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  • Writer's pictureARA Staff

New England Forest Rally: First Look

Bethel, Maine ~ The American Rally Association crisscrosses the United States with eight national events, dubbed the Green APU National Rally Championship. It also encompasses three regional championships, including 12 Super Regionals (8 are held in conjunction with the national events) and nine regionals.

One of those upcoming events is the ARA's sixth round of the Green APU National Rally Championship: The New England Forest Rally. Registration for the event opened in early June, and 61 cars will rally this weekend. Here's an ARA: First Look at NEFR and who will be starting Friday in Maine:

A rally with NASCAR roots? It seems like mixing motor oil and water. It's just something that science says won't work out. But that's how the New England Forest Rally came to life. In 1989, Carl Merrill had been a NASCAR sponsor but was convinced by local rallyist Sandy Liversidge to give it a go. He had rally legend John Buffum build him a car, and then a few years later, the duo persuaded the Boise Cascade Paper Company to let them use their pristine forest roads to start the New England Forest Rally.

Many of those early stages make up the backbone of today's NEFR. This two-day event has become a staple of the American Rally Association's Green APU National Rally Championship. The roads are as challenging and fast as any in an American rally. The hard-packed dirt and gravel logging roads are favorites of competitors due to their difficult and technical demands.

Speed will be an asset in New England, but a good crew at service and fearlessness when encountering obstacles such as bridges, jumps (Concord Pond is a rally must-see), and the heads of rocks that shine just above the surface of the road.

It has been a season of dominance for Brandon Semenuk and co-driver Keaton Williams. Their championship defense remains unblemished after they became the first Subaru Motorsports team since 2017 to win last month's Southern Ohio Forest Rally.

Semenuk and the R5's

Fans will marvel at Semenuk's control and mastery at such a high level, but they will also be craning their necks to see some high-speed cars in the National RC2 and Open 2WD classes.

The New England Forest Rally will feature ARA history's deepest, and possibly the most talented, RC2 class. Patrick Gruszka and Florian Barral have transitioned to the RC2 class with ease. They are handling their 2019 Hyundai i20 with precision, adjusting to the increased speed of the R5-backed class. Gruszka's speed factor has been steadily growing this season, including a 12.23-point jump at SOFR compared to his 2022 number. He has three class wins in 2023 and has three straight overall podium finishings, including a career-best second at SOFR.

But Gruszka will have a handful of challengers in New England, including Allen Dobasu. He will continue his move up the leaderboard after finishing second in class and third overall at SOFR. He will have much experience sitting beside him inside his 2023 Ford Fiesta Rally2. Belgium co-driver Stéphane Prévot is making his return to ARA for the first time since 2018, when he sat alongside Chris Atkinson for a pair of rallies.

The Skoda's are coming as a robust Mexican contingent has shown up for NEFR. The four drivers took part in the recent NACAM event in Canada and decided to compete with the ARA on their return trip. The group appears to have similar speeds based on their speed factors, with Miguel Granados (Marc Marti) leading the charge. Granado's has been successful outside of Mexico, taking the overall at the CARS regional Rallye Tour de Portneuf in 2022. He finished third in Rally 2 and fifth at last month's Rallye Baie des Chaleurs. All four drivers will be driving a 2021 Skoda Fabia Rally2 Evo2.

Open 2WD Dials it up at NEFR.

The Open 2WD has been a fan favorite for years thanks to its historic cars and big-name drivers. Seamus Burke has set the pace in recent years, winning three straight class championships. He's back with Gary McElhinney in the co-pilot seat and is looking for his 16th class win since 2017.

The depth that will challenge him in New England is its best in years. Lia Block and co-driver Rhianon Gelsomino have developed into a potent tandem. Together, they have won the past three events and have not sat outside of the top ten overall this season.

Ryan Booth (Nick Dobbs) will make his national debut in 2023. He has had to withdraw from several events this season but did make it to the Bristol Forest Rally in May. He took the overall in his 1976 Ford Escort Mk2, a new car this year after he was last seen rallying in the RC2 class.

Erik Potts and co-driver Josh Benthien are making their 2023 ARA debut and have been highly successful at NEFR. Potts has three class wins in New England and nine class wins since 2017. The three-time ARA class champion will be driving his 2013 Subaru BRZ.

Rounding out the field are Nick Allen and Matt James have been consistently quick this year, picking up a pair of podiums; Tim O'Neil (Constantine Mantopoulos), Cian McCormack (Patrick Brides), and Daniel Hayes and co-driver Boyd Smith, who finished third at SOFR.

Champs Rule in Regional Field

The thirty-nine regional competitors will also look to stand out this weekend, and it's a championship-caliber field in New England. Bristol Forest Rally runner-up Phil Wearn (KJ Miller) will be the first regional car out of service on Friday. Defending East Regional Overall champion Dylan Gondyke (Ben Chuong) are looking to back up their 2022 NEFR win. 2021 NEFR regional overall winners TJ Pullen and Erin Kelly are making their 2023 season debut. And 2022 East Regional O2WD Daniel and Samantha Downey are fresh off their class win at SOFR and will be looking to better their third-place finish at NEFR in 2022.

Spectators will have ample opportunity to see the New England Forest Rally up close. A parc expose will be held each on Friday and Saturday morning at Sunday River Resort. There are spectator areas on both days of the rally. For more information and directions, please download the NEFR Spectator Guide.

You can follow every twist and turn of this weekend’s New England Forest Rally on DirtFish Live Center.


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