The Salem News - Article

Rally IN THE 100 ACRE WOOD: Block repeats as rally champion

by Dwayne McClellan
Staff Writer

Subaru Rally Team USA Driver Ken Block and co-driver Alex Gelsomino won their fourth straight Rally in the 100 Acre Wood Feb. 27-28 in Salem, but there were plenty of challenges along the way.

Before the rally began, Block and Gelsomino knew all eyes were on them since they were the three-time defending champions.

Block's Subaru Rally Team USA teammate Travis Pastrana had said earlier he was ready to either win or crash trying to keep Block from winning.

That's exactly what happened, as Pastrana and his co-driver, Christian Edstrom, crashed on the first day and rolled their car on the final stage Friday. Neither were hurt, but the car was totaled and they were unable to continue. The accident occurred on the fourth of five stages east and north of Viburnum, according to chairman Tom von Hatten.

Then on Feb. 28, Block and Gelsomino encountered another obstacle, the weather. The weather is a big wildcard of this annual rally. The day before, the competitors rallied in spring-like temperatures.

With the public gathered up and down Fourth Street to meet and greet drivers, co-drivers and look at the cars, the snow started falling. When the drivers and co-drivers left Fourth Street and headed north to a large send-off, the intensity of the snow had picked up tremendously.

The contest was cut short by the brutal weather. The final stage near the Dent County and Shannon County line was cancelled after the conditions deteriorated so much that it was deemed impassable.

Block covered the 14 stages in one hour, 25 minutes and seven seconds to win his fourth straight title.

"I love the flow of the stages of this event," said Block at the finish. "I love the high speeds, but I really didn't think I would win."

Block's title run matched the legendary John Boffum. Buffon, by his record in the sport, was the best rally racer of all time and is considered a legend, von Hatten said.

"Four straight is about the only thing I'll tie him with," Block said afterwards.

The snow did affect the drivers and the race.

"The weather made it exciting, " Block said. "On stage 11 I expected a little better grip from my tires, but didn't get it. After that, and on the last stage, I was driving safe, keeping the car on the road."

Forty-two cars started and 35 finished, according to von Hatten.

"We're going to start on next year's rally a little sooner," von Hatten said. "We found that more people are becoming interested in this event so we're going to have to work a little harder in accommodating that."

NOS Energy's Andrew Comrie-Picard finished in second place in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX after a tight battle with Rockstar Energy's Tanner Foust in his new Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X. Picard and his co-driver finished with a time of one hour, 26 minutes and three seconds. This was 15 seconds better than Foust.

After two rounds in the Rally America Championship, Comrie-Picard and Foust are now tied for the championship lead.

In fourth place overall were Bill Bacon and co-driver Peter Watt in their Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX, while Polish driver Andi Mancin and co-driver Maciej Wislawski rounded out the top five.

Former Production GT champion Matt Johnson and co-driver Jeremy Wimpey took the win in the popular new Super Production class, with a finish of sixth-place overall in their Subaru WRX.

"I love this event, it's awesome," said Johnson. "You just put the hammer down and hang on."

The two-wheel drive win went to Burak Tuglu and co-driver Carrie Wilburn in their 2001 Ford Focus.

This event also serves as a Regional Rally championship event for 2008. Regional class champions from coast to coast are invited to race head-to-head in the foothills of the Ozarks for he Regional Rally Championship. In Open class, the winning driver was Arkadiusz Gruszka in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX, while the Group 2 winner was driver Chris Greenhouse in a Dodge Neon.

Next, the championship moves west to Washington state for the Olympus Rally, April 18-19