Many have called this weekend’s 25th Anniversary New England Forest Rally the “Super Bowl” for rallying in America or even an All-Star event. And the big stars are what is drawing the initial attention to this event, however there is a lot going down at NEFR that goes well beyond the big names we all know so well.
Okay, let’s start with those big names and get it out of the way. Yes indeed we have the return of Ken Block in his HFHV (Hybrid Function Hoon Vehicle) Ford Fiesta based on the M-Sport WRC car with longtime co-driver Alex Gelsomino alongside. Also returning is Travis Pastrana with co-driver Chrissie Beavis in last year’s championship winning Subaru Rally Team USA car. Travis knows the NEFR stages well and is unafraid of pushing the limit to get stage wins, however he hasn’t been behind the wheel of a rally car for a while now and the competition is such that getting on the podium won’t be as easy as it usually is for this factory backed car.
Then of course there is Subaru Rally Team USA’s David Higgins and co-driver Craig Drew who would like to continue their unbeaten season in the new 2015 WRX STI. It was a scant two years ago that Higgins and Block had a battle royal for the championship that came down to the final day of the final rally to decide the winner. I wouldn’t expect anything less than a tight battle between these two for the top step.
Then there is the new entry of Ramana Lagemann and Nathalie Richard in the M-Sport Fiesta R5+. We’ve talked about this car at length in our podcasts and nobody is more excited than me to see M-Sport bring this somewhat affordable version of an almost WRC car stateside. The regular R5 that competes in the WRC2 support series New England is Ramana’s home rally and he knows the roads well. He’ll have to adjust his driving style though, as Ramana’s recent experience has been rallying the a RWD BMW M3. That said, I think his experience and the potent machine that the R5+ is will see them on the podium at a minimum.
Also expect a great battle within the FY Racing team. Adam Yeoman and co-driver Jordan Schulze have been more consistent than ever with three second place podiums in a row and even a stage win over David Higgins. Yeoman’s closest rival at this event will likely be fellow teammate David Sterckx. Sterckx has had his ups and downs transitioning his former super production car into an open class contender. If he can avoid mechanical issues then look for a very close battle between Yeoman and Sterckx. We’ll also be following one of our favorite regional competitors in Open Class, John Cassidy and Dave Getchell of Last Ditch Racing. This is Last Ditch’s home event and it is always fun to compare the overall stage times of the regional guys vs. the national competitors. In all there are 20 Open Class entries at NEFR this year, potentially the largest number ever at a single event.
Moving on to Super Production there is of course the points leader Nick Roberts who’s now reached a speed factor of 89.84, which is flat out phenomenal for an SP entry. Second in points Lauchlin O’Sullivan will keep the pressure on though, as will Gary Gill with new co-driver Niall Burns. OpenPaddock will be following another SP entry quite closely at NEFR, one that is making all the way across the country from Washington State. Our good friend Jeff Seehorn, after exemplary performances at Oregon Trail and Olympus, has been encouraged by the Rally America organizers to compete at the national level once again. Seehorn along with the highly experienced Karen Jankowski are certainly contenders for an SP podium. Expect a massively close battle among the Super Production field over the next two days.
Quite honestly I don’t think there will be any closer competition than 2wd though. There 6 national entries, but every one of them has the potential to win this event. First there is Chris Duplessis who returns to his home round with the Nameless Performance “Beast” Subaru BRZ with Alex Kihurani at his side. For those of you that somehow missed it, Alex was diagnosed with Leukemia just before he arrived for the Oregon Trail Rally earlier this year. He wrote an amazing piece you can read here regarding the shocking news and his humorous and inspirational means of handling it. Welcome back to Rally America Alex and good luck this weekend!
Also in 2wd we have Will Hudson in the Fiesta R2. Will has been competing in the WRC3 support series under the Drive DMACK Fiesta Trophy also in an R2. There isn’t a driver in the bunch that has seen such challenging stages as recently as Hudson who was just in Poland a couple weeks ago. That said, Troy Miller who has been dominating the 2wd category all season besting times of many SP and even open class entries, will also be at NEFR. Again with a Fiesta R2 in hand, Troy Miller will utilize his local knowledge of the New England stages to try and top the podium.
Brenden Reeves of Australia returns as well for a special one-off event, but he brings something a little special. M-Sport has decided to bring across the pond not only the R5+ mentioned above, but a new version of the Ford Fiesta R2 that utilizes a small 1.0 L Turbo engine. Although it is smaller and lighter, the 1.0L Turbo R2 offers more torque than its 1.6L normally aspirated big brother. Brenden’s skills from the Australian Rally Championship, WRC Academy, and his 2013 domination of the 2wd Rally America Championship should put him in contention for a podium, if not the all out win.
Steve LaRoza and Cameron Steely will also be contenders, as they are both driving turbo charged Fiesta ST’s which have the larger 1.6L engine. Will the heavier Fiesta ST best the M-Sport 1.0L Turbo R2? Will they overcome their rivals in the traditional normally aspirated R2s? It should be awesome to watch how this turns out!
Others we are going to be keeping an eye on are Lucy Block in another Fiesta R2. Yes, Ken’s wife likes to rally too, and we are all big fans of rally families! James Robinson in the B-Spec 2015 Honda Fit, although under powered and using a CVT, Robinson’s skill and consistency has seen him on the 2wd overall podium many times. World Endurance Championship Prototype 2 racer Gustavo Yacaman also gives rally a try for the first time in the older B-Spec Honda Fit at New England. It’s always exciting to hear the experiences of a first ever rally.
Be sure to follow all the action today and tomorrow as it should be one hell of a good time! Usually the best is to follow Twitter and Facebook for the most up-to-date information.
@oregonswings, @Rally_America, #NEFR15, and of course listen to Jim Beaver on Rally America Radio from the service park at rallyamericaradio.com