Posted Friday, July 13, 2012 at 2:35am

New England Forest Rally

Friday – Day 1

We’ve reached a critical place in our quest for the 2012 Rally America Super Production (SP) title. After Day 1 and four of the seven stages in the New England Forest Rally (NEFR), we’re sitting second in the SP category and eighth overall. It wasn’t our strongest day. But there’s some indication that we could win the championship with a third place finish in SP so that’s our main focus right now.

Friday dawned brilliant at NEFR based at the Sunday River Ski Resort in Newry, Maine. Beautiful weather was predicted for both Friday and Saturday with mostly sunny skies and temperatures ranging at a high of 88-90°F. The largest issue in the rally was the dust that hung in the trees on the two long stages Friday.

Stages three and four were on a hillside filled with trees. Icicle Brook was run uphill for 16.06 miles then downhill as stage four for 16.23 miles. It was difficult to say the least.

We lost several seconds on SS3 to our closest competitors, Ramana Lagemann and his co-driver Chrissie Beavis. They had a flat tire going up the hill and we caught them on the stage. Their dust proved formidable and there were times when we had to simply stop in order to see the road. We literally couldn’t see ten feet in front of the car. This continued for nine miles.

We asked for an additional minute between our cars when we started SS4 because of the dust. That additional minute made the conditions a little better coming down the hill. For example, we were fifth fastest on SS3 going up the hill and the fastest non open class car. We were able to put 24 seconds on Lagemann and Beavis due to their flat.

Coming down the hill, however, they were able to regain 20 of those seconds once they changed their flat tire. Ramana is one of the fastest rally drivers in North America. It’s fun being in competition with him. But we need to stay focused on the larger issue, winning the championship.

The way it stands after Day 1, Lagemann and Beavis are at 33:11.7 minutes and fifth overall. We’re at 34:02.2 minutes in eighth.

Much of that is due to a penalty incurred when we checked in five minutes late to Parc Ferme, a rally grouping area where the cars must be parked and can’t be worked on by any of the crews. We were given a 50 second penalty thus the difference in our times. Without the penalty we’d essentially be tied with only a half second difference between our crews. It’s that close on the roads!

Third in SP is Evan Cline and his co-driver Greg Dorman. They’re 35:20.3 minutes. That 1:18 difference could be critical tomorrow. We’d like to push aggressively but championship points with a finish may be more important than pushing for a win and maybe falling off the road in the lingering dust.

The car is working well. The major issues we’ve faced in the past with the brakes, for example, haven’t appeared. We discovered during the Thursday Shakedown, though, that the subframe under the car was bent and that’s having a major impact on handling. We just can’t the car aligned right.

There’s another problem with the engine tune but the tuning guy is in California and we’re in Maine. It’s proving to be difficult on the phone to get the right tune-up on the engine but that’ll be addressed again Saturday morning during an hour service when we’ll have time to work on the car before the final seven stages. There’s a note on that also. The stages on Saturday are all new this year. That’ll even the playing field for all competitors. We were able to see the roads during what’s called recce or a slow practice run over the stages when the crews are allowed to do reconnaissance on the roads. The roads appear to be fast but there are some areas where the rhythm of the road will change abruptly. We call them “gotchas” where the road can get you by surprise. We’ll need to be careful.

There was one bit of championship news from Friday. The 2011 Super Production champions, Travis and his father/co-driver Terry Hanson, crashed out of NEFR on the first stage. They were closest to us in the standings (nine points) so that’s opened up some breathing room but this is far from over in our championship hopes. Ramana hasn’t run enough events this year to have an impact on the championship. It’ll be difficult, however, to watch a friend and strong competitor run in front of us but he’s running a different rally. We’re running for a championship and that’ll be our focus on Saturday.