ProRally: Wild West Friday Notes

Wild West ProRally Round 5 1999 Michelin SCCA ProRally Championship Shelton, Washington June 18-19, 1999 Good morning and welcome to a lovely, cool, clear Pacific Northwest day. It's been both cloudy and clear here, and probably will continue...

Wild West ProRally Round 5 1999 Michelin SCCA ProRally Championship Shelton, Washington June 18-19, 1999

Good morning and welcome to a lovely, cool, clear Pacific Northwest day. It's been both cloudy and clear here, and probably will continue to change back and forth throughout the day. We're about to get underway for Round 5 of the 1999 Michelin SCCA ProRally Championship.

1.) This event originally was scheduled to be Round 3 in the series, roughly two months ago. However, due to the combined environmental effects of record heavy snowfall and a record number of consecutive days of rainfall, the organizers decided to postpone the event until now. It had been thought that the rally traffic might add to the already heavy runoff in area streams, and might further interfere with the annual salmon migration that is so important to this region.

2.) As was the case two weeks ago at Susquehannock Trail the entry has changed almost by the hour, with the size of the field see-sawing right into the last hour. The final count will be 42 starters.

3.) Paul Choiniere will not be driving here this weekend. He has a commitment that predates the rescheduling of this event. So team chief and 11-time national champion John Buffum will take his place in Libra Racing's number 3 Hyundai Tiburon.

4.) Choiniere's regular navigator, Jeff Becker, had been scheduled to do this event. However, Wednesday his wife, Tess, passed away. She had been a familiar sight around the events throughout Jeff's 23-year ProRally career. For the past nine months, she had been suffering from a rare condition called primary pulmonary hypertension, which makes breathing very difficult. The funeral is scheduled for Saturday morning on Long Island.

5.) In lieu of flowers, the Becker family has asked that donations be made in the name of Tess Becker to the organization that is seeking a cure for the relatively unknown killer that struck her down: PPH Cure Foundation; 1826 R Street NW; Washington, DC 20009. Everyone here, as well as everyone within the ProRally family, has the Becker family in their thoughts and prayers today.

7.) Helping us gather press notes at this event is John Jeppesen, a public relations pro from the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. Among other projects, he has handled PR for Menard's at the Indy 500 and Dauer Racing at the Daytona 24 Hours.

8.) While we're on the subject of help, we'd belatedly like to thank Bowie Gray and Matt Johnson, who helped out at STPR two weeks ago.

9.) Karl Scheible and Gail McGuire gave the Volkswagen New Beetle its first ProRally win two weeks ago at STPR. Crew Chief Guy Light points out that the strength of the car made it really difficult to turn the New Beetle into the Production-class point-leader. "The Bug is unbelievably strong, but it is not an organic car. It was designed by a computer," he said. He couldn't find any way to attach the skid plate to the bottom of the chassis, so he was forced to use 16 feet of tubing to create a subframe for it.

10.) Ralph Kosmides (Group 5 Toyota Supra Turbo) feels like he's back home again. "I love the roads here. I started rallying here, so it's like my home track," he said. "This course has good grip, but it's very abrasive on tires. I think it's going to be very dusty, so I wouldn't be surprised if they went to two minute start windows."

11.) John Buffum is making his first start of the season here, driving an Open Class Hyundai Elantra. The 11-time SCCA ProRally Champion and Mark Williams will be starting Wild West second on the road, behind teammmates Noel Lawler and Charlie Bradley, in a Hyundai Tiburon. Like everyone else, Buffum expects that this will be a very dusty event, due to the dry conditions here. He thinks that starting second will be okay, even though there is a lot of loose gravel on the roads that will keep traction down until the first few cars sweep it away. "The dust will be a bigger problem than the loose rocks on the top of the road," he said.

12.) Phil Mellor, an SCCA Director from Southeast Division, is here at Wild West as an observer, getting thoroughly acquainted with performance rallying. His day started with a ride in Garen Shrader's Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IV, which he called "the biggest adrenaline rush I've had in a long time." An hour later he still had a huge grin on his face.

13.) Mellor is finding that the Pro Rally series is a vital part of SCCA racing programs. "It's an awesome experience that the club should get more involved in," he concluded. "It's overdue."

