Higgins wins New England Forest Rally on ARA return
Updated: Aug 1, 2021
David Higgins and Craig Drew have won the New England Forest Rally, sealing their first victory in nearly two years upon their American Rally Association presented by DirtFish National series return.
Higgins, driving a 2011 Ford Fiesta WRC car fitted with a 2.0-liter engine for McKenna Motorsport, defeated his old employer Subaru Motorsports USA as its best placed crew of Brandon Semenuk and John Hall came home second, 36.8 seconds down.
On their first rally in the US, Marty McCormack and Barney Mitchell scored a dream podium result in the McKenna Škoda Fabia R5+.
Higgins’ victory was an historic one as it moved him clear of Paul Choiniere as NEFR’s most successful driver ever, all the more impressive given the 10-time US rally champion was learning a new car this weekend and contesting his first rally since 2019.
It was his team leader Barry McKenna that was the initial man to beat though, opening up an early lead over Ken Block after the first five stages on Friday.
McKenna, driving a modified version of M-Sport’s latest Fiesta WRC, began extending his lead into Saturday only for a rear-right puncture to cost him over two minutes and dump him to fourth.
That same stage, SS9, was also the downfall of Block and Alex Gelsomino as the pair were forced to stop with a broken transmission aboard their Hoonigan Racing Division Subaru WRX STI.
Cruelly, the same fate would befall 16-year-old off-road racing hotshot Jax Redline, running Block’s Ford Escort Cossie V2. Redline had climbed up to seventh after the first day but an off cost him over half an hour on Saturday morning before the transmission also went on his ride.
ARA points leaders Travis Pastrana and Rhianon Gelsomino had suffered a sluggish start, stalling off the line of SS1 just like they had on the previous round in Ohio.
But they gradually started climbing the leaderboard in their Subaru, moving into the rally lead when McKenna had his tire woe. A close fight with old rival Higgins ensued and Pastrana had a marginal edge, only to roll his WRX STI within a quarter mile of the finish of the penultimate test - something he later described as "pretty inexcusable."
That made Higgins’ task easy on the final stage, but he still went fastest to seal his success in style. Second for Semenuk equaled his best result of the season and spared Subaru blushes, while McCormack repeated the feat of Josh McErlean on the Olympus Rally by coming from Ireland and claiming third on debut.
McCormack’s rally was a touch lonely as he didn’t have the pace to trouble the frontrunners, bar a win on the penultimate stage when Pastrana rolled and others slowed, but he was also too much for those behind him to handle.
Fourth spot belonged to Paul Rowley after a decent battle with John Coyne who brought his Fiesta Rally2 home over a minute adrift of Rowley’s older R5 model.
Joseph Burke had been leading this all-Irish, all-Fiesta squabble behind McCormack’s Fabia before he retired at the rally’s halfway mark.
Patrick Brennan scored a well-earned sixth in his Ford Fiesta Proto, getting the better of Arek Bialobrzeski whose stellar season continued in seventh following a top-six finish at the Southern Ohio Forest Rally.
Seamus Burke topped the two-wheel-drive runners in his Ford Escort Mk2, edging Enda McCormack’s Hyundai i20 R5 by just 2.5s overall in the battle for eighth and ninth places.
Mark Piatkowski rounded out the top 10 placings in his Subaru Impreza.
The ARA National series next heads to Minnesota for the Ojibwe Forests Rally on August 27-28.