Lancaster, Calif. (May 8, 2004) - Leon Styles pleaded with his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VII to hang on. From Seamus Burke's early break Sunday during the first Super Special of the day all the way to the next-to-last stage, Styles, who had...
Lancaster, Calif. (May 8, 2004) - Leon Styles pleaded with his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VII to hang on. From Seamus Burke's early break Sunday during the first Super Special of the day all the way to the next-to-last stage, Styles, who had never led a ProRally for any length of time in his career, found himself in the top spot and stayed there for most of Sunday afternoon before his car dealt a final blow as a hose came loose.
Styles repositioned the hose, and finished the Subaru Rim of the World Rally Presented by Autosport Engineering LLC, but in second position as Pat Richard, in his Subaru Impreza WRX, came storming back from more than two minutes down, despite his own problems, to win by 40 seconds and claim his third straight victory in the 2004 SCCA ProRally Championship Presented by Hot Wheels(r). Ramana Lagemann, in a freshly-prepared Subaru WRX STi, finished third with co-driver Michael Orr (2:24:01), just seven seconds ahead of their Vermont SportsCar running mates, Travis Pastrana and co-driver Christian Edstrom, who finished fourth (2:24:08). Stephan Verdier, with co-driver Allan Walker, was impressive for the second event in a row, driving away from a very-competitive Production GT class and earning his second straight top-five finish (2:28:11).
Richard, with co-driver Nathalie Richard, battled the extremely rough canyon roads that nearly knocked him out of the rally late. On Special Stage 12, the last stage before coming back for the final Super Special, Richard's brakes went out completely, making him complete the downhill stage faster, ironically, than he intended. The experience, and the weekend overall, visibly weighed on the Canadian driver as he celebrated the latest win in his season-opening streak.
"Yeah, we're pretty banged up," Richard said. "But the guys were able to put the car together in good shape and any time a Group N car can get an overall win, it's fantastic."
Richard led another strong showing by the Group N class, which placed three entries (Lagemann and Pastrana the other two) in the top five. Styles was the top Open class finisher and increased his lead in the class points standings when Burke, with co-driver Charlie Bradley, wasted another good showing from the first day. Entering the first of three Sunday Super Special stages with a comfortable lead, Burke powered into the jump on the front straight, launching at an angle that forced the nose of the car into the ground at the end. Burke pulled off course soon after and parked his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution.
Verdier hung tough against the environment and the competition all weekend, guiding his Subaru WRX to another top-tier spot. The France-native fought against thick dust thrown by the cars in front of him in the windless San Gabriel hills above the Antelope Valley, but managed to retain enough vision to work through the obscurity and finish on top of the PGT class, which boasted eight of 22 finishers. Todd Moberly, with father and co-driver Ray, finished eighth overall, almost four minutes behind Verdier and Walker.
Had it not been for the drama that unfolded at the top of the list late in the event, Group 5 might have been a bigger story. Doug Shepherd, with co-driver Pete Gladysz, began Sunday over seven minutes off the class pace set by Jim Pierce and co-driver Adrian Lengsfeld. Shepherd's Mopar Dodge SRT-4 was roughed up through the event, but the veteran duo pulled of the nearly impossible comeback, meaning Shepherds class-unbeaten streak moved to three.
Craig Hollingsworth, with co-driver Jason Grahn, claimed his first Group 2 win of the year in his Volkswagen Jetta GLI, finishing more than nine minutes ahead of Mark Brown and co-driver Ole Holter in Brown's Volkswagen GTI. Brooks Freehill, with co-driver Sean Elliot, was the last ProRally finisher in his Volkswagen Jetta and wound up third in the class.
Rim, widely regarded as perhaps the toughest rally in the ProRally Championship, did nothing to dispel that claim this weekend. After only three cars went out Friday night, 10 more suffered a DNF as the second day wore on, leaving 22 finishers. That tally almost reached 11 as Freehill, shot down the front straight at the beginning of the last Super Special. Just after taking off, the hood on Freehill's Volkswagen Jetta flew up and plastered itself to the windshield. Instead of stopping, the duo rallied on, finishing the 0.7-mile stage and receiving the loudest cheers of the weekend from fans. Freehill returned the gratitude with a deep bow.
The fourth round of the 2004 SCCA ProRally Championship Presented by Hot Wheels moves to the eastern half of the United States for the first time this season as the Susquehannock Trail ProRally, in Wellsboro, Pa., is slated for Saturday, June 5.