Mark Higgins presses on, conquers the Keweenaw.
HOUGHTON, Michigan The "Oldest, Toughest, Meanest" rally on the circuit came to a close today under chilling sleeting, snowing and raining skies, none of which was successful at taking the wind out of Mark Higgins', nor his Hyundai's, sails. Ramana Lagemann closed his season with the best finish of his career, a solid 2nd place charge up the leaderboard demonstrating his coming of age for Subaru. Paul Choiniere, showed consistency of pace that only comes with years of ProRally Championship experience, locking in Hyundai's manufacturer championship goals with his 3rd place podium finish.
Key Notes and Quotes:
* Mark Higgins' finally had a rally come to him, instead of another round of the frustrating string of bad rally luck that has beset much of his rookie season with the Championship. With brother David Higgins battered Impreza soldiering on after its mid-stage wildlife altercation in the darkness of last nights rallying; and Mark Lovell's WRX motor losing compression in the latter stages of day 2; "Miggins" finally found himself in firm command of his podium destiny.
* Group N: Tim O'Neil came into the Lake Superior rally in the midst of a championship battle in Group N. O'Neil drove an aggressive two days and took home the event class win by over 6 minutes. However points leader Ralph Kosmides knew that he only needed to finish in second in order to claim the Group N season driver's championship and did precisely that, driving a calculating event that let O'Neil run at the front, and kept his other challengers (Utecht and Krolikowski) at bay.
* Rising star and Group 2 winner Matt Johnson with co-driver Carl Fisher drove a brilliant rally, and overnight became the next homegrown SCCA ProRally talent to watch closely. Fisher and Johnson stayed focused on surviving the rough weather and horrendously slippy road conditions of day one, but came out of the night in 2nd place in the 2WD category, immediately behind the powerful Dodge Neon turbo of Don Jankowski. This put them in an enviable starting position for day 2, which they leveraged very effectively. When Jankowski had to back off late in the day with driveshaft woes, Johnson charged ahead, posting an overall event gain of 28 positions, and his ProRally career first top 10 and 1st place 2WD overall finish.
* The down-to-the-wire battle for the manufacturers' championship rests firmly in the hands of now 6-time champion Hyundai. With Mark Higgins leading the rally, Paul Choiniere drove a sharp event, staying within striking distance, knowing that he only needed to finish fourth or higher in order to capture the championship for his team, should something befall the fortunes of the number 5 car. With Higgins encountering no problems on Saturday, Choiniere was able to loosen the reins on his matching car, and secured Hyundai's second podium finish of the rally by bringing his Tiburon home in 3rd place.
-scca pro racing-