Higgins wins again,
O'Sullivan, Choiniere tie for second
RUMFORD. Maine (August 2, 2003) -- After winning four of the first five events of the 2003 SCCA ProRally Championship, David Higgins said that to be on top consistently, one had to find ways to stay focused. This weekend, he simply stomped on the gas and let 10 stages of Maine Forest roads keep him sharp. They did their part and he did his, making it five victories out of six events for the year. Daniel Barritt, co-driver in the Team Mitsubishi Motor Sports America No. 1 car, said the win puts him and Higgins in good shape for the rest of the Championship.
"We don't really have to push from here on out," said Barritt. "We just need to be steady and with some luck we may be able to pull off winning the (overall driver and co-driver) championships."
The big news of the event, however, was what happened beyond Higgins' rear bumper as his teammate, Lauchlin O'Sullivan, in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, and Paul Choiniere, in his Hyundai Tiburon, dueled all weekend long and after 124 stage miles, finished deadlocked.
After day one was complete, Choiniere trailed O'Sullivan by 10 seconds. However, going into the tenth and final stage, he had trimmed that lead down to just one second. Twenty-three miles later, Choiniere checked in and learned that his stage time of 19:40 was one second faster than O'Sullivan's time, forcing the tie.
"What a finish," said Choiniere. "Lauchlin and I had a good battle going all weekend and to see it come down to the last stage and then finish in a tie, it doesn't get much better than that."
The weekend was at least a little encouraging for Subaru Rally Team USA even though they didn't put anyone on the podium. The duo of four-time Canadian rally champion Tom McGeer and co-driver Howard Davies was picked up by Team Subaru as its second entry for the event and in turn, McGeer, in a 2002 Impreza WRX, finished a solid fourth.
"We're very happy with our finish," said McGeer. "The motor let go completely right at the end of the last stage and it was losing power well before that." McGeer's ride had to be extinguished at the finish of SS10 as a small fire broke out right after he finished the section.
Ramana Lagemann's weekend got off to a rough start as he rolled his car on SS3 during Friday's action. However, after the incident dropped Team Subaru's second entry to as low as 54th in the overall standings, Lagemann showed true grit in battling his way all the way back up to 14th. His run was helped by the fact that he posted the fastest stage times in each of the last three stages.
In FIA-Group N, Julian Reynolds got a chance to run a full event for the first time in the U.S. (he withdrew in his initial attempt after the Lovell/Freeman accident at Oregon Trail) and he responded by claiming top honors in the class and finishing sixth overall. Reynolds was in a two-man race for the Group N top spot at Maine Forest with Shane Mitchell until Mitchell suffered suspension damage soon after action picked up on Saturday, forcing a DNF. With the DNF, Mitchell missed a chance to pass up point leader Mark Utecht when Utecht suffered two flat tires on Friday thanks to large rocks in the road. Utecht finished 24th overall, extending his points lead over Mitchell by one to 32-26.
In Group 5, Doug Shepherd continued his hot streak by winning the class at Maine Forest and finishing 12th overall. Shepherd, along with co-driver Pete Gladysz in Shepherd's Dodge SRT-4, was the only Group 5 competitor to finish the rally. Six other entries failed to do so. One of those who did not was Chris Havas, who bowed out with a terminal oil leak. It was a stroke of bad luck for Havas, and co-driver Dave Kean, as they held a 1:42 advantage over Shepherd when they were forced from the rally.
William Bacon and co-driver Peter Watt came out of the Maine forests with the Group 2 class win. They outlasted Matthew Johnson and co-driver Carl Fisher by a scant 12 seconds. The two teams finished 16th and 17th overall, respectively. Eric Burmeister and co-driver Cindy Krolikowski finished third in the class and 21st overall.
Other news: Tim O'Neil, who was bidding for his fifth-straight podium finish in the Air Force Reserves Ford Focus, failed to do so after going off the road on SS8 and subsequently suffering a DNF for the first time this season since Sno*Drift back in January.
From Maine, the 2003 SCCA Performance Rally Championship slides along the Canadian border to Minnesota and the Ojibwe Forests for round seven of the Championship, Aug. 22-23. For more information concerning the Maine Forests rally, including full results (when they become available), visit www.scca.com <http://www.scca.com/> or www.maineforestrally.com <http://www.maineforestrally.com/> .
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