Written by: Emmanuel Cecchet

The NER SCCA Rallysprint program resumed on October 18, 2020 with the ‘Fall Into Winter’ rallysprint at the Team O’Neil rally school facility in NH. This was the largest attendance ever recorded for a rallysprint. The 30-entry cap limit was reached within hours of registration opening and all the racers were eager to get back on gravel after all the regional events had been cancelled since the beginning of the Covid 19 pandemic. Some organizational changes were made to adapt to the pandemic: no time card exchanges and no spectators were allowed, to name a few. The elimination of spectator areas allowed the use of new roads and stage configurations that couldn’t be used before.

While the bulk of the field was made of regular competitors and cars, a few new builds made their first appearance in competition at the ‘Fall Into Winter’ rallysprint. Ian Pouliot from Nemesis Photo, usually covering media at NER events, was competing for the first time with his freshly prepared Subaru Impreza. Tim Thomas, a regular codriver and rallycrosser also completed his VW Beetle build just in time for the sprint. Luis Texeira was back in a 2WD car with a new to him Honda Civic Si to shake the 2WD field. Scott James in his new Golf GTI build was one of the few who got seat time prior to the event with his participation at the ARA ShowMe rally. Returning competitor Jacob Perkins was back in his Nissan Sentra SE-R after having sold and re-acquiring his old car.

Photo by Ian Pouliot

In typical New England fashion, several inches of snow blanketed the area the day before the event which gave the organizing crew (Scott Beliveau and Chris Wright) some extra work to clear the roads from fallen trees and branches. A new option was offered to the crews to do a 2-pass recce and write their own pace notes. A third of the field took up the opportunity to start the day early with a 1st pass recce at 7:30am. The whole field did the 2nd pass after the drivers’ meeting. While the sun was already out and started to melt the snow at the top of the course near finish, several icy and snowy patches were still present in the shaded areas.

The first loop of 4 stages (two runs of two variations of an uphill stage) saw a lot of attrition with some mechanical DNFs (Adam Noyes/Electrical, TJ Pullen/Shifter, Dan Downey/Engine, James Philippe/Suspension) and a few offroad excursions that kept cars stuck in the snowy ditches (Ian Pouliot, William Doyle, Stephanie Reeve). The sweep team with Dan Fouquette and Jordan Melim was very busy pulling out the cars and keeping the show running. The volunteers at the chicane were also very busy resetting the cones as the braking zone ahead of the chicane was very slippery. With a 30 second penalty per element of the chicane hit, a careful approach would usually pay off. Don’t miss the entertaining videos on the NER SCCA Rallycross Facebook page that Andrew Benson took of cars at the chicane. The service crews (limited to 2 per team) worked on the cars during the lunch break to prepare the cars for the afternoon loops. The teams helped each other out in typical NER fashion to get everybody back on the road.

At the midday break, some very tight races were shaping up in some classes. The R2U class (2WD under 2500cc) had Luis Teixeira’s Honda Civic leading the class (14m47s) over Jesse Whitsell’s Golf (15m39s with a 30s chicane penalty) and Matthew Stryker in 3rd place (15m56s).

In R4U (4WD under 2500cc), with the early retirement of TJ Pullen on mechanical issues, Dylan Gondyke had a commanding lead (14m26s) over Caleb Pocock (15m46s with a 30s chicane penalty) who was doing his first ever rallysprint on gravel. Third place in R4U was a tight competition between Kadence Verge (16m39s) and Phil Cherok (16m41s). All R4U cars were Subaru Imprezas!

The higher displacement 2WD cars (R2O) were hit by a number of mechanical issues too and at the end of the first loop, Scott James’ Golf GTI (16m02s) was leading Kevin Brolin’s BMW e30 (16m19s) and a very fast Anthony Burden in his VW Jetta who was recovering from a DNF on SS2 (17m11s).

The morning uphill course was favorable to the AWD Turbo cars (R4O) with Emmanuel Cecchet (14m06s) ahead of the tight race between Tony Gearheart (15m03s) and Margaret Sharron (15m10s), all of them in Subaru STis. Some competitors also got penalties for earliness (1 minute penalty per minute early) or lateness (10s penalty per minute late) at time controls, part of the process of learning to do the correct math on time cards.

Check out all the images captured by Douglas Bolduc at DaggerSLADE Media.

DaggerSLADE Photo Album

After the lunch break, the crews recce-ed a shorter uphill stage with some challenging tight turns at the start and end of the stage. Some timing issues on SS5 forced the times to be dropped in the overall results, keeping only times for the last 2 runs of this stage in the standings. There were no changes in the standings after the second loop (and no more incidents either!) The crews regrouped at service to prepare for the last stage, the longest of the rallysprint, mostly downhill with very technical sections and constantly changing grip. This time the lighter R4U and 2WD cars would be at an advantage compared to the heavier R4O cars.

Dylan Gondyke and Benjamin Chuong won that last stage in style with a nice tank slapper through the finish line (checkout the video online on the NER Facebook page) and took the win in R4U (23m33s) ahead of Caleb Pocock/Elijah Hammarlund (25m27s) and Kadence Verge/Joseph Verge (27m05s). Luis Teixeira, for his return in 2WD, took the win in R2U with (24m12s) ahead of Jesse Whitsell/Kenzie Whitsell/Samantha Gouin (25m05s). Samantha was codriving for the first time for Dan Downey but after Dan’s car broke down in the first loop, Kenzie offered her seat to Samantha so that she could gain some experience. Third place in R2U went to Matthew Stryker/Bryan Cammerlin (25m55s) who were amazed they didn’t get any chicane penalties despite his many close calls in his Toyota Rav4!

In R2O, Scott James/Gavin James kept their lead (26m19s) just ahead of Kevin Brolin/David Dennis who took 11 seconds back in the last stage to finish 7 seconds behind the winners (26m26s). Third place went to Anthony Burden/Benjamin Nadeau (26m34s) who ran out of time to recover from their bogey time on SS2.

The R4O class saw a great performance of Margaret Sharron/Jennie Holden in the last stage taking 17 seconds back to Tony Gearheart/Joshua Alexander to claim 2nd place. The R4O podium was taken by the husband and wife team Frog Racing of Emmanuel Cecchet/Mike Willard (23m20s also FTD) and Margaret Sharron/Jennie Holden (24m45s), with Tony Gearheart/Joshua Alexander (24m58s) in 3rd place.

Live timing was provided by Jennifer Smith with the help of Chris Reagan. Many volunteers helped with the running of the event and we are really grateful for their participation. The next rallysprint will take place on November 15, 2020 at the Team O’Neil rally school. The event is already sold out and promises some great battles in all classes again.