ProRally: Maine Forest: Mitsubishi event summary

Mitsubishi's ProRally team one win closer to SCCA National Championship. CYPRESS, Calif., July 29 -- Rhys Millen came to the Sports Car Club of America Maine Forest ProRally facing a niggling overheating problem that served to sap power from his...

Mitsubishi's ProRally team one win closer to SCCA National Championship.

CYPRESS, Calif., July 29 -- Rhys Millen came to the Sports Car Club of America Maine Forest ProRally facing a niggling overheating problem that served to sap power from his powerful all-wheel-drive Team Mitsubishi Evolution VII at three previous events. Each time the mysterious power robber kept him from fully exploiting the car's potential.

Friday at the 7th venue in the 10-series national championship was no different. Millen and navigator Gary Cowen worked their way from 8th into second overall after the first two stages of the Maine Forest ProRally only to have the heat problem raise its ugly head once again. Loss of power forced them backward in the pack by the end of Friday's racing, seeding them 5th for the start of Saturday's final 79 miles of special stages.

Late Friday night the team's mechanics finally tracked down the mysterious gremlin. It was a bad heater core. With full power restored to the car and cooling problems overcome, Millen battled his way to fourth, driving brilliantly and setting pace with the rival Subaru WRXs and Hyundai Tiburons. Things were looking good for a strong finish.

Unfortunately, the traditionally rough course wouldn't have any part of such a comeback -- dealing Millen's Evo VII a flat tire on Saturday's second of seven stages.

"We started the day with a lot of confidence we could run well. We jumped from fifth to third and thought 'with this pace we can have a strong podium finish.' We started the next stage and it was a little slipperier. A 1/2-mile into the 14-mile-long stage we came to 'Thumper's Corner' [called that after an Audi Quattro hit a bank and rolled there a few years ago]," says Millen. "I took it little wide, tapped the bank and popped the tire off."

The flat took a little longer than normal to replace, adding nearly three minutes to their time.

"That misfortune dropped us to 8th and even though the guys ahead of us had some flats, with only three more stages to go, we couldn't recover. The car ran fantastic; this time it was driver error."

Millen is looking forward to the Ojibwe Forests ProRally now that the Evo is up to speed.

"In relative terms, for a brand new race car that has only run three events under it, our Evo VII has matured very fast. I'm very pleased with where it's at and we learned a lot from this event with it running at full power. I think we'll do quite well at Ojibwe " Millen says.

Millen's teammate, Lauchlin O'Sullivan, also faced a flat tire -- but the outcome was completely different.

With a flat left rear tire holding his front-wheel-drive Lancer Rally O-Z back like an anchor through the third of Friday's four racing stages, O'Sullivan wasn't off to the start he'd hoped for either -- and that was putting another winning nail in his bid to lock up the Sports Car Club of America's Group 2 national ProRally championship.

"Our game plan was to start off quick to put pressure on some people, but it didn't quite work out like that," says O'Sullivan, who started in 45th position in a field of 92 rally cars. "The car had a flat about a quarter of the way in on the five-mile-long Stage 3. Dragging that around cost us about 20 seconds. But that was better than stopping to change it on such a short stage."

Twenty seconds in rally racing is an eternity when the time differences between 10 cars at the end of 100 miles of rally racing can sometimes be measured in single digits.

He made up time on the last stage Friday, moving into 30th for Saturday's start. Seven stages and 79 miles later the flat tire was just a side note in a remarkable win as the Rhys Millen Racing-prepped Lancer, driving skill, and a little rally luck elevated Team Mitsubishi's O'Sullivan/Chester entry to first in G2 and 19th overall.

O'Sullivan, relying on navigator Matt Chester's guidance from the stage notes in his lap, continued to push the Mitsubishi Lancer O-Z to make up for the lost time. At the end of the first stage on Saturday they had climbed to 22nd, sandwiched between the leading Group 2 VW Golf of Matt Johnson and the Honda Civic of James Robinson and the Acura Integra of William Bacon.

Slowly, over the next stages of heavily forested Maine countryside, they continued to gain ground.

"Stage 9 was very interesting," O'Sullivan recounts. "We lost the power steering right after start of the 18-miler. Our lines had to be super clean, straight and set up really well. I'd hit a rock in the road and the whole wheel would slip out of my hands. I had to watch out for rocks and slow down for some corners that I'd otherwise be flying around. I was surprised that we actually pulled out a really good time."

The flat and loss of power steering, however, were minor compared to a near disaster on the same stretch of isolated logging road.

O'Sullivan says they were flying on a downhill left in a full four-wheel-drift onto a straightaway when he saw another rally car parked off on the side of the road. At the same moment, O'Sullivan notices the car's driver waving down another rally car approaching from the opposite direction at full speed.

"It was Robinson. He'd started five cars behind us on that stage and accidentally short-cutted it, ending up going in the wrong direction. Both of us were approaching head-on at around 60mph. Luckily, Robinson saw what was happening and tossed his car off the side of the road and into the brush. We shot through the little gap between the parked car and Robinson's airborne Civic. It was really close."

O'Sullivan's no-lift driving style and stroke of luck paid off. When the dust settled at the end of the Maine Forest event, they'd turned a 20-second deficit at the start to a one-minute lead at the end of 101 miles of racing -- and another class win -- with rival Bacon capturing second with Johnson third by some 15 seconds. Eric Burmeister, who is chasing O'Sullivan for the Group 2 championship, finished 4th, nearly 3 minutes off pace.

Flat tires, mechanical woes and suspension failures are an anticipated part of the grueling sport of rallying, and the fast, but sometimes rough 1-1/2 to 2-lane-wide gravel logging roads that make up the Maine Forest Rally are notorious for inflicting such debilitating damage. Sometimes flat tires happen early on or on short stages where lost time can be made up over the course of more stages, as happened to O'Sullivan.

At other times they happen at just the wrong time and in the wrong place. Just ask Millen.

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Series SCCA
Drivers Rhys Millen , Eric Burmeister , William Bacon , James Robinson