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Ken Block has early lead at New England Forest Rally

By July 18, 2009News

Subaru Rally Team USA’s Ken Block has the early lead after the first day of the New England Forest Rally, Round 6 of the Rally America championship.

The event ran an abbreviated Day 1 schedule, with teams covering only about six and a-half miles Friday, but Block said he had some of the best racing of his career. The final stage of the day was the challenging Concord Pond, which includes some of the biggest jumps in the series.

“That’s my favorite stage in the entire championship,” said an enthusiastic Block late Friday. “I love that stage – I dream about it all year.”

Block and co-driver Alex Gelsomino bested their previous record-setting time by some eight seconds to end the first day with a 10-second lead in the contest over challenger Antoine L’Estage.

L’Estage and co-driver Nathalie Richard said they were driving well in their new Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X on Friday. Tanner Foust debuted the new Evo in the US earlier this seasons under a sharing arrangement with L’Estage. But there have been some teething problems with the car and this is the first event that L’Estage has felt confidence in the car.

“The car is perfect,” L’Estage said Friday. “I’ve always known it’s a strong platform and this car has a lot of potential.”

In third place after the opening three stages was Block’s Subaru Rally Team USA teammate Travis Pastrana. He and co-driver Christian Edstrom battled through the closing stage of the day after an intercom failure that meant they had to run without the benefit of notes. They finished the stage 15 seconds behind Block.

Fourth at the end of Friday was New England driver Bill Bacon and co-driver Peter Watt. Bacon said he was shooting for the podium in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX, but he had a tough start. The team caught up to Andi Mancin and co-driver Maciej Wislawski, who suffered a turbo failure, and Bacon and Watt had to hang back on the stage to avoid the blinding dust and smoke trailing from the other car.

In fifth place after three stages were Dave Mirra and co-driver Derek Ringer. The duo are looking to make up some ground in the championship on rivals Piotr Wiktorczyk, Jimmy Keeney, Matt Johnson and Pat Moro – all drivers who are sitting out this round as they prepare for X Games.

The X Games contest is the biggest event on the calendar for invited teams and cars are due on the other side of the continent in just over a week. Tanner Foust and Andrew “ACP” Comrie-Picard have also opted to sit this event out while they prepare for the Los Angeles contest on Aug. 2.

X Games is also top of mind for invited teams who are competing here this weekend. Subaru Rally Team USA has apparently instructed its drivers to tread carefully and get their cars to the finish to avoid a crunch back at the shop in Vermont before the cars have to head out for the long tow west, while both Mancin and Art Gruszka said they also planned to take a conservative approach.

The two-wheel drive competition is fierce this weekend, with more than two-dozen drivers running the weekend’s two regional events: Friday’s “Drive Your Future Rally,” presented by the National Guard, and the “I Can’t Drive 55” Rally on Saturday.

Among those teams is the interesting last-minute entry of Lucy Block and Chrissie Beavis in a Volkswagen Golf. Block is married to Subaru Rally Team USA driver Ken Block and this is her first-ever event as a competitor. Chrissie Beavis is a regular championship co-driver for Foust and competes in California as a driver in the regional series. The duo plan to swap driving and co-driving duties for a little bit of fun this weekend.

The roads here are fast and generally wide, but they are peppered with massive rocks that can do serious damage. Local knowledge is a big asset, and drivers like Chris Duplessis, Tim Penasack and Travis Hanson are all expected to put on a good show on their home