Double-double: Higgins/Barritt win sixth event, clinch driver/co-driver championships BEMIDJI, Minn. (Aug. 23, 2003) -- It wouldn't have been a let down if Team Mitsubishi Motor Sports America Driver David Higgins had not won the Ojibwe...
Double-double: Higgins/Barritt win sixth event, clinch driver/co-driver championships
BEMIDJI, Minn. (Aug. 23, 2003) -- It wouldn't have been a let down if Team Mitsubishi Motor Sports America Driver David Higgins had not won the Ojibwe Forests Rally. He would have had two more chances, good ones at that, to win his second-consecutive John Woolf Cup, handed out to the Overall Top Driver of the SCCA ProRally Championship.
But staying true to form, Higgins left nothing to chance, wasting no time jumping to the front early in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, overcoming major adversity at the end and in the process winning his sixth event of the year and clinching the win and the Cup. With victory less than an hour away, disaster almost struck the two-time Championship winner on the last stage as his clutch gave out along with the center differential. After making it out of the stage, Higgins drove his ailing car to the finish of the rally, shadowed by his teammates Lauchlin O'Sullivan and co-driver Christian Edstrom.
"We got about four or five miles (of the rally's 17-mile, and longest, stage) into the start of the stage," said a relieved Higgins. "Then there was no gearbox, no nothing. We had to leave it in fourth gear and just give it our all to get it back to town."
Subaru Rally Team USA came away from northern Minnesota with a bit of momentum themselves. Ramana Lagemann (with co-driver Michael Orr), who was running for Driver's Championship points only, ran an extremely solid rally all weekend in his Impreza WRX Sti, moving up to second from his original fifth starting position. His special stage times never wavered below second fastest at any point and Lagemann picked up his best finish since a silver finish at Pikes Peak in June.
Air Force Reserve Driver Tim O'Neil battled against the field with a shaky fuel pump all day on Saturday which forced them out of podium contention early. He and co-driver Alex Gelsomino originally thought the problem was due to a blown head gasket and drove as conservatively as they could to finish. However, O'Neil's Focus SVT's power slipped once again, diminishing any chances the duo had for staging a comeback.
Julian Reynolds stepped it up on the second day of action and grabbed his second consecutive FIA Group N class win and a sixth-place finish overall. He, along with co-driver Ieuan Thomas, beat out Mark Utecht/Jeff Secor and Shane Mitchell/Paul Donnelly. Utecht and Mitchell battled it out to the end, where each found out they had tied for second. After referring to FIA tie-breaker rules, Mitchell was ruled as second-place winner after it was determined he won eight stages over Utecht, where Utecht only won six over Mitchell. They tied SS10.
In Group 2, Matthew Johnson/Dave Kean held a comfortable lead over fellow class competitors Christopher Whiteman/Mike Paulin and Eric Burmeister/Cindy Krolikowski for most of the rally until SS8 where a punctured tire led to a severe mechanical breakdown. Johnson's misfortune was Whiteman's gain and he took the win. Burmeister finished second, but could have been in contention for the class win had he not lost time early in the rally, having to make early adjustments to his shock absorbers.
The Mopar Performance Parts Dodge SRT-4 ride driven by Doug Shepherd soldiered through the technical day-two stages and finished first in Group 5. Shepherd overcame braking problems through the final two stages in order to ensure his class victory. His Dodge teammate, Brian Vinson, finished behind Shepherd, giving Dodge a one-two sweep of the Group 5 podium.
Mike Halley marched through the final eight stages of the rally without incident on Saturday and with his finish can not be moved from his top spot in the Donison Cup standings, given to the top Production class driver at year's end.
Final provisional results will be posted on Sunday and can be viewed on the SCCA website at www.scca.com. The eighth round of the 2003 SCCA ProRally Championship heads back to the Pacific Northwest and Olympia, Wash., for the Wild West Rally, Sept. 5-6.