Chris Duplessis pictured center, ironically been interviewed by another driver talent Matthew Johnson who for the most part tapped out of competition due to lack of sponsorship in U.S. Rallying. Picture Neil McDaid
With the exception of a limited number of drivers in the AWD open class, most that compete in the Rally America Championship, the premier stage rally series in the USA, do so with little or no sponsorship. Getting sponsorship for a rally series that has had no television coverage in recent years is a tough sell to potential sponsors.
It also leaves it very difficult for up and coming rally drivers to get noticed outside of the series. Granted, the internet has helped some step out from the shadows of our great tree covered stages. But the reality is most of our very talented drivers rarely every get the opportunity to compete outside of the USA. Car manufactures have also come and gone from the series down through the years, with the exception of Subaru who have hung in for the long haul.
Having had phenomenal success on the world stage, in 2010 Ford dipped their toes in the Rally America Series. Grabbing Ken Block from Subaru, they launched their new Fiesta onto the Rally America scene. Although it was a challenging year for Block in a car that was originally built for RallyCross, it proved to generate enough interest for Ford to also support a limited low budget 2WD program. Ford offered for sale an M Sport developed R2 kit for the Fiesta. They also partnered with Tim O’Neill Rally School in New Hampshire to supply the kit or build a complete Fiesta for potential customers.
Chris Duplessis, a driving instructor at the O’Neil School, would debut the first of the TON R2 Fiesta’s on the Rally America stages in 2011. Duplessis, who is currently without question the most dominant force in 2WD in the U.S., had been competing and winning on a shoe string budget in a self built VW Golf since 2005.
In 2010 Duplessis got his first break from his self funded rallying by getting a drive with Scion racing in conjunction with several other sponsors, before moving to the Fiesta R2 in the later part of 2011. With Ford Racing deeply involved with the launch of the New Fiesta R2 program in the U.S., they would quickly realize what we had all known for years: Duplessis was, without question, the right driver to put in their new Fiesta to get it onto the podium on a regular basis.
Duplessis would contest the last two rounds of the 2011 Rally America Championship in the R2 Fiesta, ultimately winning his third National 2WD Championship. Ford could not claim the Championship for the Fiesta as Duplessis drove both the Scion and his VW in the early rounds of the championship. Nonetheless, Ford would reward Chris for his efforts in the Fiesta with the opportunity of a lifetime to drive an M-SPORT prepped R2 in the final round of the 2011 WRC Academy at Rally GB. It would not be a fully backed drive by Ford, but additional support would come from Rally America as Chris would also help shine light on the series.
Maybe a little overzealous, and not fully up to speed on writing his own notes for the pace on the WRC, Duplessis would roll the car on day two but would re-enter under super rally rules. After getting a taste for rallying on the world level, Chris was determined to find a way to enter the Academy in 2012.
On his return to the USA, Duplessis began working on defending his Rally America 2WD Title while also working toward a return to the 2012 WRC Academy. As in 2010/11, Chris would continue to dominate in 2012 Championship. The opportunity for Duplessis with Ford Racing to compete in the 2012 WRC Academy would not be a fully backed program. Chris would have to come up with additional funding to support his WRC dreams. Despite all Chris’ success in the 2010/11, getting the additional sponsorship dollars needed to compete in the full 2012 WRC Academy program proved to be a tough task.
Some additional support would come from the most unlikely of sponsors. Although it’s hard to call them competing rally schools because of their geographic regions, Chris got support from DIRTFISH Rally School, which is based in Seattle, Washington. After competing on the first two rounds of the 2012 WRC Academy in Portugal and Greece along with competing in the 2012 Rally America Championship, Duplessis had quickly depleted his limited budget, along with some $60,000 of his personal funds.
Things were looking bleak for Chris and his new co-driver Alex Kihurani making round number three of the WRC Academy, Rally Finland. So in a last ditch effort to raise funds Team Duplessis appealed to their fans for support.
Under the heading “First All-American Team to Compete in World Rally Finland in 40 Years,” they disclosed the team’s financial situation on Facebook. Although they actually needed $15,000 to cover costs, they set a modest goal of $10,000 which they thought would be a stretch to raise from fans, friends, and family through an online auction of various items. They were wrong. The reaction from their fans was as quick as Chris behind the wheel. Through Indiegogo.com they received $10,000 in donations in 24hrs, and by the 48th hour they had surpassed $16,000. As we are posting this the team is nearing the $20,000 mark.
This truly is a testament to the popularity of Chris Duplessis, the privateer is relentless in his pursuit of his passion. Also in a way, it’s also payback from fans to Chris for the free entertainment he has provided on many rally stages down through the years.
So Duplessis’ WRC dream continues. Although Chris dominates in 2WD in the USA for the most part, he has been brought down to earth with the pace on the WRC. He will openly admit that he needs to get up to speed on improving his own pace notes, hopefully Alex will help with that. Chris is not expected to podium in Finland as he is up against some very stiff competition. But of all the rounds of the WRC that Chris has competed on to date, Finland’s epic stages maybe best suited for the kid from Maine. Many do expect to see Chris nipping at, or running well within, the top five. We wish Chris and Alex the very best, and look forward to following their progress on one of the greatest rallies in the world. The outpouring of support from the fans may also have Ford looking to get fully behind this very popular America driver. GO CHRIS GO!!!
Donation to the team is still open at http://www.indiegogo.com/wrcfinland?c=home&a=924021