Coming straight from Empire State Performance Rally(ESPR) in April, both Erik Potts and Michael Reilly had their work cut out for them if they were to compete on the fast gravel of the New England Forest Rally. The tight rocky roads of stages 1 and 2 (the reverse of 1) proved to be a harsh contrast from the super fast and open tarmac of EPSR. With no shakedown under their belts the teams set out Friday morning.
Erik Potts and co-driver Joachim Sandgaard had a rough first stage, a set up issue found them racing down the rock filled stage with their rear sway bar still on the 2001 Ford Focus ZX3. The car proving to be far to stiff for the terrain threw them around throughout the stage. The poor set up found the two 7th in class and 19th overall. Before the crew started stage 2 they were able to disconnect the rear sway bar alleviating their issues; they were able to move up to 5th in class and 16th overall.
Their teammates and fellow competitors Michael Reilly and Josh Benthien were looking forward to ending their bad luck streak here at NEFR, the past three years the team had been forced to DNF. Stage 1 went smooth for them but on stage 2 their 2005 Ford Focus ZX3 lost one of the bolts on the turbo. Despite being down on power, after stage 2 Michael and Josh were sitting comfortably at 3rd in class and 10th overall. Stage 3, characterized by fast stages and some large jumps put their resolve to the test. A small section of tarmac caught the crew in a pothole, shearing off the back mounting point of one of their front control arms. Even with the damage the duo managed to finish the stage without falling back in the standings. Once back at service their mechanics were able to replace the control arm and turbo bolt before the start of stage 4.
Stages 4 and 5 (the reverse of 4) found the teams on a fast flowing stage that raced along the shores of the Lower Richardson Lake in Andover, Maine. Erik, fighting over heating issues, managed to hold on to 5th in class and moved up two places overall to 14th. Michael found Josh’s notes finally clicking but fell back to 4th in class and only a few seconds behind 10th place overall.
On Day 2 both teams luck had finally run out. Michael and Josh stayed right on pace only to have a bad note send the team into a burm on stage 7. Less than a minute into the stage the team entered a left 4 into a right 3, the left however was too tight, the duo pointing out it most likely should have been marked down to a 3. The Focus’s front wheel dug into a burm on the outside of the corner and pulled them into a role. After the second or third role, the car came to a stop right side up and the two immediately attempted to continue on. Unfortunately for Michael and Josh, a broken axle ended the teams day. Once brought back to service, a closer inspection showed that the front A-pillar of roll-cage had even compressed. There’s some awesome in car of the crash and the team had a lot of fun watching later that night, however, we can’t show it here as it will be featured on the NBC Sports coverage later this month.
Shots of Michael Reilly on a hairpin from stage 6:
The Aftermath of Michael’s roll on stage 7:
With Michael’s off, Erik and Joachim found themselves 4th in class and 12th over all and was putting on an impressive show for day two. On stage 8 he even caught up to the car ahead of him. Erik was very dissapointed to spend most of the stage in a cloud of dust, partly because he could have gained even more time, but also because stage 8 was one of his favorite stages, the flowing, smooth and open stage proving to be one of the more enjoyable to run at speed.
After stage 8 Erik returned to service but were delayed shortly when their rear driver’s side wheel fell off a mile and a half from service, cause by a broken stud and stripped lugs. Thankfully it didn’t happen while on stage and they were able to make it to service where their crew replaced the studs. Through stage 11 the crew were able to hold onto 4th in class and 11th overall.
On the transit between stage 11 and 12, Erik’s Focus suffered a steering failure and they were forced to retire from the event.
Despite the many hardships of the event the team was in high spirits that night and were already looking forward to NASA Rally Sport’s Black River Stages. If you make there and see them in service, be sure to stop in and say “Hi.”