Lucky number seven for Higgins, Subaru finishes second, third. Houghton, Mich. -- There wasn't much that Team Mitsubishi Motor Sports America driver David Higgins hadn't faced in earning six victories out of the first eight SCCA ProRally ...
Lucky number seven for Higgins, Subaru finishes second, third.
Houghton, Mich. -- There wasn't much that Team Mitsubishi Motor Sports America driver David Higgins hadn't faced in earning six victories out of the first eight SCCA ProRally Championship events. He had survived various mechanical problems at times. He had skillfully maneuvered a multitude of different road surfaces throughout the country and toiled through inclement weather at every rally.
In fact, about the only thing that had managed to stop the British driver from finishing an event in the 2003 Championship was the flu-induced upset stomach of his co-driver, Daniel Barritt, which caused the team to retire after Daniel couldn't go any further than the first few stages at the Wild West International Rally.
Aside from his teammate's bout with sickness, Higgins had to face every one of those other challenges at the 2003 Lake Superior ProRally and he succeeded as he wrapped up an amazing year that saw the back-to-back ProRally Overall Driver Champion win push his win total to seven. So when he had to be towed to the finish by his his teammates, Lauchlin O'Sullivan and Christian Edstrom, and then push his car across the line, Higgins simply took it in stride. "We were having some problems with the transmission and the rear and center diffs," Higgins said. "We had problems, then Pasi (Hagstrom) had his problem. It really seemed like no one wanted to win this rally."
Subaru Rally Team USA's Ramana Lagemann ran perhaps his best rally of the year with he and co-driver Michael Orr finishing second behind Higgins/Barritt, matching his best finish in an event since finishing second at the one-stage sprint at Pikes Peak. Lagemann grabbed the second spot overall even though he was given the lowest ProRally entry time on SS10 after he cut through the chicane in his 2004 Subaru Impreza WRX Sti.
"My school boy error may have cost us the win here, but that's rally," Lagemann said, who incurred a 1:15 penalty for the cut (he finished 1:03 behind Higgins). "We had expectations that faltered a bit this year, but we did finish the season strong and that should get us ready for next year."
Lagemann's teammate, Pasi Hagstrom, finished third, giving Team Subaru two spots on the podium, but it was bittersweet for the Finnish driver. His cumulative stage times were cumulatively 1:17 faster than Higgins', but Hagstrom and co-driver Marko Taskinen were assessed three minutes and 48 seconds of road points after a mathematical mishap at the final main time control Friday, Special Stage Eight, left the Finnish duo checking into the time zone 19 minutes late.
"It was my fault," Taskinen said. "I wrote the wrong number in the wrong spot and I take full responsibility for it."
While both were visibly disappointed with what had transpired, Hagstrom's smile remained.
"We would have liked to fight with Higgins like we did yesterday," Hagstrom said. "After the time error, it made us go down a bit emotionally, but we had to keep on with the rally."
Eight time overall champion Paul Choiniere finished fourth in his 2003 Hyundai Tiburon with co-driver John Bennie and Lauchlin O'Sullivan/Christian Edstrom wound up in fifth. With the finish, O'Sullivan wrapped up second position in the Woolf Cup standings, while Edstrom did the same in the Whitaker Cup ranks, meaning Team Mitsubishi swept the top two spots in both the overall driver and co-driver championships.
In FIA-Group N, Ireland's Shane Mitchell forced Mark Utecht to push from the start of day one as he jumped out to a large lead early, while problems with Utecht's transmission surfaced during the first eight stages. Utecht, wanting to push early, make up part of the time deficit and put pressure on Mitchell, rushed out 11th on the road going into SS9, but his day and rally ended there when his 2002 Subaru Impreza WRX went off course and rolled at least twice.
"We were going into a right three over crest," Utecht said, referring to the stage note description of the road where he flipped. "I was carrying too much speed into the turn and the car just kept going."
The incident was an expensive one for Utecht as Mitchell drove a solid rally the rest of the way, finishing 10th overall and winning the $25,000 prize given to the top Subaru competitor in Group N. Utecht walked away with the second Subaru contingency prize check worth $12,500.
In Group 5, there was no question who the best car belonged to this weekend. Mopar Dodge's Doug Shepherd stormed his way through the field, staking a lead of almost seven minutes after day one and never looking back as he claimed the win and the Group 5 championship in his SRT-4.
"We pulled it out this year," Shepherd said. "Group 5 looked abysmal at the beginning of this year, but a bit of determination and some luck got us some wins and those put us where we needed to be."
Josh Jacquot, who was also in a Dodge SRT-4, finished second behind Shepherd in Group 5 for the event.
Mopar Dodge's third entry and the only one in Group 2, Christopher Whiteman, who came into LSPR three points behind his former Michigan Tech roommate, Mazda's Eric Burmeister, posted a time of 2:13:29 in his 2003 Dodge Neon STX and took advantage of the weekend that befell Burmeister. Burmeister began the weekend in good form, opening up a 30-second lead in his 2002 Mazda Protege after the first two stages. But soon after, a series of incidents, including the hood flying open on-course, an off-course roll and getting high centered, effectively ended any chance to catch Group 2 Champion Whiteman.
Mike Halley's Volkswagen New Beetle only had to cross the start ramp in order to win the Production class championship and it did just that. After claiming the win, Halley spent most of the remaining event coasting, posting respectable times, but not really pushing.
"This is a good one to get," Halley said. "You're looking at a couple of guys who hadn't won anything in their 30 years of competition (referring to co-driver Bill Montgomery and himself). That makes this one pretty sweet."
In Production GT, Otis Dimiters claimed the event title in his 2000 Subaru Impreza 2.5 RS, but it was Lithuanian Valdemaras Maciukevicius who capped off his season with a championship effort as he and pre-event, class point-leader Bruce Davis battled throughout Friday. Davis' Mitsubishi Eclipse experienced trouble with its turbo for most of the early stages, widening the door for Maciukevicius' title hopes. On Saturday, Davis' ride finally limped to the finish, about nine minutes behind Maciukevicius' 2000 Subaru Impreza 2.5 RS, which allowed Maciukevicius to claim the championship.
The SCCA ProRally Championship will next fire up after the new year when the 2004 Championship heads to Atlanta, Mich., for Sno*Drift, Jan. 30-31.
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