ProRally: Maine Forest ProRally Friday Notes

Maine Forest ProRally Round 6 1999 Michelin SCCA ProRally Championship Rumford, Maine July 30-31, 1999 Good morning and welcome to a beautiful, steamy, clear summer day in the densely wooded mountains of western Maine. In about three hours we...

Maine Forest ProRally Round 6 1999 Michelin SCCA ProRally Championship Rumford, Maine July 30-31, 1999

Good morning and welcome to a beautiful, steamy, clear summer day in the densely wooded mountains of western Maine. In about three hours we will be getting underway in the Maine Forest ProRally, round 6 of the Michelin SCCA ProRally Championship.

1.) It appears that we will have the largest field in the series’ recent history. Registration will close shortly, after which we will post a final starting order. At present it appears that we will have 84-85 cars. However, in addition to having some stellar talent on hand, there are some significant changes. 2.) Headlining the huge field are several champions. The one attracting the most attention is 1984 World Rally Champion Stig Blomqvist, who will be driving the late Carl Merrill’s Ford Escort Cosworth. This is part of a tribute to Merrill, the beloved Maine businessman and longtime series frontrunner who called this event his home rally. Merrill’s former crew chief, Wee Gee Smith, acquired the car earlier this year. Shortly after that he organized this tribute to Merrill, who did a great deal to promote the sport -– much of it behind the scenes and totally anonymously. 3.) Blomqvist will be facing stiff competition, including Canadian National Champions Frank and Dan Sprongl, who are here with their flying Audi quattro S2. Current point leaders Noel Lawler and Charlie, overall winners of the last rally, will have one of the two factory Hyundai Tiburons that were entered. 4.) Originally, their teammates, seven-time ProRally Champion Paul Choiniere and Jeff Becker were to have driven the other Tiburon. However, Choiniere has a viral inner-ear infection that has not cleared up sufficiently for him to drive. So he was withdrawn. 5.) At that point, defending ProRally Champion David Summerbell was called in to take his place, in an Elantra, rather than a Tiburon. However, team owner John Buffum has just indicated that there are serious problems with the transmission in the Elantra. So Summerbell may not start the event. 6.) An even earlier withdrawal was that of Andrew Havas and Scott Slingerland. Despite working multiple all-nighters, Havas could not complete the Group 5 Mazda Rx-7 he has been working on feverishly for this event. He had completed the shell, and installed the engine and transmission; but the car still needed wiring, a dash and exterior painting. He’s here as a disappointed spectator, now aiming for Ojibwe as the car’s debut. 7.) John Shirley was to have been here with his Triumph TR7/V8, following a stopover at the Triumph convention in nearby Portland. However, the third time he fired up the new engine it seized up solid, promptly ended any attempt to make this event. Navigator Phil Barnes came up anyhow, looking for a last-minute ride, but has signed on as an event worker. 8.) We again will have information gathering assistance from Bowie Gray and Matt Johnson, who helped us in the same capacity at Susquehannock Trail, back at the beginning of June. 9.) Also graciously helping out this weekend is Andy Schupack, who served as the series’ media liaison officer until this season. He’s very busy these days with Kermish-Geylin Public Relations of New York and their impressive client lineup -– which includes DaimlerChrysler, Porsche, Exide and Hemmings Motor News. Andy couldn’t totally leave performance rallying, though. So he has been assisting the committee for this rally, and produced the program for the event. With that done, he’s come back to help us. 10.) Andy’s first stop was to get some background straight from the primary sources -– car owner WeeGee Smith and driver Stig Blomqvist -- on how the 1984 FIA World Rally Champion came to drive in this year’s Maine Forest Rally. Smith said that after Carl Merrill’s accident, which followed his heart attack during the Prescott Forest event last year, the team gave an estimate to the Merrill family of how much it would cost to fix the car. They were not interested in going down that path. Smith didn’t want it to end there, however. So he offered to buy the car and spares from the family. They accepted the offer, and WeeGee now owns the Ford Escort Cosworth. He then thought there would be no finer tribute to Carl Merrill and his contribution to ProRally (and the Maine Forest event) than to get a world-class driver to showcase the car which Carl blessed us all with since 1994. 11.) Andy Schupack’s Blomqvist report, continued: Gary Baker, from Ford Motorsport Europe, was instrumental in helping to rebuild the car and update it to its current configuration. Baker also contacted Blomqvist and set up the ride. Blomqvist, who works with Ford Engineering in the setup of the Puma –- its current World Rally car -– has been active in rally in recent years, driving for various teams in both national events and hillclimbs all over Europe. Smith has made minor adjustments to the Escort to make it run to Blomqvist’s liking, but the major changes have been made by Baker -- including new front and rear suspension, to update it to a full 1996 World Rally version of the Escort. 12.) We were surprised to hear that -- unlike World Rally –- most national rallies in Sweden are blind rallies like the US. So Blomqvist will not have a problem with the US format. He and co-driver Lance Smith have spent time together in the car, and Lance will have to call corners faster than he is used to…because Stig goes faster. Everyone is confident that will happen. At the media stage this morning it was evident that Blomqvist was substantially faster that anyone else there. 13.) So what’s next for the Ford Escort Cosworth? WeeGee Smith really doesn’t know, but wants to maintain the car in the first-class manner that it has been kept -- everything done right. This means that any qualified driver who wants to drive the car for the team can, but they would need to come to the party with a large sponsorship package. Is that driver out there as we speak? Only time will tell. 14.) As for Blomqvist himself, the last time he ran in North America was in a Canadian event in Montreal in the 1970s (he did not run in the FIA events in Michigan or Washington state). Although he was surprised at the invitation to come run this event -- and was not confirmed until a little over a month ago when it was known that the car was ready to run -- Blomqvist said that racing is a business in which you always have to be prepared to grab a good opportunity. He has spent most of his time the last two years driving 2WD cars, but feels very comfortable in the ex-Merrill Escort Cosworth. Perhaps the best thing that Blomqvist told us is that one of the reasons he is here, and would welcome the opportunity to come back to the US again, is that Europeans have gotten the word that rally is growing here in the U.S.

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Series SCCA
Drivers Jeff Becker , Matthew Johnson , John Shirley , Lance Smith , Stig Blomqvist , John Buffum