The 2015 New England Forest Rally was dubbed “The Battle of the Titans” with a list of entries not seen at a Rally America event in years. OpenPaddock.net teamed up with Andrew Pascarella of racedinanger.com to get us all the details of how the event went down last weekend…
Higgins and Drew topped a stacked field at the 2015 New England Forest Rally. Their biggest rivals Ken Block and Alex Gelsomino fought hard to beat the top Subaru, but dry and dusty conditions on Friday turned into slick and muddy conditions on Saturday. This eased visibility, but made the road surface soft and slick. Block battled power issues and was pushing hard to catch Higgins, sometimes pushing a bit too much. At one point he put his Ford Fiesta F.H.F.V off the road in a spin damaging the front right corner.
FY Racing’s Adam Yeoman and Jordan Schulze who ran rabbit in front of Higgins and Block on Friday, had an inspiring drive until they suffered a ball joint failure while in 2nd place overall. They tried fixing it on stage, but by the time it was repaired they had to DNF.
FY’s issues handed the 2nd position back to Block who was then fighting off Travis Pastrana and co-driver Chrissie Beavis who impressively fought back to the podium from a 28 minute super rally penalty acquired on Friday after their Subaru stopped from a loose alternator cable following the first stage. The last time anyone has come from super rally to an overall podium was Higgins in 2013 at STPR.
Ramana Lagemann and Natalie Richard showed impressive speed in the M-Sport Fiesta R5 2Ltr, but an early mistake on the first stage on Friday, forced a restart under super rally rules for Saturday. Lagemann and Richard were never able to climb past 8th overall but, once Lagemann got comfortable with the car, he was putting up times in the top four. Lagemann showed great promise with the R5 and said that with more seat time he could contend for overall podiums or even outright wins.
David Sterckx and Renaud Jamoul unfortunately suffered a flat tire that slowed them down and potentially cost them an open class podium. Other than the puncture the FY Racing teammates consistently had top 6 overall times throughout the weekend.
Lauchlin O’Sullivan and Scott Putnam put in an amazing Super production drive, finishing just over 1 minute slower than Pastrana and missing out on an overall podium finish, but more than enough top the Super Production podium.
Former championship leader Nick Roberts and Rhianon Gelsomino didn’t have the rally they had hoped for, after a soft roll on stage 2 and had to restart under super rally rules. A mechanical failure on Saturday ended their weekend.
Jeff Seehorn and Karen Jankowski were leading Super Production going into day 2, but a large rock hidden behind some brush ended their event rather violently. This was Seehorn’s first rally east of the Rockies, and only the 2nd time he’s entered as a national competitor. To give some perspective at to how tough it was, out of the five national Super Production entrants only two survived to finish the event.
2wd was hotly contended at the New England Forest Rally. There was FWD vs. RWD, turbo vs. normally aspirated. Local driver Chris Duplessis and co-driver Alex Kihurani were heavy favorites, since Duplessis grew up in the area and knows the stages so well, but it just wasn’t meant to be. They had a massive penalty after returning to service before starting the first stage to fix a throttle issue, and then later a faulty fuel line caused an engine fire that ended their rally. Thankfully both driver and co-driver were unhurt and the car can be repaired.
However even with a perfect car,it would have been hard for anyone to match the speed Brendan Reeves and Anthony Mcloughlin showed in the MSport Fiesta R2. They finished 6th overall, nearly 12 minutes faster than Troy Miller and Jeremy Miller who with a super rally penalty after Friday, just barely beat out Will Hudson and John Hall. The interesting thing here is that Reeves’s R2 is a new 3 cylinder 1.0L turbo specially brought over to the U.S. by Msport for this event, as opposed to the older normally aspirated 1.6 Liter R2 that both Miller and Hudson drive.
B-spec class was light, with the Hondas of James Robinson / Brian Penza and Gustavo Yacama / Maurcio Toro in first and second. Yacaman was on a break from driving WEC cars to try out rally racing for a weekend. It turns out he had a blast and has thoroughly been bitten by the rally bug! The always entertaining Tracey Gardiner and Tracy Manspeaker finished out B-spec in third.
NEFR is equally unforgiving to all competitors. It tests not only a team’s ability to navigate it at speed, but also car preservation. The stage roads are covered with a loose layer of sand and pebbles that create huge dust clouds between cars and can lower visibility to near zero. As the roads get scrubbed down, low and high spots form, revealing granite rocks that are anywhere from a baseball to 25 pound frozen turkey in size. These hazards can cause all sorts of problems, from cut tires and broken suspension or upset the car and toss it into a ditch. This year’s rally was like two totally different events. Dry dusty conditions on Friday changed with soaking rain overnight making Saturday slick and muddy. This was one New England Forest Rally that none of us will soon forget.
OpenPaddock would like to thank Andrew Pascarella for traipsing through the woods at the New England Forest Rally to get us these great photos and report on such a memorable event. You can follow Andrew on twitter @racedinanger , Facebook, and his web site racedinanger.com