2007 New England Forrest

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Pastrana Jump

They say that if you don’t like the weather in Maine, then just wait 5 minutes.  I never thought a ridiculous saying would be so true until I stared confusingly into the apocalyptic skies of Mexico, Maine.  In the four hours that I had been awake, I experienced three seasons.  The anemic umbrella attached to my folding camp chair was being used to not only to shield me from the blazing sun but also from the golf ball sized drops of rain that seemed to follow in torrents and then disappear as fast as it arrived.  I began to re consider my statement from earlier that morning in which I claimed that Maine is definitely a place I could live in.  Hmmmm.

    Aside from the weather, the forests of Maine are beautiful and the perfect place to host the 2007 New England Forest Rally.  The stages are mostly held on the rough logging roads owned by private logging and land companies in the area.  This was the 14th annual summer race originally known as the Maine Forest Rally, however in the recent years New Hampshire has been contributing, so the name has been updated (even though the website hasn’t changed).  This race was also round 6 of the popular American rally series, “Rally America National Rally Championship”. 

    The day starts off in Mexico, Maine in the Mexico Recreation Park.  This park is host to the most popular stage in the Rally America Series; the man-made jump located adjacent to the ball field and under the ever-present Red Bull rally archway.  Spectators arrive early to get the best view possible from the ballpark bleachers while others set up folding chairs as close the estimated landing area as possible.  While spectators are claiming their positions, there is a parc expose in the adjacent field.  The each team parks their “shinny” cars on display for this is the last time (this weekend) they will look this good.  Rally fans are having their pictures taken with their favorite cars and their favorite drivers are signing endless free posters.  It also just so happens that ESPN is there doing coverage on the #199 car driven by none other than the world famous freestyle champion, Travis Pastrana.

    Once the parc expose is finished, the spectators start to crowd the bleachers and temporary orange fencing that safely separates the public from the man-made jump.  Tacky rap music is playing thru a pair of DJ speakers and doesn’t quite fit with the motif of the rally.  Finally the “music” is cut and an announcer mans a wireless microphone to provide race information and series standings to the crowd just before the race starts.  He informs us that the “slower” cars will be starting the first stage and a few minutes later the #574 car, a 1999 Honda Civic piloted by Nick Lehner clears the crest with surprisingly impressive height. Following him are the remainder of the FWD Hondas, Volkswagens, and Ford Foci who put on an acceptable show until the #102 car, a 2004 WRX driven by George Georgakopoulos, launches off the crest with all the might of a small space shuttle proving that Subarus can fly. His landing is hard and bouncy but the crowd goes wild with applause and cheer.  Not even race leaders Pastrana, Block, or O’Neil can match the height set by Georgakopoulos.  Even with his impressive airtime, Stage 1 comes to an end with Pastrana/Edstrom in the lead and the cars prepare for stage 2. 

    Stage 2 is the exact same stage as the previous except the cars are organized in the traditional rally fashion with the race leader starting the stage.  The fans prepare their cameras because they know that the first car will be race favorite, Travis Pastrana.  Sure enough, his Red Bull sponsored Subaru STI emerges from the forest and clears the crest with a sense of mediocrity.  The cars that follow him also do not have the intensity they had in the earlier stage and an aura of confusion looms over the crowed.  It seems that the cars are braking early before the crest due to changes made in the approach surface and they can’t get the speed needed to catch any air.  Stage 2 ends with ho-hum feeling about it and Block/Gelsomino taking the #1 spot. 

    Stages 3 and 4 are located in South Arm, Maine and are run in opposite direction of each other.  These two stages however are spectator restricted and since yours truly does not have a media pass yet I only have results to post.  Stage 3 and 4 were both succeeded once again by Pastrana/Edstrom followed closely by the impressive L’Estage/Williams combo who seemed to pull out all the stops this weekend.

    Stage 5 is the last stage of the day and is held in Concord Pond, located a half-hour from the Mexico Recreation Park.  The spectators that got to the recreation park early enough for stages 1 & 2 were able to purchase bus tickets that would take them from the recreation park to the Concord Pond spectator area.  Unfortunately, one of the buses hired to transport the spectators broke down earlier that day and a few of the fans were asked to use their personal cars to help carpool the extra spectators.  Concord Pond is a relatively short stage that takes place on rough shale roads.  There are only are few designated spectator areas and this is one of the rare opportunities where you can actually pick your own spectating spot.  Of course, this is as long as the officials approve the spot you’ve selected and they deem it “safe”. 

