NEWRY, Maine – Hoonigan Racing’s Ken Block and Alex Gelsomino won their first New England Forest Rally (NEFR), round 5 of the Rally America National Championship, on July 26-27 headquartered in Newry, Maine, after a closely fought battle with Subaru Rally Team USA’s David Higgins and Craig Drew.
The margins between the two teams were incredibly thin and either could have snatched victory. Subaru Rally Team USA drove a nearly flawless event and pushed the Hoonigan camp hard all weekend, but Block and Gelsomino persevered with a 6.5 second buffer at the end.
Block and Gelsomino’s NEFR nearly came to an end when their Ford Fiesta H.F.H.V. experienced electrical problems on stage 11. They had no intercom communications for nearly 13 miles before the alternator quit on the transit back to service. Open Class rivals Rifat Sungkar and Steve Lancaster, who were in fourth place overall at the time, graciously towed the Hoonigan Racing Team back to the service area so Hoonigan Racing Team could complete repairs and continue their race.
“It took a bit of good luck, it was a great battle with Subaru,” said Block, “I know a couple of these stages, so I put the hammer down and built a bit of a lead. I had some small problems and then a big problem with the alternator going out. What a struggle, I put everything into it, and drove my heart out.”
The New England Forest Rally marks Ken Block’s second consecutive Rally America National Championship victory having won the Susquehannock Trail Performance Rally last June. David Higgins currently leads the Championship Standings, but Block still has a mathematical chance at the title if he outright wins the final two rounds of the season.
Rifat Sungkar and Steve Lancaster were able to climb from fourth place to third overall to complete the NEFR podium with a little luck. Over the course of the weekend Sungkar saw a few competitors ahead of him fail to finish. The Rockstar Energy Drink Rally Team of Antoine L’Estage and Nathalie Richard ultimately broke their wheel bolts on stage 11, and privateers Joseph Burke and Alex Kihurani went off on stage 6 and were unable to continue. That left Sungkar alone in third place.
Notably L’Estage and Richard have won the New England Forest Rally the last three years in a Mitsubishi EVO X and looked to add their fourth overall victory to keep their streak alive. This time they competed with a Tiburon rally car that has seen plenty of rally action in the past, but the team experienced problems that effectively ended their event on the second day.
In the Super Production Class, David Sterckx and Karen Jankowski notched a third consecutive class win and also placed fourth overall in the event. This is their fourth podium finish since failing to finish the Rally America season opener Sno*Drift Rally in January. This NEFR win extends their SP Class standings total while keeping third place in the overall Championship standings.