Mark Higgins and Hyundai earn top Honors; O'Sullivan captures Group 2 Driver/MFG championships. BEMIDJI, Minnesota After 7 successive attempts, Mark Higgins has finally earned his first SCCA ProRally victory, and the second first place finish...
Mark Higgins and Hyundai earn top Honors; O'Sullivan captures Group 2 Driver/MFG championships.
BEMIDJI, Minnesota After 7 successive attempts, Mark Higgins has finally earned his first SCCA ProRally victory, and the second first place finish for Hyundai in the 2002 season. Hyundai has an impressive tradition of strong finishes here (sweeping all three podium positions in 2000 - a first for the Korean manufacturer). Mitsubishi, despite a trying season in the Open class did succeed brilliantly in the Group 2 class with its normally-aspirated US market Lancer, locking up the manufacturers race in that category with two events to spare over challenger Eric Burmeister and his Mazda Protégé.
It has been a long climb for Mark Higgins, but both he, and Hyundai made a determined drive to the top of the podium in northern Minnesota tonight. As reported earlier, this climb hasn't been an easy one through the season, and even at this weekend's rally. At the final service, a turbo and a rear brake caliper had to be replaced, adding some last minute tensions to the teams overall victory mission.
Lauchlin O'Sullivan became the first driver in the 2002 Championship to clinch a Drivers and Manufacturers title simultaneously. Driving a very steady rally, which he admitted was "the toughest kind to drive" O'Sullivan kept good pace throughout, delivering a nearly two-minute victory window over nearest challenger Robert Nielsen. In what could be defined at the most consistent championship charge of the season, O'Sullivan had a bit of a rocky start at Sno*Drift in January, with a completely new and un-tested car. At Cherokee Trails, the "Evo 2" version of the two-wheel drive, normally aspirated Lancer arrived, with more aggressive 4-wheel disc brakes. Here at Ojibwe, the "Evo 3" version debuted, with the one item that Lauchlin has been wishing for all season - better gear ratios. Through it all, the O'Sullivan/Matt Chester team accepted both the car's limitations (horsepower and gearing) and its virtues (reliability and durability) and never failed to put the car on the Group 2 podium at every event, winning in-class at the last four SCCA ProRallys.
The international appeal of the SCCA ProRally Championship continues to grow, with the first (possibly ever) Lithuanian team entering and finishing at Ojibwe. Driving a Subaru Impreza, the team of Valdemaras Maciukevicius and Arunas Salkauskas finished 26th overall and 2nd in the Production GT category - an impressive finish immediately behind class leaders Bob Henderson and John McArthur. The Bolivian team (also a first-time entry in SCCA ProRally) of Marcelo Zuleta and Mirko Suarez didn't fare quite as well, retiring halfway through Day Two with mechanical woes.
Tim O'Neil and Martin Headland continue to chew away at Group N class leaders Ralph Kosmides and Jimmy Brandt's points advantage, in a battle that will very likely go right down to the season ending rally at Lake Superior. While Seamus Burke won the class outright with a terrific ride in a hastily rented Subaru (substituting for his trusty Mitsubishi Lancer that had terminal engine problems that surfaced in pre-event testing), this was his first Group N ride of the season, so he isn't a contender for the class championship. With the championship returning to the west coast in three weeks at Wild West, Kosmides "home" event, this already simmering hot class championship battle will get positively boiling.
Overall Championship Driver's standings: David Higgins 120, Mark Higgins 88, Mark Lovell 84, with the nearest next challengers tied at 41 points a piece (Mark Nelson and Rhys Millen)
The see-sawing manufacturer battle between Hyundai and Subaru tipped in Hyundai's favor again with Mark Higgins strong first place finish, and Paul Choiniere's fierce drive to 3rd, effectively shielding a very hard charging Ramana Lagemann and Michael Kidd from 3rd place manufacturer points by a mere 8 seconds. Following Lovell's retirement, Lagemann lit the fuse, and gained considerable time on the field, particularly on the two special spectator stages at "The Ranch" near downtown Akeley.
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