ProRally: Styles among 2004 hopefuls

Styles among hopefuls as 2004 SCCA ProRally season starts at Sno*Drift this weekend. TOPEKA, Kan. (Jan. 29, 2004) -- Fax machines were still warm this off-season with the news that manufacturer efforts had pulled out of SCCA ProRally® ...

Styles among hopefuls as 2004 SCCA ProRally season starts at Sno*Drift this weekend.

TOPEKA, Kan. (Jan. 29, 2004) -- Fax machines were still warm this off-season with the news that manufacturer efforts had pulled out of SCCA ProRally® Competition for 2004, and immediately everybody speculated who the new favorites for the upcoming year had become.

Rumors of outside drivers joining the Championship chase came through the grapevine, but as Sno*Drift, Round One of the SCCA ProRally Championship, approaches this weekend, several familiar names have begun popping up on chat forums and in private circles.

One of those names is Leon Styles, the New Zealand-born Californian who has been a part of the ProRally scene for the better part of four years.

Styles turned heads in 2003 with an eyebrow-raising, fourth-overall finish at the Rim of the World Rally in Palmdale, Calif. While rain and wind soaked conditions wreaked havoc with other competitors' preparation and driving, Styles, with veteran co-driver John Dillon, steadily performed throughout the weekend and left Southern California with high expectations for the rest of the year.

"To be honest, we were disappointed when that event ended when it did," Styles said. "We never really got to push. It showed we could run with the privateers and get on the backs of the manufacturers. We weren't ready to end it.

"Before Rim, we had planned on just running west coast events, but afterward, we were giving serious thought to running the entire season and going after a championship."

However, after the promising finish at the season's wet second event, the rest of the year could have been considered a washout, with Styles and his team struggling with mechanical breakdowns several times during the year. He wound up running only one of the last four rounds (a non-finish at Ojibwe Forests) and finished tied with Christopher Whiteman for 13th in the Overall Driver standings with 19 points -- 12 of which came at Rim of the World.

This year, the approach has changed thanks to lessons learned in 2003, for both the car and its driver.

"We did learn from last year," Styles said. "Really, it is better preparation and we realized it wasn't where it needed to be. For ClubRallies, it was fine, but to step up at the ProRally events, you have to have a different program. Every part has a time limit or mileage limit. We have to toss pieces after a while, which gets expensive, but you have to have preemptive maintenance if you are serious about running well."

As the SCCA ProRally Championship gears up for Sno*Drift this weekend, Styles said he feels he, co-driver Dillon and his team are ready to get off to a great start.

"We've never been in the snow before. We have Rhys Millen's factory-prepared Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution XII. We'll just have to see how it goes.

"There are three guys or four who will probably be up front - Pat Richard and Andrew Comrie-Picard are a couple. They race in [Sno*Drift] every year, but they aren't a part of the ProRally Championship, so I won't worry too much about them. Seamus [Burke] will be at the front of the pack and he's always fast. I also think Doug Havir is coming along as a driver and it will be interesting to see how he does on the snow."

For all the action from this weekend's Sno*Drift SCCA ProRally Championship Round One event, please visit www.scca.com.

-scca pro rally-

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Series SCCA
Drivers Leon Styles , Doug Havir , Andrew Comrie-Picard