Newry, Maine ~ It took six rounds into the 2019 American Rally Association, presented by AMSOIL season for a team to become a two-time winner, but Subaru Motorsports USA’s David Higgins and Craig Drew were able to conquer the New England Forest Rally in a strategic and dominant fashion.
Coming off a disappointing Idaho Rally International that saw them lose the overall win on the final stage, Higgins and Drew were looking to balance high speeds with smart, championship-caliber driving at NEFR. Things started near perfect on Friday as they won two of the days four stages, beginning with the fan favorite; Concord Pond. On Saturday Higgins and Drew were steady, almost conservative, winning only one stage, and finished without incident over the final nine stages for their second win of the year.
"It's been a long and stressful day, and after the last one in Idaho it's definitely one we needed to get back on top again,” said Higgins after the final stage. “We had a good rally and kept it clean all weekend. Stoked to get the win and get the lead in the championship again. It's been a tough one, though. Always tough here and the heat as well this weekend. Most Brits aren't designed for this kind of temperature."
It was a vastly different role that their teammates, Oliver Solberg and Denis Giraudet, played throughout the weekend. Solberg was as blazing fast as it was blazing hot in upstate Maine. The ARA rookie won ten total stages throughout the weekend, but tire issues on stages three and eight caused him to lose more than ten total minutes to the leaders. Despite falling as far back as 24th in stage three, Solberg and Giraudet pushed hard, finishing the rally fifth overall.
"It was one of the most difficult events for an old man like me,” joked Giraudet after the event. “It was very fast, and it looks very much like Finland and even faster in places. When you're sitting with a young gun like (Oliver) you know why I have more gray hair now. You know, it's a mix between fun and a bit scary sometimes, but he's so good. He has a bright future."
Solberg’s struggles meant the door was wide-open for one of the other 30 national entries that started the NEFR to push Higgins and Drew for the overall. Barry McKenna, who joined forces in New England with his European co-driver Andrew Hayes, proved a worthy adversary and confirmed his status as a fan-favorite. The McKenna-Hayes team pushed their M-Sport Ford Fiesta S2000 Turbo to the edge, including an eye-popping launch off of the Concord Pond jump on stage one. McKenna and Hayes had a great rally, finishing each stage with either the second or third fastest time, for second overall.
"We done what we could, and we kept it clean and got to the finish, that's all we wanted” said McKenna. “So, we're happy with second overall. Very happy with it!"
It’s no surprise that a second Subaru made the podium, but not many people had the tandem of Ramana Lagemann and Chrissie Beavis sitting third overall. Running with the classic blue and yellow livery on their 2003 Subaru Impreza WRX, 2006 NEFR winner Lagemann and this year’s co-driver Beavis never finished a stage below fourth fastest, keeping pace with the leaders and finishing third overall.
"We set our goals for the overall podium and that's what we got,” said Lagemann. “It's fantastic to be here in an older car and we drove the wheels off of it and it was a ton of fun."
Piotr Fetela and Dominik Jozwiak headed to upstate Maine looking to keep their championship lead. They entered NEFR tied for the overall points lead with Higgins and Drew, thanks to their win at Sno-Drift and strong showings in three of the past four rounds. A clean run at NEFR and a fourth-place finish keeps them in the hunt for the overall Driver and Co-Driver titles, sitting just ten points behind Higgins and Drew, respectively.
"That last stage was amazing,” said Fetela. “We still had, you know, a big gap over Oliver, but we just watched all the rocks and everything with no mistakes. I think we rocked on this one, too! I'm very happy."
Nineteen out of the 30 national cars that started NEFR, finished the rally. That includes Garry Gill and Boyd Smith who finished seventh overall and won the National L4WD class over El Diablo Racings Matt Dickinson and Dan Piker (9th overall).
“I was just minding my own class,” said Gill. “After we put some time on the second-place guys, we were just defending our first position. Everything is new. Co-Driver new. The set-up new. The car was new. And we are here, and we won!”
The tandem of Erik Potts and Matt James continued to show strong results in 2019 in the O2WD class. Potts and James finished tenth overall, but won their class by nearly three-minutes over Brad Morris and Doug Nagy. Keanna Erickson-Change and Rhianon Gelsomino finished third in the class.
Potts and James pushed the pace early, in hopes of keeping O2WD and former NEFR winner Seamus Burke and Martin Brady honest. Burke and Brady were unable to return to the rally after a rock destroyed their oil pan, much to the benefit of Potts and James.
“We were trying to stay competitive with Seamus and Martin, who we exchanged times once, but they got us on the first two stages,” said Potts. “Unfortunately, as we know they didn't finish, and it would have been fun for them to stay in.”
Matthew Peterson and Lori Clute maneuvered their 1994 Honda Civic DX to a 55-second win over Robert Sanders and Mikey Mettetal in the L2WD class. Amanda Skelly and Sarah Freeze stood atop the NA4WD and 15thoverall. Five of the six cars in NA4WD did not finish the rally.
New England Forest Rally East Regional
In all, 44 cars started the ARA East Championship New England Forest Regional Rally with 28 cars finishing all 13 stages. At the top were Mark Piatkowski and Aris Mantopoulos who pushed their 1999 Subaru Impreza 2.5 RS to the overall and NA4WD win. John Cassidy and John Cassidy V finished second overall while winning the O4WD division. Con O’Sullivan and Co-driver Aileen Kelly finished third and won the L4WD class. Daniel Downey and co-Driver Tom Peplinksi won the O2WD class, and finished seventh. Mike Erickson and Jacob Good won the L2WD division.
Full results of the New England Forest Rally can be found on the ARA website, or on the ARA Mobile App.
Round seven of the American Rally Association, presented by AMSOIL National Championship moves to the Midwest with the Muscatell Ojibwe Forests Rally in northern Minnesota August 22-24. More than 130 competition miles will be based in Detroit Lakes, Minn.