SCCA ProRally Championship - Round ...
SCCA ProRally Championship - Round #8 - Wild West
Leg One/Leg Two Results, Key Notes
Tuthill Makes Triumphant US Return; Choiniere and Lovell Falter; Burke remains "Mr. Podium"
Olympia, WA - Perfect, sunny and warm weather here in the usually damp and cool Northwest corner of the country yielded astonishing amounts of dust, but was just one factor that turned this seemingly ordinary late-season event into a battle not just against mechanical attrition, but of wits, strategy, and just plain luck. In the end, some of the biggest players had fallen, some seasoned independents had long-awaited excellent results, and some new upstarts got their first taste of high-ranking national attention.
Event organizers made a rare decision prior to the start to run the entire rally with "2 minute dust windows." SCCA ProRally events start cars on-stage at one-minute intervals; but due to the very dry and virtually windless conditions here in Washington, a stifling dust situation existed which had a direct effect on the safety of the event. By making this change, however, the event automatically would run behind schedule, so some hectic behind-the-scenes work by the event committee was required to keep things as near to the published schedule as possible.
Friday nights stages, and results, were much as one might expect based on previous event outcomes - Subaru was having a solid evening, Hyundai was challenged but up to the task, and Mitsubishi was once again relying on independent entries to keep their flag in the air. About the only surprise of the evening was Richard Tuthill's 6th position, when conventional wisdom might have placed him in the top three. Also pleasing was an exceptionally short retirement list - perhaps the 2 minute windows were working well, or the consistently poor visibility (some drivers said that a 5-minute window wouldn't have been enough) was keeping everyone on their toes.
Saturday, however, was a new day - and immediately the entire complexion of the event changed dramatically. SS7 - at 28.5 miles the longest stage in US Rallying - started eating its young right away, with four Pro entries and nearly double that number of Club entries not making it to the end. SS9 was equally cruel, but this time snagged two front runners - Leg One's overall leader Mark Lovell had his left front tire delaminate, a violent failure that took out the shielding around the cars front wiring harness, and then the harness itself; effectively 'unplugging' the engine, bringing the Subaru to a halt midway through. Reigning champion Paul Choiniere, who was leading the event going into SS9, suffered a turbo failure near the same area, and while able to complete the stage, was forced to withdraw at service.
In the meantime, Tuthill, who on Leg One was beset with routebook and map interpretation problems that slowed him down, overnight worked with longtime co-driver John Bennie to get themselves re-acquainted with American rallying, and came out of the box on Saturday absolutely on fire, charging to the front. By midday, it became clear that the two leader retirements, and Tuthill's well-timed offense effectively have put the overall championship points race into a shredder.
While all of this was going on, relative unknown Nat T-Stow, who successfully debuted his privately entered Subaru WRX at Ojibwe Forests last month, was quietly working his way up the leaderboard; securing himself a Production GT victory, and a career first Top 5 finish, just behind Karl Scheible. Additionally, local driver Scott Trinder, making his first drive in his recently acquired ex-Patrick Richard Subaru Impreza 2.5RS snapped up his first Top 10 Pro finish. Both men, plus the consistently astonishing Ramana Lagemann, represent the rapidly growing new pool of talent in SCCA ProRally.
In the Two-Wheel Drive category, the expected battle of the rock-throwers versus the front drivers didn't completely materialize, with seasoned veteran David White diligently pointing his trusty VW Golf GTi down the stage roads at just the right pace, building a solid 3 minute lead over Bill Malik's immaculately prepared Volvo 240. The remaining rock-throwing duties were handed over to Andrew Havas, as Carl Jardevall's day came to and end with a front suspension failure late on Leg One. Havas himself had a challenging event, suffering a suspension and wheel failure of his own on SS9, losing nearly 14 minutes in the process. The last Group 5 survivor; Tad Ohtake, was never able to make up the difference, himself having lost seven minutes on SS3 dealing with an alternator failure.
And finally - Tony Chavez, the Production class stalwart that has been hounding class leader Craig Peeper all season, took over the class lead here in Washington. Chavez drove a well paced rally, as he literally watched his entire class evaporate before him - 'StudBug" driver Michael Halley had to scratch the event due to transport problems, Class leader Craig Peeper stuffed his Focus into a tree on SS3, and Mark Tabor's engine seized overnight, and was unable to restart on Day Two. This left the lucky Chavez with only one thing to do - check the fuel level and drive a smooth rally - which he and co-driver Doug Robinson did with style.
With Tuthill's win, Choiniere and Lovell's DNF's, and Burke's persistent podium residency, the Overall points chase has become a real hornets nest as the championship season heads into its final two events. Unofficially, the Overall drivers points are: Burke: 129, Lovell 123, Scheible 78, Tuthill 63, and Choiniere 60.
In the Manufacturers Championship, the situation is even tighter - Subaru's lead in the overall has diminished slightly, and the automaker is now tied with Mitsubishi in Open class. The unofficial points now stand at: Subaru 134, Mitsubishi 127, and Hyundai 115.