In the shadow of Oregon’s majestic snow capped Mount Hood a grouping of
North Americas fastest and most fearless rally competitors gathered to
tackle 3 days and over 300 miles of fast flowing foothills and winding ridges
in the surrounding farmlands of the city of Portland.
The reigning series champion David Higgins led the field into the battle closely flanked by le patron of Canadian rallying Antoine L'Estage, and right in their wheel tracks
came Chinese driver Tingwu Song.
Known for his time in the China Rally Championship with the prestigious GuiZhou BaiLing Rally Team this is Tingwu’s first season in the Rally America Championship and he is using a proven car of ex champion L’Estage from the Libra Racing team of another
multiple champion John Buffum.
Tingwu has based himself in the USA for the season in an effort to focus on his primary goal of attaining success and speed in the Rally America 2012 series.
Added to the guidance and knowhow of the Libra Racing Team he then recruited Irishman Martin Brady to assist him from the passenger seat of the Mitsubishi Evo 10.
Martin has had much mileage attained in the North American rally scene with many drivers and his accolades include second overall in the Canadian Rally Championship in 2011, the first Irishman to do so.
The goal of this pairing for 2012 was to do similar in the Rally America series and set personal bests for both Chinese and Irish competitors as they tour the United States on the geographically diverse 6 round championship.
In Oregon it all started reasonably well on the first day’s stages which were
based along the track complex and access roads of the Portland
International Raceway. After 4 stages at PIR Tingwu had overcome
intercom failure which left the notes coming from Martin to be less
vocalized than normal and an unfamiliarity with tarmac driving on gravel
tyres to hold 2nd in the regional portion of the rally missing first place by
only 0.4 of a second.
This gave the Song/Brady partnership a solid start to begin leg 2 of the
event which moved to The Dalles and the mountainous stages of Fir Mountain
and Ketchum lowlands.
Stages that demand respect and Tingwu drove them
with that attitude. Yet it was the repeat visit on ss7 to the arduous
mountain stage that sadly saw Tingwu and Martin pass their stricken Libra
racing team mates L’Estage and codriver Nathalie Richard who were forced
to retire with mechanical issues. Shortly thereafter Tingwu would make contact with a
large boulder, resulting in suspension and steering damage, the yellow
Evo would limp back to service. Libra Racing Mechanics did an
express renovation to the front corner of the car and sent Tingwu back on
the stages in fighting form.
Over the afternoon loop of 3 stages including the blast over the Starveout Ranch farmland ridge pass it was to be a fightback for Song and Brady to second place in the regional event 1 minute behind XGAMES athlete Carl Decker
The final leg of the rally took the crews to the ultra fast roads close to the
picturesque town of Dufur Oregon. Fast blasts over wide crests and jumps
and not so gentle declines down from the rolling often cambered hills with
breath taking valley and mountain views should you be going slowly enough to
take them all in.
Now as idyllic as that sounds it was not the plan for Tingwu
Song and Martin Brady, they left the start line of the opening stage of the
day very much with the head down and faced into battle.
Tingwu and Brady would first go head to head with a very committed Mark Fox in his Subaru, swapping times and only half a second ahead of Fox when he succumbed to misfortune and retired from the event on the 3rd stage of the day. Decker was still pushing hard and Song could not
relax as he had only an 18 second cushion over Decker with two stages to go.
The hot temperatures were beginning to bring strain on the engine and it was
a nervous push that took them to the finish which despite the unfounded
worries that the engine could succumb to the stresses of the battle.
In the end it was with a 44 second lead that Song took the rally to claim his first regional win on
USA soil and attain the honor of the first Chinese driver to stand on the top
step of a Rally America podium.
Beaming at the finish Tingwu commented this has been a great rally for our team, we came to compete and gain experience and as the weekend unfolded we became faster and finished the rally as the fourth fastest car in a very prestigious field behind drivers I
hugely respect such as David Higgins.
Martin commented “Tingwu built up his pace and experience all weekend and
this shows with the winning of the regional rally today but also in how fast
we are in overall terms of the entire 3 legs of the event, I am proud to have
sat with him this weekend and see firsthand such an improvement and solid
result thanks to him and our team and it gives us a lot to look forward to for
the rest of the season”
Words: By Martin Brady
Photos/ Neil McDaid / Rally World News