Portland, OR (May 6, 2012) -- Subaru Rally Team USA's David Higgins and Craig Drew continue their march towards retaining their Rally America overall Champions title. The pair took a total of 12 stage victories out of the 16 on their way to winning the 2012 Oregon Trail Rally.
Higgins was on it from the opening stages of the rally which were held at Portland International Raceway (PIR). After the first 4 stages on day one, Higgins had opened a 9 second gap over his nearest rival, Rockstar Energy’s Antoine L’Estage. One might have to wonder was it a tactical move on Antoine’s part not to push too hard at PIR to avoid running first on the road to start day two. Unfortunately, 9 seconds would be tough to recover from Higgins lead.
On to day 2: “Fir Mountain.” This is a stage that has been run in opposite and different directions over the years. The stage opens with a series of hairpins and unsuspecting crests, before climbing over Fir Mountain, at 14.67 miles. It is also the longest stage on the rally. Running second on the road, L’Estage was clearly on the attach as he crested Fir Mountain, but his efforts would soon to prove to be in vain as the his newly developed Mitsubishi would stall due to electrical gremlins slowing his pace. David Higgins would claim Fir Mountain as his first stage victory of the day.
“Ketchum if u can” was the second test of day two. Despite being only 7.78 miles, this stage offered up some of the most challenging sections of the rally. Heavy rain in the area on the days leading up to the rally left the first mile of an already rough Ketchum stage a slippy sloppy mess. Running first on the road David Higgins would have his biggest moment of the rally while trying to navigate a muddy section and it almost ended his rally. Higgins would lose control of his Subaru and glanced off a few rocks, before colliding with some of Oregon’s finest firs. Somehow David managed to power out of the foliage and was able to limp to the finish of the stage with a damaged control arm and a few mangled body panels.
"I thought I was done for when I went off," said Higgins, "But my team got me back on the road. I couldn't have done it without them. I 'm so proud to win four Oregon Trail Rallies. I'm getting up there with Ken Block in wins at single events!" said Higgins.
With Higgins off and L’Estage suffering from intermitting electrician problems, “Crazy Leo” Urlichich had a clean run to take the stage victory on Ketchum.
After the first scheduled service, the cars would run a repeat of Fir Mountain and Ketchum stages. Higgins was clearly back on it after his off. He would take Fir Mountain  by a whopping 30 seconds over Crazy Leo. Not to be upstaged, the “crazy” Russian, who now calls Canada home, pushed hard on the second pass on Ketchum to take his second stage victory of the rally.
Higgins would charge on to take the final three stages on day two. By the end of day, Higgins and co-driver Craig Drew had built a 2.54 minute gap between them and Crazy Leo. Adam Yeoman rounded out the top three.
In two-wheel drive, Will Orders in the mighty Summit Rally Team Nissan Silvia, held a slight advantage on Team Scion driver Andrew Comrie-Picard [ACP], who despite suffering from a lack of brakes at times manage to claim several stage wins on the mighty Nissan.
Edward McNelly who was left flying the Ford Racing flag in his R2 Fiesta after the departure of Dillon Van Way, was now in a head-to-head battle with the second of the Summit Rally Team cars driven by Ross Allan. By the close of business on day two McNelly had edged ahead of Allan to round out the top three.
Day three would get underway with a meet and greet with the fans in the picturesque town of Dufur before heading out the tackle the final 5 stages of the rally.
Much to the delight of the many fans in attendance, Antoine L’Estage would run a few stages on Sunday morning to ensure that they had got to the bottom of the issues with the Evo.
For Higgins it was really only a matter of driving cleanly throughout the stages to the podium. Nonetheless, Higgins would claim 3 stage victories of the five available on day three. Antoine posted the fastest time on one of the other stages while Crazy Leo would take victory on the final test of the rally.
With a snow capped Mt. Hood as a backdrop Higgins and Craig popped the champagne on their second overall victory in 2012. Joining them in second was Crazy Leo who for the most part drove a very controlled race to ensure a podium spot. 2011 Rally America Rookie of the Year Adam Yeoman rounded out the top three with his first overall national podium.
The Super Production (SP) Class was won by Belgium Group N Champ, David Sterckx with co-driver Karen Jankowski for their first SP podium in just three U.S. events. Sterckx edged local Hood River driver, Dave Henderson with co-driver Terrence McDowell, by 30.9 seconds. This was the high jumping Henderson's first 2nd place podium in his SP Class car. Colorado based Chris and Lori O'Driscoll rounded out the SP Class podium finishing 7 minutes 52 seconds from the class leader.
The Two Wheel Drive Class (2WD) would stay unchanged throughout the final day of the rally. In their first American competition, Australians Will Orders and Toni Feaver battled furiously to win the 2WD Class by 1:44.3 over 2WD regulars Andrew Comrie-Picard and Jeremy Wimpey in the Scion. It was a close competition between Orders and Comrie-Picard until the longer, faster stages on day 3 gave the Nissan-driving Australians an advantage.
"It's amazing. The Nissan was so fast out here and the roads were incredible," exclaimed Orders, "I can't wait for the next round at the STPR Rally."
Edward McNelly and Ole Holter completed the 2WD podium in their 2011 Ford Fiesta R2 and their first podium this season.
Championship standing after round three–“Unofficial”
With this victory and only three rounds remaining it is safe to say that, barring no major unforeseen situations, David Higgins is well on his way to retaining the championship.
The overall point lead is basically unchanged. Defending SP champion Travis Hanson was a no-show, while Laughlin O’Sullivan would not finish the rally. Nonetheless O’Sullivan will collect a single starting point, putting him up by 1 point on Hanson.
With Chris Duplessis missing this round, ACP now moves into the 2wd point lead. With the Australians now in the mix the 2-wheel drive battle is truly going down to the very last round this year. It is truly up in the air at this point.
All three days of the Oregon Trail Rally was broadcast online at www.rally-america.com covering parc expose, service areas and multiple stages for fans not able to attend the event in person.
Get full results here: http://www.rally-america.com/events/2012/OREGON/results/
Report and Photos: Neil McDaid
Report and Photos: Neil McDaid
Sources: Rally America