After a bit of rain on Thursday, recce for the 2016 Susquehannock Trail Performance Rally began on somewhat muddy Waste Management roads. While generally uneventful, many teams made the mistake of speeding on the public roads, throwing in a plot twist before the rally even began. It cost Ryan Millen and Christina Fate 45 seconds and 2015 Rally America Champions David Higgins/Craig Drew were also penalized a crucial 2:15 seconds.
STPR 16 was all about plot twists. Sometimes when the worst that can happen happens, you’re sent on an adventure. Having planned on covering the 2016 Susquehannock Trail Performance Rally since, well, the 2015 Susquehannock Trail Performance Rally, everything was set: motel room reserved, credentials tenuously wrangled, gear prepped… until, in the week leading up to the rally dates, I misplaced my driver’s license. The driver’s license I needed to rent a car to drive out to northwest Pennsylvania. The car I needed to drive from stage to stage, chasing rally cars with my cameras.
Rally is nothing if not a big community though, and in the wee hours of Thursday, June 2, I boarded a 30 year-old Susquehanna Trailways bus headed to Mansfield, PA. The press officer, also my roommate for the rally, picked me up from the side of Main Street. Still dressed corporate casual cubicle duds, I was headed out to the muddy practice start to grab a few preliminary shots.
Following parc expose in the Wellsboro town square Friday, I hitched a ride with another photographer over to Waste Management property. The spectator area was packed with people waiting to watch the 60 starting competitors fly over the famous jump – and did not disappoint. Travis Pastrana and co-driver Christian Edstrom started things off catching some spectacular air, followed by Subaru Rally Teammates Higgins and Drew. Car after car headed over the jump until we got word that a red cross had been signaled. News filtered in that popular competitor Gary DeMasi and co-driver Stephen Kurey rolled off course – but everyone was okay. The remaining cars had to drive slowly off to the end of the course.
The second Waste Management stage was no less dramatic, with Pastrana/Edstrom sporting a banged-up door and driving past late in the stage, but finishing.
Friday was capped off back at Tioga Fairgrounds for the Super Special Stage, set up like a rallycross course, with two cars looping twice around a course head-to-head for packed stands. Day 1 results are where Thursday’s time penalties shone the most. Higgins/Drew, after a blistering sweep of the 2015 Rally America season, were .02 of a minute behind just-out-of-retirement Seamus Burke and Martin Brady. Not in insurmountable difference, but it’s rally – anything can happen, and Burke behind the wheel is a formidable competitor.
Stage 5 Asaph started Saturday morning, thirty minutes from Wellsboro town center. Spectators arrived early to claim their spots by the bridge at the spectator area, and the cars soon began speeding through. Four miles into the stage, Pastrana/Edstrom again experienced some difficulties – this time with trees – to an unfortunate DNF. Once again, on the first stage of the day, another team was forced to show the red cross – this time Jack Swayze and Matthew James in an Open Light 1996 Subaru Legacy. After crashing into a tree, the car caught fire. Four-foot flames started to set the trees on fire, and the red cross came out. “What can you do but rebuild?” they said. They rest of the stage was cancelled, and the remaining cars slowly drove out.
My ride to Stage 5 had disappeared but a kindly volunteer named Billy saved the day, and I headed to stages 7 and 10 in his Ford F250. Stage 12 then claimed its final victims: Nick Roberts and Alex Gelsomino’s turbo failed on the last stage for a DNF.
Back at Tioga Fairgrounds, the Super Special stages continued into the night. Bookending his Stage 1 rollover, Gary DiMasi managed to roll his Ford Ranger on his final pass, jumping out of the truck to grab his flag and run to the finish. Ultimately, Higgins/Drew regained first place for their third consecutive overall STPR win in front of Burke and Brady in a 2006 Mitsubishi Evo 9, with Troy and Jeremy Miller in third place.
Hanging out with various volunteers all day and relying on the kindness of strangers to get from stage to stage, I met a lot of great people – with a lot of reminiscing more often than not starting out, “One year at STPR, John Buffum…” There is a very dedicated community around STPR, and I also heard a lot of life stories across Saturday’s stages. I met people that have been helping for decades – missing birthdays. Surviving cancers. Coming back year after year for a reunion with people they only see at STPR, watching the competitors go by, keeping the spectators safe, making sure everything runs smoothly. It was an unexpected and welcome adventure among the great people that wear the bright yellow t-shirts , giving up a Friday and Saturday to make STPR happen.
Now the echoes of speeding cars have faded from the trees, the dust has settled, the winners have one, volunteers and competitors have headed home, and the forest is once again left crawling with peaceful spiders and wildlife – until next year.
Rally on, you crazy diamonds.
Full Galleries and results follow.
Thursday and Friday gallery:
Saturday Gallery:O/A Car # Class I/C Driver / CoDriver Time Diff Leader Diff Previous 1 75 O 1 David Higgins / Craig Drew
2016 Subaru WRX STI 1:41:44.6 0:00.0 0:00.0 2 25 NLO 1 Seamus Burke / Martin Brady
2006 Mitsubishi Evo 9 1:51:28.8 9:44.2 9:44.2 3 22 SP 1 Troy Miller / Jeremy Miller
2011 Subaru WRX STI 1:52:14.3 10:29.7 0:45.5 4 824 2WD 1 Cameron Steely / Preston Osborn
2015 Ford Fiesta ST 1:59:49.1 18:04.5 7:34.8 12 73 B 1 Tommy Passemante / Tracey Gardiner
2012 Honda Fit 2:18:22.5 36:37.9 5:29.1 5 99 2WD 2 Ryan Millen / Christina Fate
2016 Toyota RAV4 SE 2:00:20.9 18:36.3 0:31.8 6 370 SP 2 Garry Gill / Steven Harrell
2008 Subaru WRX STI 2:03:56.3 22:11.7 3:35.4 7 121 O 2 Nathan Usher / Aaron Usher
2002 Subaru WRX Wagon 2:04:48.9 23:04.3 0:52.6 13 721 B 2 Keanna Erickson-Chang / Ole Holter
2016 Ford Fiesta 2:19:17.7 37:33.1 0:55.2 8 78 2WD 3 Dave Wallingford / Leanne Junnila
2012 Ford Fiesta 2:08:24.6 26:40.0 3:35.7 9 179 SP 3 Dennis Romero / Jose Rodriguez
2008 Subaru Sti 2:10:47.6 29:03.0 2:23.0 10 59 2WD 4 Marc Feinstein / Meghan Mayo
1991 Porsche 911 2:12:21.7 30:37.1 1:34.1 11 134 2WD 5 Steve LaRoza / Alison LaRoza
2014 Ford Fiesta ST 2:12:53.4 31:08.8 0:31.7 14 348 2WD 6 John Concha / Santiago Alban
2014 Ford Fiesta ST 2:27:01.4 45:16.8 7:43.7
from The Garage http://thegarageblog.com/garage/stpr-2016/
from Tumblr http://peternpalmer.tumblr.com/post/145700272406