1995 SCCA Michelin Pro Rally Series - Maine Forest Rally


Paul Choiniere in the Hyundai Elantra

For motorsports fans in New England, post Thanksgiving means a snow induced hibernation from live racing. Motorcycle gas tank drained to fill the snowblower, I had resigned myself to reflection on the '95 racing season. Memorial Day Weekend's SCCA Trans Am / IMSA World Sports Car twin bill was almost as exciting as the Tornado we barely missed. It followed us up Route 41 and across 23, through the Berkshires on the way home from Lime Rock Park. There was Jean Alesi's fortuitous victory for Ferrari in the Grand Prix of Canada and the memorable victory ride atop Schumacher's Benneton Renault. Honda's first IndyCar victory came on New Hampshire International Speedway's 1-mile oval for Tasman Motorsports' Andre Ribiero of Brazil. Jeff Gordon won at NHIS on the way to his first Winston Cup Championship. There wasn't even any rain for the Loudon Classic motorcycle race for the first time in recent memory. But wait - it wasn't over yet! I had found a way to stretch the season into December.

The SCCA Michelin Pro Rally Series was running their last race of the year December 1st and 2nd in Maine. I convinced my fellow motorsports junkie, Doug that we had to smell race fuel and hear the howl of racing engines one more time in '95. The Maine Forest Rally is run on logging roads owned by the Boise Cascade Paper Company in Rumford Maine. In Pro Rally each team consists of a driver and co-driver, (navigator) the exact course is kept secret until just before the event. The cars start at one-minute intervals and race against the clock over stages ranging in length from 4 to 25 miles. The team with the fastest combined times over the stages wins the rally. This event included a night stage Friday evening from 4 PM - 10 PM. Snow covered roads and icy conditions prevailed over the weekend, as well as biting cold with wind chill temperatures well below zero. Attending this event is a true test of a fan's resolve, as we would soon find out.

Saturday morning's first stage started at 9 AM on the streets of Rumford Maine. As we watched the car's leave at one minute intervals, announcer Andy Schupack said that if spectators wanted to make it to the first viewing area in time for the cars' expected 11:10 arrival, we should leave now, picking up directions at the Madison Inn. The spectator area was 55 miles and an hour and fifteen minutes away! We were off on our own Maine Forest Rally. The odyssey north on desolate Route 17 included a treacherous mountain pass on ice-packed roads and a panoramic view high above Mooselookmeguntic Lake. The directions to the viewing area stated that once we reached the town of Oquuossoc, to drive 11 miles into the woods on logging roads, which were covered in a foot of freshly fallen snow!

The snow was scrapping the undercarriage of the car - our mission was in doubt. The Honda Accord wagon, shod with four snow tires, was doing the job but it was apparent that if conditions got any worse we would have to turn back. Thank God for the Dodge Daytona in front of us that caused my fearless driver's competitive juices to flow. He wouldn't let them out of our sight, the "if they can make it, we can make it" mindset took over. On the way out we would rescue these same amateur rallyers from a little off-course excursion. After another 15 minutes of white knuckle driving, we reached a straightaway with about 25 cars parked on the right shoulder of the road. More deranged racing fans! There were lots of Audi Quattros and other 4wd vehicles.

In order to reach the viewing area, spectators must walk on the racecourse - we were paying attention! In true rally form, a group of about fifty fans was perched on a snow-covered bank on the outside apex of a slippery curve on the course. If any of the cars failed to negotiate the tricky turn, we would have had company. With the frigid temperatures it seemed like an eternity before the first cars arrived. Despite the conditions, the anticipation was a time of levity between diverse people with the common bond of racing. In this small crowd I heard at least four languages being spoken, French, English, Czech and Downeast.

Finally the cars arrived, the first being the right hand drive #4 Mitsubishi Lancer Evo II of Henry Joy and Jimmy Brandt. Then the Sprongl brothers, Frank and co-driver Dan from Ontario in the Michelin sponsored #8 Quattro S-2, the eventual winners of the rally. Next by was Paul Choiniere of Shelburne, Vermont and CO-driver Jeff Becker from Great Neck, New York in the Hyundai Elantra. Choiniere's second place overall was good enough to keep the #1 on the side of his car for another year. The '95 Championship was his fifth SCCA Pro Rally National title in the last six years. Carl Merrill from Ogunquit Maine and CO-driver John Bellefleur of Thornhill Ontario, were next by in the exotic purple 4wd Ford Escort Cosworth, a 1.6 liter turbocharged, 300 horsepower winged wonder. They would place third in the event. Finishing fourth in the Production GT Class was the Seattle based team of Janice Damitio and Amity Trowbridge, who had the best message of the rally written on their window: Pro Rally - Real Roads, Real Cars, Driven Real Fast! by REAL WOMEN. They finished the season second in points in the Production GT Class.

Each successive car would blast us with a rooster tail of snow, eventually it looked like we were over at Sugarloaf Mountain in the middle of a snow making operation. The adrenaline had made me forget that I couldn't feel my toes, especially when Frank Sprongl's Audi nearly stopped in for a visit. After the leaders went by some of the frostbitten were heading back to their cars while competitors were still on the course. It was rather amusing hearing the crowd yell in unison, "CAR" and watching people scatter into the snow covered woods. In retrospect, it was a long way to travel for a few brief moments of excitement. The journey to the event was as adventurous as the race itself. Would we do it again? Absolutely!

return to top

Copyright 2001-2013 Greg Sarni, USA
Head Back Homecontactbiographylinksmotoringrace placerace coverageradio