SCCA ProRally Championship - Round #7 - Ojibwe Forests
Lovell, Burke and Choiniere Pull Ahead in Minnesota Mudslinger
Bemidji, Minnesota - Fierce rain-storms, high-winds and hail made the starting stages of the Ojibwe Forests Rally a slippery, sliding challenge for the 160 performance rallyists (80 cars) entered. Burke and Lovell swapped leads all evening, nearly evenly splitting fastest overall stage times, Lovell winning three, Burke two and 2000 series champion Paul Choiniere one.
*As the evening progressed, the skies cleared and became almost chilly - and the roads improved to some of the best conditions of the entire 2001 SCCA ProRally season. Stage times were fast - and the competition was very tight - throughout the field. It quickly became clear that no one is going to walk away with overall or class wins on Day One.
*Subaru is having a great rally, after the second 'character building' weekend of the season at Maine Forest. Showing top form in both Group N and Open class, the Prodrive directed Subaru Rally Team USA is leading the way, but several independents, including Group N star Ramana Lagemann, and Minnesota native and local favorite Steve Gingras are having very good results. The company occupies six of the top ten slots at the end of day one, and retired only two of the 13 entered cars, with both retirements incurred from road damage.
*Topping the utterly luckless list is Patrick Richard, who posted his first DNS (did not start) in his US rallying career with transmission gear selector woes discovered after the Thursday night shakedown: "We finally have a transmission that wont break" explained Richard - but now the part that connects me to the transmission failed." Hyundai's Noel Lawler came close to that level of frustration, retiring a mere 3 miles into SS1 with turbo failure, which evidently shuts the motors engine management system down - "we couldn't even move - it just sat there and idled pretty as can be."
*In the Mitsubishi camp, while independents Seamus Burke and Frank Cunningham are having yet another brilliant weekend in their Lancer, Rhys Millen, in his championship bid for Mitsubishi, is having more overheating problems, and retired at service with what appears to be a blown head gasket.
*The debut of the independently entered 2002 Subaru WRX of Washington state's Nat T-Stow, with veteran co-driver Amity Trowbridge, has built a minute and a half lead over PGT class favorite Mark Utecht, who suffered a mangled front suspension late in the nights going. "Three rallys - three bent control arms" remarked a frustrated Utecht "but we're getting really good at swapping them out - so tomorrow is looking good." The Minnesotan is maintaining a comfortable three and a half minute lead over 3rd place Gail Truess.
*The Two-Wheel Drive category is very tight, and is being lead by a Production class car - a works Hyundai Tiburon, driven by Sport Compact Car magazine technical editor David Coleman, with the independently entered Group 5 Mustang 5.0 of Michael Hurst and the Group 2 VW Golf GTi of Robert Nielsen all in the same minute. The debut of the new Mazda team Protégé MP3 is doing well, less than 3 minutes down from the Group 2 leader.
*Day Two of the Ojibwe Forests SCCA ProRally starts at Noon, with a crowd pleasing and unique-to-the-series spectator stage at Bemidji Speedway, a high-banked clay oval that usually sees NASCAR type Late Model Sportsman action. The rally cars will start in reverse order, and then head into the woods for the balance of the afternoon and evening.