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New England Forest Rally (Bethel Maine) RA - 11-12 Jul 08

Posted: July 18, 2008 3:43 PM - 5034 Hits

Round 5 - 2008 Rally America Championship


Photo & Report by Neil McDaid

McShea Takes Victory in Maine

Posted: July 18, 2008 3:37 PM

In what can only be described as a fantastic display of skill behind the wheel of a rally car, Ireland's Niall McShea drove a very calculated rally and claimed the overall victory at the 2008 New England Forest Rally. By winning the event McShea also lands one of the much sought after spots at the 2008 X-Games 14 in Los Angeles, California.

Niall, who hails from Co. Fermanagh but now makes his home in Donegal, was the 2004 PWRC Champion [Production World Rally Championship]. He has competed all over the globe but until this point had not tackled the vast gravel stages in the USA. The deal to have McShea come to the America came together rather quickly over the past few months when several Irish New York businessmen got together and hatched a plan to supply the car and sponsorship. Tyrone man Martin Donnelly supplied Niall with his fully rebuilt open class Mitsubishi EVO 8, while Enda McCormack and Gerry Coffey would offer additional financial sponsorship.

A slight change to the rules meant that Niall was not able to take advantage of any pace notes that were available from prior years but would basically have to write his own notes on a one pass recce.. As McShea's regular co-driver Gordon Noble was not available, Marshall Clarke was called upon to call the notes for McShea on this event. It was not the first time that this duo had charged to victory; Clarke and McShea took top honors in GPN at WRC Rally Ireland last year.

Although the entries were greatly down from the prior years in Maine, the top 10 cars were all of top caliber. All had raced many times in Maine before, no doubt giving them an edge over McShea. Team Subaru USA was there in full force with their new 2008 Subaru STI's. Travis Pastrana, the defending Rally America and New England Forest Rally Champion, was teamed up with Subaru's second driver Ken Block who has been on fire throughout the 08 season for Team Subaru. You could be sure that they both had McShea locked in their crosshairs.

Rock Star Energy Drink's Andrew Pinker would definitely be looking to claim the final spot at the X-Games 14 by finishing well in Maine. US based Irish driver Seamus Burke would be looking to be in the hunt if he could manage to shake the monkey off his back. Burke has had unbelievably bad engine management problems in 2008.

As Maine can be a tough rally for spectators to gain access to the stages, rally organizer John Buffum put on two spectator stages to open the rally. The first was at the Sunday River resort [the rally headquarters] and the second in the town of Mexico.

Andrew Pinker would claim the first short stage at Sunday River and Ken Block would take the run around the part in Mexico to claim victory on SS2.

Seamus Burke will have to continue to feed the monkey as once again he would retire after one stage with engine failure.

SS3 "South Arm S" would be the first true test on the event. Pinker would set the pace by 2 seconds over McShea with Ken Block rounding out the top three.

SS4 "South Arm N" would be a reverse of SS3. McShea must have liked what he saw on the way in as he set a tire warping pace on the way out taking the stage win by 15 seconds over Ken Block, and 34 second over Andrew Pinker.

From there the cars would head back to Mexico for service before tackling the stage that has been dubbed "the co-drivers nightmare," SS5 "Blind Pond". Although Blind Pond is a short stage at only 5.6 miles it is very fast with a several hair-raising jumps - not for the faint of heart. Ken Block laid claim to this stage in 2007 by setting the fastest time ever recorded for this test, this after having a disastrous off in 2006. Block and co-driver Alex Gelsomino would again set the mark on Blind Pond, but only by 1.6 seconds over McShea. At the close of business on Friday McShea had taken full advantage of his fourth place seeding on the road in day-one, pushing hard where needed to make time. He managed to eke out a 9 second advantage over Ken Block to put himself in first place heading into Saturday.

Day-Two
Now running first on the road, McShea would have to deal with sweeping off the loose surface gravel on the stages, but he would not have to contend with the linger dust.

SS6 "Dillon Success" was the first of five stages on the slate for day two.
After having to run first on the road on Friday, the Canadian duo of Antoine L'Estage and Nathalie Richard, now running third on the road, found their pace and stopped the clocks 6 second ahead of Block and McShea who almost had the same time for the stage.
The advantage went to Block who claimed second.

SS7 "Success Dillon" was a turnaround of SS6, and as he did on day one McShea would take full advantage of the line and take the stage win by 5 seconds over L'Estage. The rally caravan would then head northwest for the final three stages of the rally, and the final showdown. With hundreds of rally fans, many with the tri-color flying lining the stage, McShea would tackle SS8 "South Mountain." But, all was not well under the hood of the Mitsubishi. McShea's car started to overhead and he was experiencing brake fade. For the first time in the event Travis Pastrana finally showed up and tied stage times with Andrew Pinker for the stage victory. In all honesty it was a massive feat for Pastrana to be even in the car, as he had just had knee surgery a few weeks back.

L'Estage would take third and McShea would be a massive 13 seconds off the pace of Pastrana and Pinker.

Unfortunately, SS8 would claim Block and Gelsomino who had been running neck and neck with McShea.
Block slide off the road and damaged a control arm, ending his rally.

Back at the final service of the day the concern in the McShea camp was obvious. It appeared that the water spray unit for the intercooler had failed, the exhaust had been damaged and the brake pads were steel on steel.

It was all hands on deck as McShea rushed out to make the time control, more drama ensued! The exhaust had not been clipped in place correctly! In an instant Niall was under the car, made the repair and just about made the time control.

With only two stages remaining in the rally, even the Moose were holding their breath. With the uncertainty surrounding the condition of McShea's car it was still all up for grabs. Anton L'Estage was a mere 15 seconds off McShea for the victory. Would we see the tri-color or the maple leaf fly on the final podium?

By the end of SS9 McShea had managed to hold the Canadian off by just one second, and Andrew Pinker in third by 6.9. Feeling more confident with the car McShea would throw caution to the wind and charge hard on the final stage, SS10 "Middle Dam Out."

Niall would again roast the field, taking the stage win by almost 26 seconds over Andre Pinker, and whopping 50 seconds over Pastrana.

Unfortunately, the only thing that Anton L'Estage would roast was his engine; he would not make it out of the final stage on his own power. McShea had claimed victory in his first US rally, and also claimed a place in the X-Games 14. Andrew Pinker would slot into second and the wounded Pastrana would claim the final spot on the podium.

Early word is that McShea is going to pilot a partially backed Vermont Sports Car Subaru at the X-Games 14. Let's hope he will find the additional sponsorship to make up the difference as he would surely be in mix for a medal.

Results & Photos:

Posted: July 18, 2008 3:32 PM

Niall McShea / Gordon Noble to compete

Posted: July 11, 2008 11:18 AM

Niall McShea & Gordon Noble will be competing in the New England Forest Rally this weekend in a Mitsibushi Evo 8.

Spectator Information & Entry List

Posted: July 3, 2008 6:05 PM

Details and Entry Form available

Posted: January 28, 2008 10:42 PM

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