Subaru Rally Team USA driver Ken Block set the fastest times on the opening stages of the Susquehannock Trail Performance Rally and never looked back, taking his second win of the season at this notoriously tough event.
Block and co-driver Alex Gelsomino have had their share of bad luck this season, with three DNFs in their previous four starts and Block said he was happy for the win – especially at an event that hasn't been good to him in the past.
"STPR has been a struggle for me. I'm happy," said Block. "I've rolled here, I broke last year, the year before that I crashed in shakedown and then made it a stage and a half."
But he wasn't ready to say he'd managed to shake off the season's bad-luck streak: "I'm not going to say it's over until I finish at least three or four more events."
Block's Subaru teammates Travis Pastrana and co-driver Christian Edstrom took second place. The duo lost a minute to suspension damage on Day 1, but managed to claw back into second place and hold it there to the finish.
Pastrana admitted the course was fast enough to be scary at times, but he was able to keep a cool head and extend his championship lead.
"The goal was win if you can, but podium for sure," said Pastrana. "It was a good event."
Third place went to Bill Bacon and co-driver Peter Watt, their first U.S. podium result together.
"We tried to push right from the get-go," said Bacon. "Until now, our best finish in the States was fourth, so we're happy."
Bacon is running a limited season this year but with a pair of top-five finishes early on, he has secured enough points to be awarded an X Games invitation. If he is able to attend, this will be his first time in the high-profile Los Angeles contest.
In addition to battling for championship points, many teams are vying for a shot at X Games gold in August. Four top points scorers in the Rally America series will earn an invitation after this event.
Polish driver Andi Mancin and co-driver Ryszard Ciupka – who are also expected to receive an X Games invitation - finished fourth this weekend. The event started poorly for the duo, who took a rock to a brake line on Day 1 and were forced to run a stage without brakes, then lost even more time to an ailing clutch on Day 2.
Piotr Wiktorczyk and Grzegorz Dorman took the Super Production class win, finishing in fifth place overall. Wiktorczyk is also expected to make the trip to X Games this summer.
In two wheel drive, Chris Greenhouse and co-driver Don DeRose took top honours in their Neon.
STPR is typically tough and often becomes a battle of attrition as teams fall victim to the challenging course and tough roads. The 2009 event was no different.
Antoine L'Estage and co-driver Nathalie Richard – who took the win here in 2008 – reported trouble with their Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X throughout the contest. After losing time on Day 1 to a blown turbo hose, the team continued to battle a variety of mechanical issues well into Day 2. Their transmission failed before the final stage but they pulled into the final service of the day on a tow-rope hooked to Andrew Comrie-Picard's NOS Energy Mitsubishi and were able to finish in the top 10.
For their part, Comrie-Picard and guest co-driver Marshall Clarke found themselves out of the running for the podium right at the start after receiving a penalty for fueling procedures and then suffering a soft rollover on the fourth stage. They were able to continue after the roll and the team's finish was enough to boost Comrie-Picard into second-place in the championship.
The rally ended early for BMX superstar Dave Mirra and co-driver Derek Ringer. The Subaru Rally Team USA's Super Production class team took damage to their car after they struck a rock on Day 2 and were unable to continue.
The Swedish World Rally Team of Patrik Sandell and Emil Axelsson were out of the contest after only one stage with reported engine failure. It was tough luck for Sandell, who had been expected to challenge for the win at this contest. The driver has won two Production World Rallies so far this year, and was the Junior World Rally Champion in 2006.
Rally newcomer Brian Deegan and his co-driver Chrissie Beavis also had a tough event. The team's crew repaired a broken driveshaft after a rough Day 1 stage, then the duo went off-road on Day 2 and did further damage before they lost their brakes on the second-to-last stage. But the team managed to cross the finish line and Deegan says he expects to receive a so-called "at-large" invitation to the X Games Rally competition.
"It was different than I thought but I like it," said Deegan of his debut rally driving experience. "I thought trophy truck drivers were really talented but I think rally driving is where you really learn to drive – better than anyone else."
Deegan made his name as a supercross and motocross star, and founding member of the Metal Mulisha group of riders. Deegan is the latest action sports star to try his hand at rally competition, joining the likes of Pastrana and Mirra -- both series regulars.
The Susquehannock Trail event has been running since 1977, and has long been known as one of the most demanding events on the calendar. The 2009 running of the contest features a return to the popular two-day format, with a spectator-friendly daylight schedule and super special stages on each day.
Rally car racing is considered the extreme sport of automobile racing and is often described simply as "real cars, real roads, real fast." This all-season motorsport sees drivers and their co-drivers take modified road cars to the limit as they achieve blistering speeds over courses that cover more than 100 miles of gravel, dirt or snow-covered roads.
The 2009 Rally America National Championship series consists of nine exciting events throughout the country in many different weather and road conditions.
Top teams in the series are also invited to compete in the Summer X Games, the leading action sports event broadcast live on ABC and ESPN.
Six top drivers -- Pastrana, Comrie-Picard, Block, Mirra, Foust and Matt Johnson – have already accepted first-round invitations to X Games. The results after the first five rounds of the championship mean that Mancin, Bacon, Wiktorczyk and Gruszka are expected to round out the field, with two other so-called "at large" drivers yet to be named.
All results are considered informational pending official race processes.
Among the marques typically represented in Rally America events are Subaru, Mitsubishi, Dodge, Ford and Volkswagen.
The next round of the Rally America championship moves east to the forests of New England for the New England Forest Rally July 17-18.
For more, visit Rally-America.com.