TOPEKA, Kan. (July 8, 2003) - The unofficial theme to the 2003 SCCA ProRally Championship so far this year could go something like this; "avoid the muck, much better luck." This weekend, however, only a slight chance for showers ...
TOPEKA, Kan. (July 8, 2003) - The unofficial theme to the 2003 SCCA ProRally Championship so far this year could go something like this; "avoid the muck, much better luck."
This weekend, however, only a slight chance for showers on Sunday is in store for the greater Portland area, host of the fifth stop for the nine-round Championship. Overall, precipitation has been scarce in the area, prompting the issuance of burn bans by Oregon's local law enforcement. The lack of moisture means hot and dusty gravel roads await the rubber and metal of rally cars. Along with the dust, competitors will also be faced with elevation changes of 3,000 feet as they traverse through the hilly forests of the Oregon Coast Range.
Mark Lovell, of Subaru Rally Team USA, is coming off his first win of the year at the Falken Tire Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. The win was huge for Lovell and more so for Team Subaru, which, until that point, had had only one podium finish as a team (Lovell's second-place finish at Rim of the World in California). His teammate, Ramana Lagemann, had his best showing of the year last event as well, finishing second. His best previous finish in 2003 was a fifth at Rim of the World.
On the other side of the Manufacturer's overall point championship, Team Mitsubishi Motor Sports America holds a large advantage still (82-21) over Team Subaru, but is looking to regain its winning ways after encountering problems while racing to the clouds at Pikes Peak. David Higgins, who had won every event up to Pikes Peak, finished last among all cars that reached the top, although he showed a gritty performance by driving the last third of the course while stuck in first gear. His teammate, Lauchlin O'Sullivan, collected his second straight did-not-finish (DNF) after his car was impacted by an object on-course, limped and then gave out completely afterward about 800 yards from the summit of the mountain.
Tim O'Neil, in the Air Force Reserves Ford Focus, may have the most momentum out of all of the Open Class drivers with two consecutive podium finishes. Dating back to June's Susquehannock Trail Pro Rally, O'Neil, with co-driver Alex Gelsomino, finished second and then followed that effort up with a third-place showing at Pike's Peak. Currently, behind leader Higgins (66), O'Neil leads a tight battle for second place in the John Woolf Cup standings. With 28, O'Neil is one point ahead of O'Sullivan and five points in front of Group N driver Mark Utecht.
The story in Group N all year has been the point tug-of-war between current leader Utecht (25) and Shane Mitchell (24). Although Utecht has never been out of the point lead this year (he and Mitchell were tied after two events), he has never led by more than three points. A third outside challenger has emerged in the form of Wolfgang Hoeck, who jumped into the third slot after winning the Group N class top prize at Pikes Peak. Missing from the Group N ranks this event will be Subaru Impreza WRX regular driver Jonny Milner. It was released this week by Team Dynamics that Milner has chosen to concentrate his efforts on the British Rally Championships. This coming after Milner had served a one-event suspension resulting from a rules violation at the Susquehannock Trail ProRally in June. Julian Reynolds, of Wales, will drive instead, accompanied by co-driver Duncan McMath.
The two-wheel drive classes, Group 2 and Group 5, are ready to jump back into action after sitting out of Pike's Peak. After Doug Shepherd and Chris Havas made more than respectable showings (Shepherd in his Dodge SRT-4 and Havas in his VW Golf) in a 2WD-exhibition class, where no points of any kind were awarded, at the Hill Climb, they will be joined by the rest of their field along with the Production classes. Havas, along with co-driver Dave Kean, returns to full-points action for the first time since his Group 5 win at STPR.