The final round of the 2013 Rally America season took place in the top of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula around towns of Houghton and L’Anse. The championship battle at the beginning of the rally was down to only 17 points between Higgins and Block, so there was sure to be tension in the air. Block won both rounds he entered last season, but mechanical problems kept him off the podium at Sno*Drift earlier this season which kept him down in points. He crashed out of 100 Acre, but he finished second at Oregon Trail and then went on earn three wins in a row at Susquehannock, New England, and Ojibwe. Block would have to win at Lake Superior and count on Higgins failing to finish the rally in order to take his fist championship.
Alex and I both arrived late Thursday night, meaning we’d miss everything but the rally itself. We made it to Parc Expose Friday morning, to see Lucy Block’s livery. It was probably the most eye catching one in the rally. The unicorn and robot T-Rex with laser eyes sums up what rally really is.
Brendan Reeves has to be one of the craziest 2WD drivers I’ve ever seen. If there’s a corner, chances are his Fiesta will be sideways. At NEFR, Rhianon Smyth was his co-driver and has been ever since the beginning of the season. After NEFR though, Rhianon married a guy by the name of Alex Gelsomino. Making it so that are now two Gelsomino co-drivers in the series.
The first two stages were held on Mason Moyle’s family gravel pit. A long straightaway led into a sharp right hander. Higgins knew what was at stake, so he was on the offensive and was not holding back anything. Full on attack.
After a split between L’Estage and Richard, L’Estage was now with Marshall Clark. Winning two Canadian rally events before coming here, L’Estage seemed to be on a roll and would pose a threat to Block and Higgins.
Rifat Sungkar rolled his car in testing the day before the rally. But his team managed to repair his car for the rally. The car must have felt right, because he came into the left turn with some speed.
Although it was fairly cold in the Upper Peninsula, with fall having arrived the color of the leaves gave the stages an awesome feel.
The gravel pit gave us pretty much every element you’d expect in a rally stage, short of a jump. The gravel made it easy for the cars to slide, and the one puddle made it a little bit more fun to shoot. Some cars went around the puddle, while others would just fly straight through.
The husband and wife team of Henry and Cynthia Krolikowski were in their 30th LSPR event. Unfortunately for them, they ended up going out due to mechanical problems on the second to last stage of the rally.
As we walked down to the start of the second stage, Rifat’s car was sitting right next to the start, with Rifat and his co-driver, Steve Lancaster, sitting there watching the rally. Their wheel came off on the straightaway probably due to damage sustained from the earlier wreck.
The stage came down a straightaway and a right turn right next to the start, so Rifat and Steve just sat there and watched the rally go by. They were in good spirits and turned from drivers to spectators.
The parking lot was filled with massive puddles, so as any rally fan would do, people decided to bomb through them.
L’Estage was back on form from Sno*Drift keeping up with Block and Higgins all weekend. Still breaking in the Subaru, he wasn’t holding anything back. New co-driver and all.
Reeves was also in a battle for the 2WD championship with ACP, but with the speed Reeves has been showing all year it seemed like he would take it.
With the sun going down and being out in the wilderness, a little nature photography seemed appropriate.
My flash was broken, and Alex didn’t have the stand to set up for his remote flash. Leaving it up to chance to catch his flash. Turns out it was good practice for the following stage.
Before going to stage, we headed back to service. Block and Higgins had already left, and L’Estage was getting ready to leave. Rally cars already look awesome, but once the light pods get put on, it adds an entirely new and mean look.
Dillon Van Way was looking comfortable in his new Subaru too. Lining up behind his old 2WD competitor before heading out for the final stages of Friday night, Van Way had been keeping up with top guys and keeping close to their pace. He may become a threat for the title in the coming years.
Rally being the way it is, the stages are always as remote as they can be. While we waited for the cars, we quickly noticed the full moon, that when cloud free, almost made the area as bright as day. It’s amazing how bright the moon can be when there are no other lights around.
That being said, we really couldn’t see the course or how close they’d be to us. All we could see is a little crest and all straightaway. I shouldn’t admit to us being a little nervous, but we were. The 000 car gave us a little idea of what to expect, but it wasn’t until Higgins flew by that we knew what we were in for.
Everybody came by pretty cleanly, aside from Reeves. Even though he’s FWD, that Fiesta is always sideways. There’s a certain excitement of having a flash of light shoot by then being pelted by rocks that you really can’t get too many other places.
