ProRally: Ojibwe Rally Notes #1 & 2

Ojibwe Forests PRO Rally Round ...

Ojibwe Forests PRO Rally Round #7 - 1998 Michelin PRO Rally Championship Bemidji, Minnesota Press Notes #1 - Wednesday, August 26 - 6:00 PM CDT

1. Welcome to Bemidji, Minnesota - located in the northern part of the state about four hours from Minneapolis and two hours from Duluth - and the 12th running of the Ojibwe Forests PRO Rally, round #7 of the Michelin PRO Rally Championship.

Originally, the Ojibwe Forests Rally was run as a local TSD performance rally in 1981-1983. In 1984 and 1985, it was conducted as a Coefficient 3 Divisional PRO Rally. Since 1986, the rally has been conducted as a Sports Car Club of America National PRO Rally and a part of the North American Rally Championship Series. The name was changed to Ojibwe Forests PRO Rally in 1992 to avoid any confusion with the events of the Chippewa Nation in northern Minnesota.

Past Winners - Ojibwe Forests PRO Rally

    1984    Mark Bowers/John Bell           Opel Ascona
    1985    Ray Hoeper/Bob Burton           Datsun 510
    1986    John Buffum/Tom Grimshaw        Audi Quattro
    1987    John Buffum/Tom Grimshaw        Audi Quattro
    1988    Paul Choinere/Scott Weinheimer  Audi Quattro
    1989    Rod Millen/Tony Sircombe        Mazda 323GTX
    1990    Doug Shepherd/Peter Gladysz     Dodge Shadow
    1991    Bruno Kreibich/Jeff Becker      Audi Quattro
    1992    Paul Choinere/Jeff Becker       Audi Quattro
    1993    Paul Choinere/Jeff Becker       Audi Quattro
    1994    Paul Choinere/Jeff Becker       Audi Quattro
    1995    Carl Merrill/John Bellefleur    Ford Cosworth Escort
    1996    Henry Joy/Michael Fennell       Mitsubishi Lancer
    1997    Paul Choinere/Jeff Becker       Hyundai Tiburon

Paul Bunyan's Ride Divisional PRO Rally has been run since 1989. As a Coefficient 3 event, it has added national-style competition to the CenDiv series. 10,000 Lakes was added in 1994, part of a on-going effort to build new competition within Central Division.

The National route will be about 415 miles long, with 150 stage miles divided into 19 special stages. The route will travel through the White Earth, and Paul Bunyan State Forests, as well as Beltrami, Cass, and Hubbard Counties of northern Minnesota. The road surfaces vary from sandy and flat to twisty and hard-packed, with the reputation as the fastest rally roads in the U.S. There are no paved stages.

2. The event will be televised by ESPN2, with executive producer Doug Plumer and his Replica Productions team here this weekend creating the show. Airdates will be in late September, but they are not finalized yet. The next PRO Rally to appear on ESPN2 will be last month's Maine Forest PRO Rally, for which we have the following airdates:

Tuesday, September 8, at 6:30 PM Eastern Wednesday, September 9, at 3:30 AM Eastern (repeat)

Ojibwe Forests PRO Rally Round #7 - 1998 Michelin PRO Rally Championship Bemidji, Minnesota Press Notes #2 - Wednesday, August 26 - 8:00 PM CDT

3. This is a privotal event for the overall points battle, with all three top teams losing valuable opportunities to pull away from the pack.

In the '90's, no one has outperformed seven-time Michelin PRO Rally Champion Paul Choiniere on the U.S. PRO Rally circuit, yet Choiniere and co-driver Jeff Becker found themselves in third place at the season's halfway point.

"Don't blame our Hyundai Tiburon 4WD turbo," said Choiniere, who has won more U.S. PRO Rallies than anyone else but step-father and team owner John Buffum. "Everytime we have finished, the Hyundai has taken us to victory, but we failed to score points in two events, and that put us behind going in the Maine Rally the beginning of August."

In Pennsylvania in June, Choiniere and Becker were battling the Jamaican Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IV of David Summerbell/Michael Fennell and the Ford Escort Cosworth of Carl Merrill/Lance Smith for the lead when the Tiburon hit a stump at 80 mph, breaking a wheel, flipping several times, and ending up well off the road - finished for the event.

In California in May, ex-champion Buffum took the wheel to replace Choiniere as Paul stayed home with the flu, and Buffum was leading when the rear crossmember broke during the rough Rim of the World event.

But rivals Summerbell and Merrill missed golden opportunities to keep Choiniere down in the standings by failing to finish at the recent Maine Forest event. Summerbell, after falling several places in Pennsylvania when his Lancer ran out of gas, was within 12 seconds of Choiniere (and the series points lead) going into the last stage in Maine when he overcooked it on a sweeping turn and ran off the road, causing a DNF.

Merrill had a shot at the lead in Maine as well, but yanked the driveshaft out of the transmission after the Escort went airborn and came down hard on a rock - also a DNF. So far this season, Choiniere has three victories (Doo Wops and Wild West - both in Washingon State, and the recent Maine Forest Rally). Summerbell has won one event (Rim of the World), and Canadians Frank and Dan Sprongl in their Audi Quattro S-2 - not here this weekend due to sponsorship woes - have the other victory (the Susquehannock Trail PRO Rally in Pennsylvania).

The only other car with more than one top-five finish is the Mike Whitman/Paula Gibeault Ford Sierra Cosworth - like Merrill and Summerbell's racer - a right-hand drive machine. Whitman has three fifth-place finishes so far this season to put him fourth in the points.

Right now, Choiniere has 58 points, Merrill 51, and Summerbell 44 - with both Summerbell and Merrill probably stayg ahead of Paul despite his Maine victory has they not DNFed.

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Series SCCA
Drivers Paul Choiniere , Jeff Becker , Tony Sircombe , Lance Smith , Rod Millen , John Buffum , Bob Burt