surprise late entry to the New England Forest Rally would stand in their way, rally veteran and 2004 Production Class World Rally Champion Niall McShea. Block and McShea have rallied together before, but only as teacher and student when McShea flew to the USA to tutor Block and Pastrana in the early stages of their careers several years ago.
The battle between Block and McShea was extremely tight through the first half of the rally, with Block trailing McShea by just nine seconds after Day 1. Early on the second and final day of competition Block wasn't helped by a tire puncture, but he was still able to keep pace with McShea through the morning's stages. Block's fight ended however when he clipped a large rock in the road that damaged his front suspension, leading to a premature end to his rally. "To be able to run against McShea and keep up with him, I think, validates our sport in America, McShea is world-class. Both Pastrana and I have been tutored by him so it was great fun to actually go head-to-head with our instructor," explained Block. "I wish we would have been able to fight all the way to the finish because I think we could have won it."
McShea went on to win the rally, after his next closest challenger, Canadian Champion Antoine L'Estage exited the rally with a mechanical problem late in the rally.
Next up for Subaru Rally Team USA is the biggest event of the year for North American Rallying, the ESPN X Games 14 in Los Angeles, Aug 3rd. The X Games will be broadcast live on ABC with highlights and preview shows on ESPN.