SCCA ProRally Championship -- Round ...
SCCA ProRally Championship -- Round #1 Sno*Drift Event Summary:
Of the 15 manufacturers of the 52 cars and trucks entered in this year's Sno*Drift SCCA ProRally Championship event, Hyundai proved for its 5th consecutive year to be top dog in US Performance Rally. Fighting an increasingly close battle with an FIA Group N entry driven by the current 1999 Production class Drivers' Champion, the Paul Choiniere/Jeff Becker Tiburon once again took on all comers, and emerged with a very satisfying victory. Crisp temperatures and cloudless skies, combined with extreme patience behind the wheel allowed the John Buffum-managed team from Colchester, Vermont, to master this demanding event.
- Retirements started quickly at Sno*Drift, and didn't discriminate between the experienced and more junior entrants. The extreme cold, with early morning temps hovering just above zero degrees F (-15 C), was hard on equipment and participants, with two entries retiring before the completion of the first stage. The temperature never rose much above freezing during the day, and plummeted after darkness fell on the frigid northern portion of Michigan's Lower Peninsula.
- 1999 Driver/Co-Driver champions Noel Lawler and Charles Bradley, in an Open-class Hyundai Elantra, had a meeting with a tree at the conclusion of Stage 2. Lawler, already suffering from a day-old stomach virus, and not a friend of snow rallying, was not in top form at the start, but pressed on as best he could until things came to this abrupt end.
- Jon Kemp and Lance Hendricksen, SCCA ProRally favorites for years in their stalwart Audi 4000 quattro, found themselves in the overall leading position at the start of Stage 4, but that ended quickly with a near-head on collision with a tree at that stage's popular spectator area.
- Seven-time Driver/Co-Driver champions Paul Choiniere and Jeff Becker were having their own set of challenges as well, with the return of a presumed-solved mysterious engine problem that had hampered them on occasion last year. With several of the Open-class entrants having problems of their own, team owner John Buffum wisely had the turbo boost dialed back on the Hyundai Tiburon, feeling confident of a good finish based on smooth driving and reliability.
- Garen and Doc Shrader were having a brilliant run in their Lancer Evo IV, easily posting fastest time in Stage 4, and taking the overall lead briefly held by Kemp. While transiting back to mid-day service however, that blistering run cost them dearly as their rear differential disintegrated, leaving them with one-wheel drive. They retired shortly thereafter.
- Also on the retirement list was Seamus Burke's FIA Group N Subaru Impreza, making its US performance-rally competition debut, with a rear half-shaft failure. This was a shakedown event for this brand new car, and Burke was expecting some minor problems as they sort out this state-of-the-art FIA car. A full-on assault for the new SCCA ProRally Group N season title is planned. Subaru was well represented, with a total of three Imprezas entered, the remaining two finishing well.
- Karl Scheible, piloting the Vermont Sports Car-prepared FIA Group N Lancer Evo V had a great day, with nary a problem, enjoying a 30-second lead over Choiniere for much of the day. On the penultimate stage, however, that all changed with a slide into an iced-over snow bank that took a healthy bite out of the driver's side front bumper cover. While the damage was mostly cosmetic, that 30-second margin over the Hyundai evaporated instantly, putting Scheible three seconds behind, setting up a classic last-stage battle for all the marbles.
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