Thursday, August 26, 2010

Joseph Burke Claims Rally America 2010 “Rookie of the Year”

"The sweet taste of the podium, Alex Kihurani co-driver, Seamus Burke [father and crew chief] and Joseph Burke celebrate a tough but successful rally season, with their podium finish in Maine. Photo Neil McDaid"

By Neil McDaid

In this his first year contesting the national Rally America Championship, nineteen year old Joseph Burke has been awarded with the coveted “Rookie of the Year award.” Burke clinched the title by placing an impressive third overall at the New England Forest Rally in Maine, the final round of the championship.

Joseph is the only son of veteran Irish rally driver Seamus Burke, who among his many motorsport achievements is a two-time United States Rally Champion.

Joseph, currently a student at Auburn University majoring in mechanical engineering, already holds an impressive sporting CV. He was selected to compete at the 2005 United States Soccer Finals at Nike World Headquarters at the young age of 14. More notably, he led his high school soccer team to a state championship in 2009, as the team captain.

In Burke’s short rally career he most definitely has seen his fair share of up and downs. In his first outing, which was in a 2WD Integra, Joseph managed to capture 3rd overall in class at the 2007 Maine Forest Rally. From there, Joseph went through a tough learning curve with mechanical issues and a few spectacular off-stage DNF’s. In his first outing in an AWD car, Burke would claim first overall in a Kearney Motorsport Impreza at the Black River Stages in 2008.
"How about that" Rally America /WRC driver Ken Block was the first to congratulate Joseph on his 3rd overall at NEFR, and for also claiming the Rookie of the Year title. Photo: Neil McDaid

Because of school commitments and not having the car completed, Joseph would pass on Sno-Drift, the first round of the 2010 championship. Instead he opted to start his 2010 campaign at 100AW in Salem, Missouri. 100AW would be the first outing for Joseph in his SP class Mitsubishi. With Brian Sharkey calling the notes, Burke left no question about his ability as a driver by placing 6th overall in a very competitive field. Speaking with Joseph after the rally he joked, “I got strict instructions from the boss [Dad] – bring this car to the finish.”

Burke Motorsports would make the long trek west for round three, Olympus Rally, in the beautiful state of Washington. It would also be Joseph’s first outing with new co-driver Alexander Kihurani. After only 5 stages, while sitting 2nd in SP class, turbo pipe failure slowed a great run. They would eventually finish 9th overall.

Bad luck hounded Burke into round 4, the Oregon Trails Rally, when a flat occurred 2 miles from the finish of SS5. The resulting rotor damage ended his rally early. “It was a rookie mistake,” claimed Burke. “It was the first real stage of the rally, I should have stopped and changed the wheel. I thought I could make to the end of the stage.”

Heading into the penultimate round, STPR in Wellsboro, Pennsylvania, Burke was on track for yet another podium finish, but sometimes it’s not all about winning. As many have come to learn, STPR is a very challenging event with the tight tree lined stages. The slightest slip up can end your rally in a split second.

Joseph and Alex would charge through the opening stages of day one, with a mostly trouble-free drive. Well, apart from displaying some two-wheeled driving skills on the super special, much to the delight of the large crowd in attendance, I might add.
Burke’s only run on Tarmac in 2010 was a few quick jaunts around Portland International Raceway which was used for the opening stages of The 2010 Oregon trails rally. Photo: Neil McDaid

On day two, while sitting in 7th overall and 4th in SP class, Burke would come upon rally leader Ken Block whose car had stopped on the stage. Rather than charging ahead, Burke would stop and tow Block back to service knowing full well this would erase any chance of a podium for himself. When asked why he gave up his position in the rally Burke said, “It has been an extremely tough year for Ken. I thought if he got back to service he might be able to make repairs and continue. Ken has always encouraged me to push on when I was on my rocky road. I didn’t think twice. No regrets.”

Burke would push hard over the last few stages at STPR to finish within the top 10 overall. After the rally, the STPR Rally organizers awarded Joseph and Alex with the Woolf Whitaker Award for their outstanding show of sportsmanship.

The final round of the championship proved to be the icing on the cake for Burke and Kihurani. After battling hard on the hot and dusty Maine stages the crew would pull their Mitsubishi onto the podium in Maine in 3rd overall and 2nd in SP Class. “It’s been a great year, despite the ups and downs. We have achieved our goals to maintain a top 10 finish. There were so many people behind the scenes throughout the year that got us here. I can’t begin to thank them all.”

Looking forward to 2011 Joseph said, “We will need to regroup and look at the finances. We are a family team with limited support. It looks like there will be a lot of changes in 2011 with the Rally Car championship with the addition of Rally Cross, so we need to consider the best direction.”

When asked about rally cross Burke commented, “Of course that looks like a lot of fun. Time will tell; we need to really push for sponsorship to truly be competitive.”

As we go to print it looks like Joseph will enter the first round of the Rally Cross Series at New Jersey Motorsport Park in late August. For more info check out and check out “Joseph Burke Motorsports” on Facebook.