Duquette, Minnesota (December 3, 2018)
A slick Nemadji Trail Winter Rally was won by Mark Williams and Ben Peterson this past weekend in the forests near Duquette, MN. The pair came into the event with a freshly rebuilt car and put it through the paces to earn the decisive win. Following them onto the podium were two 2wd cars, a big accomplishment when considering the conditions. Paul Johansen and Nemadji Chairperson Susi Little finished second in the event. Finishing third overall in their first-ever stage rally were Elwood Niemi Jr. and Marty Passuello.
The 4 stage Nemadji Trail Winter Rally covered 36 competition miles on Saturday afternoon. A single 9 mile road was used; two stage loops ran in opposite directions on the road with a 30 minute service in between. The weather was chilly with a bit of snow on race day, but beneath the thin layer of snow on the surface was a thick layer of ice, several inches thick. The surface was slick, and many drivers lost control in the challenging conditions. In spite of that, all drivers who started the event managed to finish. A single day event, recce at Nemadji was scheduled for the morning, pushing stages into the early evening.
Mark Williams and Ben Peterson in the “Fat Yellow Pig” 2004 WRX STI took the lead early on stage 1 and extended it throughout the day. The pair took three out of four stage wins in a dominating performance, only losing the rally's final stage by 0.3 seconds. A good start to the rally for Paul Johansen and Susi Little in their Hyundai Tiburon GT on Stage 1 was nearly lost during a tough second stage for the team. They managed to avoid trouble during the day's second loop to close out the event on the second step of the podium.
A three way fight between the three cars of the Tower City Race team developed throughout the day. Adam VanDamme and Terry Verbrigghe in the team's MKI VW Rabbit took the early lead, opening a 20 second lead over their teammates over the morning loop. Team leader Al Dantes Jr. and co-driver Brandon Snyder ended the morning loop in a tight battle with the team's newest members Elwood Niemi Jr. and Marty Passuello in a MKII VW GTI. Dantes Jr. and Snyder in their Mazda RX-7 “Rexine” took the advantage on the first loop in a close fight; the two crews finished Stage 2 a mere 1.2 seconds apart.
As the competition continued with Nemadji's second loop, Vandamme and Verbrigghe extended the advantage over their teammates by a further 30 seconds, but a 1:10 second penalty dropped them back to fifth overall at the rally's close. Meanwhile, Dantes Jr. and Snyder pushed their advantage over Niemi Jr. and Passuello on Stage 3, taking it by 4.5 seconds. But the rally newcomers pushed hard on Stage 4 to take 16 seconds back; enough to earn them third overall, and their first podium, by 2.6 seconds.
The CPD Racing machine of Lauchlin O'Sullivan was scored as a DNF despite finishing the rally due to a co-driver change at service. O'Sullivan was driving for Alexander and Spencer Putnam, team owner Scott Putnam's children, in their first rally event reading pace notes. Each competed on one stage loop and swapped at service. They finished their loops within 2 seconds of each other while each taking one stage win a piece.
The bonus $1200 Nemadji prize fund was awarded to the top three teams in AWD (O4wd, L4wd, and NA4wd classes) and 2WD (O2wd and L2wd classes) competition. The fastest of each drivetrain configuration won $300 cash, the second quickest $200, and the third $100.
Full results for the Nemadji Trail Winter Rally can he found here.
Photo Credit: Alex Wong (Top, 1), Al Dantes Jr. (2)
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