The first of six rounds for the Rally America National Championship is in the books, and wow was it a great rally! The conditions near Atlanta, MI in the upper portion of the lower peninsula were treacherous! There was packed ice below about an inch or two of snow on the road surfaces which made grip difficult to manage. Since studded tires are not legal in every state where the Rally America championship is contested, they are prohibited in the technical regulations. I don’t care how aggressive of a tread pattern is on a tire, its still not going to grip on shear ice, and we saw that play out again and again throughout the weekend.
On Friday, there was some snow on the stages, and those who were first in the order had the benefit of having some snow to grip. For those drivers deeper in the starting order, the roads became more and more slick as the snow was swept away revealing the ice below. Tire choice for both days would be a determining factor in the end result for many teams.
David Higgins, returning to Rally America as the 2011 National Champion and with a brand new 2012 Subaru WRC STi, absolutely dominated the rally, winning 15 of the 24 stages over the weekend. A poor tire choice on Saturday morning, choosing ice over snow tires, cost Higgins some time as L’Estage opted for the snow tires on his new 2011 Mitsubishi Evo X.
“We chose to use snow tires at the start of the day,” said L’Estage, “versus Higgins’ ice tires. We just gambled right and were making up good time until after the first service.”
Although L’Estage would make up time and gain on the leader, Higgins’ stage times improved after the first service and a change of tires. Higgins would end the day 1:49.9 ahead of L’Estage, taking the win and making it abundantly clear that L’Estage and Crazy Leo will have to seriously up their game if they’re to challenge for this year’s championship.
Rounding out the podium was last year’s winner, Travis Hanson. Travis (driver) and Terry (co-driver) Hanson won this event through great driving and atrition in 2011 becoming the first ever Super Production overall winners. This year, they were poised again to be very strong until an engine issue developing on Friday. The powerplant in their tried and true 2007 Subaru Impreza WRC STi held out, however, and they found their way to an easy win in the SP class and a third place finish overall. Throughout Saturday, they battled back and forth with a new competitor to the US rally circuit, Leonid “Crazy Leo” Urlichich. Crazy Leo beat David Higgins at the last event on the Canadian rally circuit, Rally of the Tall Pines, and looked to be poised to be on the podium for the Sno*Drift Rally. He would run afoul of the regulations, however, and suffer an 8-minute post-rally penalty for not having a catalytic converter on his 2007 Subaru Beast. (yes, that’s how it’s officially listed in the entry sheets). The penalty gave the podium to Hanson and relegated Urlichich to sixth overall. The steward’s decision has been officially protested by Crazy Leo, and until such time as there is official resolution of the appeal, the results will remain provisional.
In the 2WD class, Chris Duplessis brought a proper Ford Fiesta R2 to the Michigan rally and resumed the domination of that class that he enjoyed when he ran his 80’s era VW Rabbit. He won every single stage of the rally! You can’t do much better than that. Duplessis is the 2WD Loeb of American rally! Although there are still five more events to go, I think it’s safe to say that the championship will be Duplessis’ to lose. Andrew Comrie-Picard (ACP) took up the reins of the Scion xD that was so hideous in its first gen spec that not even Duplessis could find pace with it. The revised version of the xD seems to be competitive, and ACP, although no where near Duplessis’ pace, was able to be best of the rest and finish P2 in class.
Next stop, 100 Acre Wood!!! Shaun and I will be there live, so be sure to follow us on Twitter, @ShaunPaddock and @xorpheous, for event updates, pics, driver interviews, and news and rumors from the Service Park.