14.) Doc Shrader (co-Driver, Open Class Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IV) describes this event as deceptive. "It's a lot like a low-key ClubRally," he says. "So the adrenaline doesn't start building until Parc Expose -- instead of building all day." The stylish doctor is sporting a unique pair of rainbow reading glasses, a gift from his son Garen's girlfriend. "So my son won't have any trouble seeing me, even at night," he chuckles.

15.) Shrader feels that this event is well-grouped. "We will be fighting hard with Tony (Chavez) and Lauchlin (O'Sullivan). The roads have not favored fast cars. They are tricky and a bit more of an equalizer." If the dust isn't too bad, he feels that Garen, Tony and Lauchlin all could take time off of Noel Lawler and John Buffum -- who will be sweeping the loose gravel off of the stages and making traction better for those behind them.

16.) All drivers agree that the rally can't be won tonight, but it certainly can be lost. Shrader's strategy is simple, "We'll be fast but cautious. The battle starts tomorrow."

17.) Tony Chavez (Open Class Mitsubishi Galant VR-4) agrees with Shrader. "We've just got to get through tonight. We'll dance with Lauchlin and Garen tomorrow."

18.) Noel Lawler is happy about starting first-on-the-road in his Open Class Hyundai Tiburon. "It's an honor," he said, "but I don't know that the first starting position will make that much of a difference." If John Buffum and I switched positions, I don't think I could drive in his tracks. However, because Paul Choiniere isn't here, this is my chance to move up in series points."

19.) The prediction made by John Buffum and many others that this would be a "dust" rally has come true. After just one of tonight's six stages, the organizers have switched to two-minute intervals. This was foreseen in the planning, so complications should be relatively few.

20.) At the first service, Murray Thomas, crew chief for the Shraders'Mitsubishi Lancer Evo reports that Garen says that the car is running just fine, but the course was very dusty.

21.) Karl Scheible is in a conservative mode in the Production Class Volkswagen New Beetle "I'm taking it easy. There are lots of holes in the course. I'm going to keep down the middle of the road. I'm in the points lead and want to keep it. I'll drive fast and take chances at the next event in Maine."

22.) According to Paul Truess, crew chief of the Production GT Mazda 323 GTX driven by his wife, Gail, their car is good. "We made some changes and put softer tires on the car. She hasn't run Simpson roads before, so she's learning how to drive them and learn the rhythms of the course."

23.) Things are drastically different on opposite sides of the Libra Racing camp. Mechanic Brian Oldfield says that Noel Lawler is happy with his Hyundai Tiburon. "It's running very well. No problems." However, John Buffum's Elantra is overheating. Oldfield says that the car is blowing water, so Buffum is taking it easy.

24.) Buffum's troubles apparently started very early, as Ralph Kosmides and Joe Noyes (Group5 Toyota Supra)caught him on the first stage and had to struggle with his dust.

25.) The roads seem to suit Lawler just fine. After three stages, he is leading the event by 94 seconds over Doo Wop winner Lauchlin O'Sullivan (Audi quattro), 110 seconds over Buffum and 111 over the Shraders.

26.) In Group 5, Doug Schrenk and Rob Walton (Saab) had pulled ahead of Kosmides and Noyes by 29 seconds.

27.) In Group 2, Todd Hartmann and Shan Callahan (six-speed Volkswagen Golf GTi) have a slim, one-second lead over Chad Dykes and Deborah Fuller (Toyota).

28.) Doo Wop Production GT winner Gail Truess and Cindy Krolikowski (Mazda 323 GTX) have a 51-second lead over Rim of the World PGT winners Lee Shadbolt and Claire Chizma (Subaru Impreza). Truess' regular navigator, Pattie Hughes had a commitment that predated the rescheduling of this event. So she is missing this event, and Truess' longtime friend Krolikowki is filling in for her.

29.) Karl Scheible and Gail McGuire are running unopposed in Production, in the New Beetle. So they are taking their time and having an enjoyabe run.

30.) John Forespring (Group 5 Ford Mustang) had problems with the dust early on until they closed co-driver Tony Lemon's window, which fixed the problem.

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About this article
Series SCCA
Drivers Paul Choiniere , Jeff Becker , Ralph Kosmides , Joe Noyes , Matthew Johnson , Todd Hartmann , Rob Walton , John Buffum , Mark Williams
Teams Williams