NEWRY, Maine — With the first five rally events of the 2011 Rally America National Championship in the record books, top regional and national rally teams from around the world will make their way to Newry, Maine, for the New England Forest Rally (NEFR), home to the Sunday River Resort, for the final round of the six-event 2011 championship.
Set for Friday and Saturday, as many as 50 top-level rally teams will compete on some of the most difficult gravel and forest roads in the country for top honors at this always-popular rally event. The New England Forest Rally is the last chance for teams to make a final push for championship points.
At the top of the Rally America national points championship is Subaru Rally Team USA’s David Higgins from Mid Wales, UK, who strung together three wins in a row in Washington, Oregon and Pennsylvania after struggling early in the season.
Mitsubishi Rockstar driver and 2010 Rally American champion Antoine L’Estage from Sur-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec, closely follows Higgins by 10 points. The pressure is on Higgins to finish NEFR lest he open the door to L’Estage for a come-from-behind win.
The Super Production (SP) Class has made news all year with Littleton, N.H.’s Travis Hanson and his father/co-driver Terry Hanson leading the Rally America Championship early and locking up the SP class with NEFR still left on the calendar. Even with the class championship decided, there will still be drama in the category in New England.
Second and third place in the SP class promises to be a battle to watch in New England. Only one point separates Ramana Lagemann from Somerville, Mass., in second place from Lauchlin O’Sullivan from San Francisco, Calif., in third place.
Lagemann, in fact, is coming on strong in the second half of the season. He’s won the last two SP class events in Oregon and Pennsylvania to move into second in the Super Production category.
Wyatt Knox of Franconia, N.H., is on the verge of securing his first-ever 2WD National Championship. The Mazda Speed 3 driver commands a 20-point lead over Ford Fiesta rival Dillon Van Way, but Knox also needs to avoid an event-ending crash to guarantee his championship.
Both Knox and Van Way face a sizeable local competitor in Chris Duplessis of Mason Township, Maine, driving the country’s first 2011 Ford Fiesta R2. Duplessis is a consistent top-10 finisher and could be the spoiler in the 2-Wheel Drive category.
This year’s New England Forest Rally will host a large contingent of Regional 2-wheel-drive rally teams from across the Northeastern United States and Eastern Canada. These teams will be competing for their share of $15,000 in prize money, as the New England-based rally will be the second of three unique rally events in the United States that make up the three-round Danza del Sol MaxAttack! Championship for 2011. The other two rally events on the calendar are the Olympus Rally in April and the Lake Superior Performance Rally in Houghton, Mich., on Oct. 14, 15 and 16. (See www.max-attack.com for more information.)
Although the NEPR will be contested over two days and 75-plus miles of gravel and forest stages for the national competitors, the regional rally teams will compete on the very same roads, but in two separate single-day regional rally events run simultaneously with the National Championship rally.
Friday’s regional rally, the “Mexico Regional Rally,” presented by the Mt. Washington Auto Road, will include a “Super Special” in Mexico, Maine, at the Mexico Recreational Area located just off Route 17. Spectators will have the opportunity to watch their favorite rally team complete an entire gravel rally stage that includes a jump. This stage will be run twice from start to finish, which makes it ideal for spectating. Fans will also have the chance to meet drivers and co-drivers and get their autographs as well as an up-close look at the service crews as they tend to their rally cars at the Service Park, which will also be based at the Mexico Recreation Area.
Also available on Friday, the organizers will have spectator buses provided by the Sunday River Resort taking enthusiastic spectators from the Mexico Rec Area to where they’ll be able to view the spectacular Concord Pond Stage — one of the most popular rally stages in the country. The busses will depart from the Mexico Rec Area at 5 p.m. and will return after the stage has been completed. A limited number of tickets will be available for only $10 per person and may be purchased at the “Sunday River” booth located at the Mexico Rec Area during the running of Friday’s Super Special.
On Saturday, the rally action moves slightly north and west to the area surrounding Errol, N.H., where rally teams will compete in a new Super Special stage at the JML Trucking gravel pit. Water will be supplied by Twin Rivers Habitat for Humanity at the Super Special as well as at the Fish Pond spectator area.
The town of Errol, known primarily for snowmobiling in the winter as well as hunting and fishing year-round, is welcoming the Rally community with open arms for the second straight year and offering service area space and amenities for teams and fans alike.
In addition to the exciting, fast-action spectator opportunities at the stages, fans will have an opportunity to mix and mingle with racers at a variety of other planned events:
• A Thursday night autograph session at The Phoenix House & Well, with barbecue - 5:30 to 8 p.m.
• A Friday night Regional Awards Banquet at The Phoenix House & Well at 9 p.m.; tickets available at the door.
• The Saturday night Champagne Spray & Awards Ceremony will be held slopeside at the South Ridge Base Lodge at Sunday River. The race will end on an access road (expected end time between 5 and 6 p.m.) just north of South Ridge, and all teams that finish will park slopeside. The awards will be followed by a party under the stars that will offer fans a barbecue and bar, fire pit and live music. There will also be an opportunity to try a nighttime zip line and Chondola ride.
For more information, go to newenglandforestrally.com.