ProRally: Sand Hills pre-race notes

Sand Hills Sand Blast PRO Rally Cheraw, South Carolina Round ...

Sand Hills Sand Blast PRO Rally Cheraw, South Carolina Round #1 - SCCA/Michelin PRO Rally March 16, 1996, 11:30 AM 1. Welcome to Cheraw, South Carolina, and the opening round of the 1996 SCCA/Michelin PRO Rally series. Unlike last year's freezing rain, oatmeal road surfaces, and high 30 degree temperatures, the weather on Saturday morning has broken sunny and warm, with the highs near 80 degrees F by mid-afternoon. Also, instead of the five long stages from past years, there are 11 shorter stages this year, with the longest stage being 7 miles compared to the 13- mile stage a year ago. Stages 3 and 4 are the same as stages 1 and 2 last year, with stages 6 - 11 being parts of stages which have been run in the past. 2. Yesterday, there was a press preview at the Michelin Laurens (S.C.) Proving Grounds, where the series sponsor treated drivers and local media to the motor racing equivalent of a steeplechase. The six cars went through a polished asphalt skid pad wetted down with sprinklers, an off-road testing course, a road racing course, a mud- slide area, and logging roads - a 3-mile stage which rivaled a tough POR or Prescott stage. Facilities manager Don Olsen and rally veteran Ken Payne set the whole thing up, and local and national TV crews had a ball filming for the local news and national racing TV shows. Participating were the Villemure/Villemure Beetle, Choiniere/Becker Hyundai, Merrill/Bellefleur Escort Cosworth, Krolikowski/Krolikowski Dodge, Thiel/Thompson VW GTI, and the Anderson/Dapot Honda. The only mechanical problems were incurred by the new Kurt Thiel/George Thompson Group 2 car, which had a hose/radiator problem as well as a front control arm bushing failure. A trip to the local VW dealer in Greenville and a Cheraw hardware store cured both ills. 3. We do have some DNS (did not start) news that occurred during the week. While testing their car in Columbus on Tuesday, Tom Ottey lost a turbo on his Hyundai Elantra. They had a similar problem last year at the Lake Superior PRO Rally, and thought that replacing the turbo was the solution. When they lost the turbo on Tuesday, they realized that something else was wrong, and Murray Thomas at TAD Motorsports will take a look at the car next week. Meanwhile, they will not make the event this weekend. 4. The other DNS is the Toyota Celica of Bruce Newey/Charles Bradley. The team, which is building a Toyota Supra for the new Group 5 class, was scheduled to run their revamped All-trac (reconfigured to be 2WD) to get class points before their new car is done. The new car is scheduled to debut at STPR in Pennsylvania in June. While Newey was driving the car down the street in Atlanta on Friday, preparing to load it on the trailer, he heard a "pop" on the transmission, and then was unable to get the car in the upper gears. After checking the clutch, which was in good shape, Newey discovered problems in the XTRACT gearbox, and could not get parts in time for the event. 5. By the way, the Group 5 class, which is for turbocharged, 2WD, 3.0-liter, Open-class-style rally cars, has attracted several fast competitors this year, including the Newey entry mentioned above. Another entry, which will make its debut this weekend, is the 1976 Porsche 911S of Mike Hurst/Rob Bohn. Hurst, downplaying the Porsche angle, claims his car is "slow," although he says it is faster than his former mount, the Nissan 200-SX Group 2 car. Other Group 5 entries at this rally include the quick Dodge Shadow of Henry and Cindy Krolikowski, who won the Divisional PRO Rally runoffs here three years ago, and another Dodge Shadow driven by the only all-woman rally team of Lesley Suddard and Anne Thomas. 6. There was a question as to the legality of Newey's car since the rules state that the car must be available in 2WD configuration. Some people thought that meant the particular race car needed to be delivered originally as a 2WD, making the Newey conversion illegal. This, indeed, is not the case, as the Celica only needs to be available in 2WD for Newey to run his converted All-trac in Group 5. 7. This event marks the debut of defending Paul Choiniere/Jeff Becker's 1996 Hyundai Elantra. Built by John Buffum's Libra Racing group, the Elantra represents the second year in a row the defending champs have debuted a newly-built car for a rally season. Last year, Choiniere hung on for a 29-second win here after a cracked manifold slowed the team near the end of the event. Choiniere won five events last year - all early in the season - and then ran through a series of bad luck and mechanical troubles which gave both Henry Joy and Carl Merrill a chance to catch him at the end of the season. A Merrill DNF at Lake Superior, plus a fine second-place finish for Paul in Maine clinched the title for Choiniere - his fifth in six years. 8. Merrill's 400 hp Ford Escort Cosworth, now in its fourth years of development, has already won a Canadian rally this year, and is poised to challenge Choiniere for the title. Recently, Weegee Smith, Merrill's crew chief, spent some time in England and learned some of the European rally secrets to enhance an already well- prepared effort. 9. Henry Joy will be running an abbreviated schedule for 1996, opting to spend more time with his recently-born son, Henry Bourne Joy V. Although he has not set his schedule yet, he will probably run three or four national events in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution II. # # #

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Series SCCA
Drivers Jeff Becker , Kurt Thiel , John Buffum