June 6th, 2011
(June 6, 2011) Subaru Rally Team USA driver David Higgins and co-driver Craig Drew have won the Susquehannock Trail Performance Rally (STPR), round five of the 2011 Rally America National Championship, by a mere 1.3 seconds over rival Antoine L’Estage. Higgins and L’Estage battled back and forth throughout the event with Higgins staging a late rally comeback that saw him take the rally lead on the penultimate stage after overcoming a thirty-seven second deficit midway through the final day of action. The amazingly close finish came after over 120 stage miles spanning two days of competition on high-speed forest roads of north-central Pennsylvania. The win at STPR is Higgins’ third victory in a row in the series and extends his points lead in the Rally America National Championship standings heading into the sixth and final round next month, the New England Forest Rally.
Higgins’ Subaru teammate Dave Mirra with co-driver Marshall Clarke finished 5th overall after staging his own comeback by working his way up the leaderboard from a 12th overall position after giving up nearly eleven minutes due to a pivotal pace notes error. Mirra’s Subaru STI sustained damage from the resulting accident but remained mechanically sound, and Mirra was able to continue and impressively work his way up the field for a valuable points finish.
The battle between Higgins, a winner at STPR in 2002 and 2003, and Antoine L’Estage, the defending Rally America Champion and 2010 STPR winner, was exceptional. L’Estage struck first and grabbed a 14 second lead after a short first day of competition. Higgins then battled back early on day-two and took a slight lead before dropping time when his in-car intercom with co-driver Craig Drew failed while on-stage forcing Higgins to slow down while they used an improvised hand signal system.
“With no intercom it was very challenging, Craig (Drew) would be waving signals to me but it was hard to see his hands and to know what exactly he was trying to tell me,” explained Higgins. “In the end I worked out that when he was waving like crazy I needed to slow down!”
Higgins was then hampered by a tire puncture in-stage that slowed him further, leaving him thirty-seven seconds adrift of L’Estage with just four forest stages and one short Super Special Stage remaining. Higgins then pushed his Subaru STI to the limit and began to catch L’Estage on the final loop of stages. In a nail biting comeback Higgins eventually overtook L’Estage on the penultimate stage and took a 2.5 second lead into the final Super Special Stage where he held off L’Estage’s final charge to win by a mere 1.3 seconds.
“It was a fantastic battle with Antoine and (co-driver) Nathalie (Richard). It’s always great to win a close fight so think I will remember this for some time,” said Higgins at the podium celebration. All of STPR’s competition stages were won by either Higgins or L’Estage, with Higgins fastest on seven stages and L’Estage six.
STPR is round five of the six-round Rally America Championship and is based in Wellsboro, PA. STPR features some of the fastest roads in the series with many technical sections with trees closely lining the roads. Severe dust caused visibility issues until approximately midway on day-two, when heavy rains in the area challenged teams with slippery roads.
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