Pastrana/Edstrom kicks off the stage followed by L’Estage/Williams and then Block/Gelsomino, all of who hold their own even as the temperature drops and sun starts to set.  L’Estage goes into stage 5 six tenths of a second behind Pastrana and comes out a whole 2 seconds behind the new stage leader, Ken Block.  Even with the growing gap, the driver of the 2003 Hyundai Tiburon has already impressed fans and media alike. Surprisingly by the end of the day, Pastrana has moved to 3rd, leaving stage 5 three seconds behind Block. 

Saturday starts off in the early morning with another parc expose hosted in the town of Berlin, New Hampshire and is sponsored by the energy drink “Go Fast”.   The town graciously sections off a block of their main street so that the cars can line up on either side for the spectators to enjoy.  The “Go Fast” girls are handing out free energy drinks and taking pictures with rally fans.  The people from Rally-America are selling t-shirts and other merchandise while CodeMasters has a demo set up and promoting their new video game, “DIRT”.  Across the street, a local organization has set up a tent and is selling homemade breakfasts and coffee next to where the #523 car is parked.  This 2002 WRX is apparently experiencing clutch or transmission problems and the team has decided to repair the car right there on the street.  Locals and fans look on with curiosity as they munch on their egg sandwiches and fresh home fries.  A little further up the street Travis Pastrana is sitting on the hood of his Red Bull sponsored STI, signing autographs and shaking the hands of many excited fans.  Ken Block, owner of DC shoes and current race leader is also signing autographs on free posters depicting his famous “longest rally jump ever” made famous by the TV series “Stunt Junkies”.  All the teams deserve credit for making it this far but a couple stand out and deserve special recognition.  Privateer Matthew Iorio is doing quite well with his #18 car, a 2001 Subaru Impreza 2.5 RS converted to turbo.  He’s consistently impressed crowd and media alike with his “uniquely” decorated Subie.  Next, Amy BeberVanzo is holding her own in a race which seems to be flooded with testosterone and Subarus.  Her ’05 Mitsubishi EVO is the #14 car and just so you don’t forget it, “AMY” is proudly decaled on the front of the hood. 

After the autographs have been signed, and the fans are revved up on energy drink, the cars leave the expose and make their way over to the first stage of the day.  It’s stage 6 of the New England Forest Rally and it starts in Dillion, NH.  Stages 6 and 7 are both tarmac rallies and run in opposite directions of each other.  Spectating is only available in one spot and only for stage 6.  Stage 7 has been modified in order to reopen the public roads and allow regular traffic to claim its streets. One by one the cars make their way thru the stage and by the end of the morning its Antoine L’Estage that finally takes a stage win in his red ’03 Tiburon. 

Stages 8, 9, 10 and 11 are all based an hour away in the town of Middle Dam back in Maine.  All four stages share a single section of dirt road and then branch off onto unique logging trails, thus making each stage unique.  The spectators park their cars in the gravel lots located at the beginning of stage 8.  They then have the choice of either walking the 2 miles to the spectator area (to beat the crowds and get a good spot) or wait for the free bus that will eventually take them up the mountain.  Your truly had one too many egg sandwiches at the expose, so I decide to wait for the bus.  While waiting in the parking lot, it’s impossible not to notice how many rally enthusiasts own Subarus.  The lot is infested with WRX, RS, Legacy, Outback, Impreza, 2.5, and pink STI badges.  It’s almost overwhelming.  It almost makes a Mitsubishi fan (like me) embarrassed at our attendance numbers.  Luckily, before I can finish counting the Subarus, the bus arrives.

The bus ride is a short and bumpy one but it becomes apparent to us that we made the right decision when we can see the road to the spectator area is almost completely uphill. The spectator area is on a hill overlooking a long and fast sweeping turn that lets the drivers get decently sideways for the awaiting fans and their cameras.  Stage 8 starts in Middle Dam and winds its way to depths of the forest, where the cars will then turn around for stage 9. This is done once more for stages 10 and 11.  Stage 8 starts off with the L’Estage/Williams combo, as they are the first car to stir up the thick dust from the dry logging roads.  There surprisingly hasn’t been any rain since the day before so the forest is dry and the dust kicked up gets everywhere.  People, plants, the entire area is eventually coated in an even layer of road debris.  By the end of stage 11, it’s impossible to see down the road but it’s crystal clear that Pastrana is the winner.   Although L’Estage wins stages 10 and 11, he takes a very close and equally impressive overall 2nd place, leaving only 7 seconds behind him and #199 Red Bull car. 
With dust in our hair and a crunch in our mouths, we board the bus and returned to the gravel lot from whence we came.  Another rally had come to completion and it was time to leave Maine and it’s absurd weather behind us…. well at least until next year.

-Hinz – 
Co-Creator of RallyAddict.com

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