Nothing was as nerve-wracking as our walk back to our car. We headed out before the stage was over, which meant walking down a half mile straight stretch of road while the rest of the 20 cars took it flat out.
After making it back to the car, we went back to the hotel for some sleep. Back at the start of stage one on day two everyone was lined up and ready to go. Block was leading most of day one, but Higgins took back the lead right at the end of the day. The championship was going to come down to the final day.
Or so we thought. On the third stage of day two, Block came into a right 6 and ended up rolling his car multiple times. Block was out, Higgins was the champion.
So then it was down to Higgins and L’Estage to battle it out for the win of the rally. Not only are the turbo cars fast, the the anti-lag and launch control on the top cars are crazy loud. Equivalent to gunshots coming out of the exhaust of these cars.
Most of the stages were mostly gravel, so the start line became deep ruts and the drivers were trying to start in various areas so they could get the most grip. The farther down the starting grid, the deeper the wheels sunk and the slower the launches became. The ruts became a trend throughout many of the stages, including some of the hairpins.
We didn’t know Block was out until Stage 13 when Higgins pulled up to the start with Block nowhere in sight. I’m not sure if it was just Higgins’s competitive spirit, or he was excited about the championship, but either way he was still putting it all on the line. Out of the ten stages on day two, Block won two and Higgins won seven after winning only one out of nine on day one. I’m pretty sure it was all a victory lap at this point.
Many of the cars on day two were also missing various body panels, bumper covers in particular.
There was also a large turnout of RWD cars in the lineup this year. A ’91 240SX, ’80 Volvo 242, ’83 Celica, ’80 Plymouth Fire Arrow, ’87 RX-7, ’94 BMW E36, and a ’72 Datsun 510. Maybe there should be a Rally America Revival Series. Seeing these old RWD rally cars is pretty awesome. Now someone bring over a Mark I Escort!
The Upper Peninsula is an interesting place when it comes to weather. As we were getting ready to hike in on one of the stages, a marshal warned us that the end of the stage was experiencing heavy rain and heavy sleet. For us it was raining only slightly, little did we know we were about to experience all four seasons in an hour.
As we walked in, we had heavy rain and cold winds. A little later we had a little sleet mixed it, then back to rain. As we stood there, the clouds went away and the sun came out and beat down on us so hard we needed to open up in out T-Shirts because of the heat. 15 minutes later, black clouds came back with pouring down rain. In an hour and a half, we just about experienced all four seasons. Rally.
One of the coolest parts of rally is the fact that all the cars transit on public roads to and from stages and service. The drivers are always happy to give a thumbs up to anyone happy to see them.
On the second to last stage, Higgins was doing everything but holding back. The Road wasn’t even wide enough for him coming into the right hairpin turn. This was also the same stage the Block crashed out on a few stages earlier, just a few corners after this one. That didn’t bother Higgins one bit.
The ruts were getting worse and worse with every car that would come through. Some cars’ wheels would disappear in the ruts while taking the “preferred” line. You could even see the roofs of some of the cars when they went down in the ruts.
Car after car still just powered through with no hesitation at all. Why? Because it’s rally.
And with that, we were done with the final rally of the 2013 Rally America Series. What a season it’s been, Block coming back, L’Estage in various cars, and Higgins being as consistent as ever. With the stages over, it was time to get back to the awards.
We were stopped in our tracks by this Golf R32 just sitting off to the side roughly a mile away from the spectator area. The roads on the stages were gutted, the roads for spectators though were just pure mud and ruts. Even with bags, we have no idea how this car made it this far, but whoever owns this car, we salute you.
Higgins held onto the lead and pulled off the win, giving him the win at LSPR along with the championship. L’Estage took second with Van Way in third, a clean sweep for Vermont Sports Car. It would of been interesting to see what would of happened if Block had stayed in and battled out for the championship to the end. Maybe next year?
Higgins and Drew secured the overall championship, Reeves and Gelsomino claimed the 2WD championship, and David Sterckx and Karen Jankowski pulled out the SP championship.
This makes this the third championship in a Row for Higgins and Subaru. Just one behind Travis Pastrana’s 4 straight championships from 2006-2009. Block came close, I’m sure he’ll be back next year to make a comeback from what happened this year. Next year is shaping up to be a good year if Higgins and Block are back, L’Estage is looking strong in his Subaru, and Van Way seems to be getting used to his Subaru. I can’t wait to see what happens!