The shortened Rally America season came to an end yesterday in the woods of Maine.
Running only a six event program due to the addition of a true Rallycross series at the end of the Summer/beginning of Fall Rally America crowned its champion, marking the first time in five years that Travis Pastrana and a Subaru would not be in the top spot.
TP ran a more limited schedule in '10, skipping two events to participate in number of motorcycle exhibitions in Australia. TP won two of the four events he entered and DNF'd in the other two, including this weekends NEFR where he was leading the event by a substantial margin until dumping his engine oil and grinding to a halt in the last two stages. Also of note here is that Subaru's other top driver, Dave Mirra, did not show for the event despite a shot at grabbing season podium position nearly by just showing up.
Another significant story was Ken Blocks DNF on Stage 4 (video above) of the event. Continuing his series of poor performances Block attributed his crash to a mechanical issue that prevented his suspension from operating properly, though with four DNFs in five Rally America events and also crashing out of every WRC event entered by Block in '10, it is not over stating the facts when saying that Block is in over his head. I don't believe Ford was looking for seven DNFs in eight global events when they signed Block to drive for them...
The event winner and season champion was Antoine L'Estage with Nathalie Richard as co-driver. The Canadian duo ran consistently all year, finished every event and grabbed two wins, three seconds and a third place on the season. They and their Mitsubishi were truly the class of the series.
Bill Bacon, the NH based privateer had to change a tire early on in the NEFR but rebounded to finish the event (he also finished EVERY event on the season) in sixth position and ended the year in second overall--also in a Mitsubishi EVO.
Congrats to both Antoine and Bill as they run underfunded, under-supported and under-appreciated efforts against much larger budgets, newer vehicles and some major factory support and yet ended up besting them all.
A final note here--Take a look at the Rally America home page: Rally America.
Notice the heavy Ford presence? A year or two ago it was Subaru. Rally America moved a section of its corporate headquarters into the same building as the Vermont Sports Car and have never been shy about supporting (visibly or with a wink and a nod) the manufacturer who funds the most visible teams in their series and that pendulum now appears to have swung towards Ford and away from Subaru.
With Pastrana skipping two events and Mirra skipping the final event and Subaru's waning interest in rallying as a whole, Ford has stepped up with Block's RA and WRC teams and will be a dominant force at both the XGames and the upcoming Rallycross series. With the Fiesta just starting to be released you should see some major Ford funding in Rally America over the next two to three years.
In the meantime, privateer efforts will struggle on for the pure love of the sport...and sometimes, love wins out over money...