ProRally: Sno*Drift race report

Atlanta, Michigan - Driving a brilliant race with an "absolutely perfect" setup on his Hyundai Tiburon, eight-time SCCA ProRally Overall Driver Champion Paul Choiniere with seven-time Co-Driver Champion Jeff Becker skated away from the...

Atlanta, Michigan - Driving a brilliant race with an "absolutely perfect" setup on his Hyundai Tiburon, eight-time SCCA ProRally Overall Driver Champion Paul Choiniere with seven-time Co-Driver Champion Jeff Becker skated away from the field, finishing nearly two minutes ahead of US rallying newcomer Mark Lovell and his Prodrive Subaru Impreza WRX. Seamus Burke and Frank Cunningham, in their Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IV, were in the hunt from stage one, and finished a mere 30 seconds behind Lovell.

Mark Lovell Photo: Tim Winker

A steady snow fell through much of the night and morning, coating the thickly frozen roads with 2 inches of white powder, presenting drivers with the slickest conditions imaginable, or so they thought. The sun came out mid-afternoon, and briefly turned much of the powder into water, lubricating a surface that was difficult to stand on, much less drive. As night fell, the roads actually improved somewhat, with the hardening ice providing more traction than the drivers had experienced all day.

Noel Lawler and Charles Bradley's bad luck continued into the start of a second season, but at least this time misery had company; with the 1999 Overall Driver and Co-Driver Champions being joined by Garen Shrader and Michael Fennell, who lost their engine at the pre-event press stage. This was Shrader's career first-on-the-road start.

Mark Lovell Photo: Tim Winker

Mark Lovell: "I still haven't stopped shaking" exclaimed the former British National Rally Champion, "this is the hardest driving combination that I've ever encountered: driving blind, on ice, with no studs - an amazing event, I've got a lot of respect for the drivers here."

Seamus Burke: "A good start - we're planning on running at least seven championship rounds this year, and we're have our new Evo VI at Chattanooga in March."

Brian Vinson, debuting his ex-Ralph Kosmides G5 championship winning Toyota Supra turbo; had a short day, earning the first time-bar of the event. The 2000 season's Production class champion moved up a bunch in horsepower this year, but is now also driving possibly the most challenging vehicle to manage in the snow in the series. Fortunately, damage to the car is apparently nil.

Mark Utecht and Brenda Corneliusen-Lewis, reigning Group 5 Champions debuted their new Mitsubishi Eclipse GSX in fine style, finishing 6th overall and 1st in Production GT, with a generous 2 plus minute lead over the Gail Truess/Pattie Hughes-Mayer Mazda 323 GTX. The team is the second in a row to win the SCCA Overall 2WD (Woodner Cup) Championship and switch to all-wheel-drive. Henry and Cindy Krolikowski were the trendsetters in 2000, importing the first Prodrive Subaru Impreza WRX's into the country. The Krolikowskis had their best finish to date since making the switch last June, coming home a very respectable 5th overall, and 2nd in Group N. This good showing was despite a harrowing double 360 spin and brief off road/lakeside excursion mid-event that left the couple shaken, clearly stirred, and the WRX just slightly narrower in the middle.

Night in the snow Photo: Tim Winker.

Tad Ohtake, a Ford engineer that enjoys a good rally every now and again proved that the time off hasn't slowed him down a bit. Driving a supercharged Ford Escort ZX2, Ohtake rounded out the Top 10 overall, and was also the top finishing 2WD entry, taking Group 5 honors.

In Group 2, Michigan resident Eric Burmeister enjoyed a rare-in-rally competition, 10-minute window over a hard-charging Matthew Johnson, a North Carolina native with considerably less cold-weather experience. How hard was Johnson charging? Making his SCCA ProRally debut, seed 6 Johnson started 50th on the road, and finished 19th, the most places gained by any competitor this weekend.

Hyundai jumps to an early lead in the Manufacturers Championship with Round 1 overall points at: Hyundai 20, Subaru 15, and Mitsubishi 12.

After this traditional early season start, the SCCA ProRally Championship will take a brief hiatus, resuming the action in Chattanooga, Tennessee, for the Cherokee Trails Rally 15-17 March. An internationally listed FIA event, this new addition to the SCCA ProRally schedule will also feature SCCA ProRally and SCCA ClubRally action, over three days in the Smoky Mountains of east Tennessee.

-SCCA/SCCA ProRacing/SCCA ProRally

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About this article
Series SCCA
Drivers Paul Choiniere , Jeff Becker , Ralph Kosmides , Seamus Burke , Frank Cunningham , Mark Lovell , Eric Burmeister , Matthew Johnson