Thursday, April 26, 2018


Portland, Oregon April 22, 2018  Subaru Rally Team USA driver David Higgins and co-driver Craig Drew continued their dominance of the Oregon Trail Rally, winning the 2018 edition for the seventh time in the last eight years at the wheel of their Vermont SportsCar-prepared 2018 Subaru WRX STI rally car.  The Oregon Trail Rally, regarded as one of the most scenic and fastest rallies in the USA represented round one of the 2018 American Rally Association series. 

“I’m happy to get the win and it was great to be back in my Subaru again,” explained Higgins at the podium. “Today was a proper Sunday drive just trying to manage our lead! We stayed clear of any problems and our Subaru STI was perfect. This rally is a joy to drive, it has a little bit of everything and the fans are fantastic.”

The victory did not come easy for the British team, David would get the short straw at the seeded draw, putting him out first on the road, om very loose and  fast gravel stages. The three-day event got underway Friday evening at Portland International Raceway, with four super special stage on mixed surfaces, gravel, grass, and asphalt.  
Higgins would take 3 of the four-super special stages with his team mater Chris Atkinson taking victory on SS 3. Irish Driver Barry McKenna had a strong showing early in his Ford Fiesta but was slowed with coil pack issues on SS3 and 4. Barry’s team worked into the night making repairs to the Fiesta, to put him on the start line for day two.
The rally HQ moved 80 miles east to the Dalles for day two and three, crews would cross the Columbia river into Washington State for day two.
Higgins and co-driver Craig Drew would charge into the first stage battling the very loose gravel, on “Dalles Mountain Uphill”

With a very slim margin over Atkinson of only 2 second, we had expected to see the Aussie power ahead and better Higgins but running second on the road was really not much better as there was so much gravel there was barely any track of a line from Higgins.

At the end of the 10.6 mile stage, Higgins somehow managed to ekk out the  stage win by a single second over McKenna with Atkinson just a second off the Irish Team rounding out the top three.

Ss6, the first pass over Badger Gulch would see the start of a recurring issue on these very fast Washington State stages, the top three drivers all broke the bogie time for the stage. McKenna would step up the pace on the first pass of SS 7 “Oak Flat” taking the stage victory over Higgins, the same stage would see Atkinsons hopes for his first US rally victory come to a fiery end. His Subaru would burst into flames half way through SS7, Atkinson and longtime co-driver Stéphane Prévot managed to get the small fire under control, but had to retire on stage.

Again, on the second pass of Badger Gulch, the first 6 drivers broke the bogie time, resulting in them all been awarded the bogie time.
Higgins would answer McKenna’s pace on the second pass on Oak Flat, taking the stage victory with a 4 second gap.  With the departure of Atkinson, Ken Block would move to third behind McKenna.
Higgins would take the victory on both passes of the short and twisty Tarmac twisty ‘Maryhill” stages.

The last big test of day-one would be SS12, “Dalles Mountain downhill” again total dominance from Higgins and Craig gapping McKenna by 10 seconds. Conner Martell would round out the top three. As the teams returned to Dalles for the overnight break, David Higgins had a one minute lead over McKenna, despite some mechanical issues with his 25 year old Cosworth Escort during day two,Ken’s Hoonigan Racing team kept him in the game, ending the day-two in third.  
Keeping their Rocket rally supported Ford Fiesta R2 “flat to the mat” throughout the day, the Canadian duo of Jason Bailey and Leanne Junnila were holding first overall in 2WD.

Taking full advantage of an off-season rules change that now allows Super Rally, Subaru mechanics worked their magic to get Chis Atkinson back on the road for the final day.
After a meet and greet with fans at the Park Expose in Dufur teams headed out to tackle the 8 special stages of day-three. With his overnight lead in hand, Higgins and his trusty sidekick Craig Drew would again take up their road sweeping duties, running first on the road.  
SS 13 the first pass of “Boyd Loop”, with its infamous jump, which I should note is the only jump in the entire rally, again, we would see the top four cars hit the bogie time, as noted earlier this was a significant issue at Oregon Trial Rally. Despite being some of the most scenic stages on the calendar, these roads are too fast and lack technical features. It’s also very challenging for the organizers to set up chicanes without encroaching onto precision private farm land.

Having nothing to win or lose, Chris Atkinson put on a master class in flat out driving, leaving us all wondering could he have mastered Higgins on these unfamiliar stages.
Despite a mechanical issue or a rare mistake from Higgins it was all but an impossible task for anyone to catch him, but apparently the hard charging McKenna did not get the memo staying within a second of Higgins time on the first pass on the morning stages. Ken Block would fall to forth due to a wheel issue, moving Jeff Seehorn to third at the mid day service.

McKenna’s magnificent drive would be slowed with a soft roll on SS18 “Starveout 2” losing around 11 minutes, fortunately Barry and co-driver Leone Jordon were uninjured and were able to get back on the road and limp back to service for some quick repairs, his overall podium finish was all but gone, but he was still in the hunt for points and the 4WO podium.  

Closing out the final stages of the rally, David Higgins would back off a little giving stage victories to Atkinson and McKenna. In the end it was yet another magnificent victory for the Manxman, and more so a great start to his 2018 championship bid.

Starting the day fourth overall with a four minute lead in their class, the Seehorn Rally Team elected to emulate David Higgins and Craig Drew – working to maintain the gap and score as many championship points as possible. Despite a puncture setting them back early in the day, the strategy paid off; Seehorn and Jankowski earned a class win and their spot on the overall podium.

Ken Block and Alex Gelsomino surprised with their surprise Oregon Trail Rally entry last week. The team, competing in a 25 year old World Rally Championship spec Ford Escort RS Cosworth, wasn't in it to win the rally; they were just looking to have a fun weekend. Block and Gelsomino went home with a third overall finish at the event.
Starting the day holding their podium position, Block and Gelsomino quickly came under threat due to suspension damage. The team passed through 2 stages in the morning loop with a vibrating right rear. Block lost nearly three minutes and was passed by Jeff Seehorn. Despite the mechanical troubles, Block and Gelsomino overcame attrition and took back their podium spot late in the day after McKenna's roll.

Winning the Open 2WD class and placing seventh overall were Jason Bailey and Leanne Junnila. The pair, normally rivals in the CRC, quickly fell into sync as teammates in Bailey's R2 Fiesta. The rally veterans quickly showed their pace and experience, opening an early lead on the competition and maintaining it to win the class. Dodging mechanical issues and keeping a hard charging Erick Potts and Claudia Barbera-Pullen at bay to win the Open 2WD by just over a minute.
Speaking of, Erick Potts and Claudia Barbera-Pullen took second in the Open 2WD class and ninth overall in their newly upgraded supercharged Subaru BRZ. The pair pushed hard in their first event together since NEFR in 2017, taking two stage wins and keeping their loses to a minimum. An impressive drive considering 2018 was Potts' first Oregon Trail Rally.
Lucy Block and Krista Skucas took third in Open 2WD and twelfth overall in their first rally together since NEFR 2015. The pair drove a steady rally and finished without troubles, though they did lose the front bumper from their R2 Fiesta on the final pass through Deere Run. The bumper was signed by sweep crews and returned after podium celebrations.

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