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Oregon Trail rally speeds through Hood River County

Rally America and The Oregon Rally Group brought their special brand of motorsport through the Gorge again this past weekend with the 2013 Rally America Championship Series.

The Oregon Trail Rally, which has been described as the most spectated rally in the national series, attracted 74 different teams and hundreds of spectators to three different venues over the course of three days. Seven races in all are run in the Rally America series between January and October. Oregon Trail is the third round of the race.

The action began at Portland International Raceway with four stages on Friday evening, then moved to the outskirts of Odell for eight stages on Saturday and finally to the roads around Dufur on Sunday to complete the remaining five stages.

Sunny and windy conditions in Dufur made for some spectacular, if dusty, viewing for the local audience. Cars could be tracked approaching the spectator viewpoints simply by looking for the dust trail.

Several teams suffered DNF's — did not finish — due to mechanical failure or running off the road, including overall second-place holder Antoine L'Estage of Quebec, who wrecked on a dusty embankment Saturday in Hood River County.

"Rally. It challenges us, mentally, physically and emotionally. Crashes are, unfortunately a part of the sport and a part of the challenge," said successful rally driver Jamie Thomas via Facebook.

Rally stage races are driven on asphalt, gravel and dirt in any weather conditions, most often on back roads with steep drop-offs, hard corners, jumps — even across running streams. The driving teams are sent out on each stage every 30 seconds and the team with the best time wins.

The overall leaders in the Rally America series, David Higgins and Craig Drew, driving a Subaru STI, widened their points margin with an Oregon Trail win in the Open Class — the fastest competition class. Ken Block and Allessandro Gelsomino, driving a Ford Focus, after losing a wheel, hitting a rock and breaking a driveshaft, took second place. Rifat Sungkar and Marshall Clarke, driving a Mitsubishi Evo, rounded out the top three.

Super Production class top finishers in order were David Sterckx and Karen Jankowski, Dave Henderson (from Hood River) and Terry McDowell, and Mike Goodwin and Michael Milos.

The team of Henderson and McDowell suffered some mechanical issues when their car’s turbo inlet hose failed. "We dropped 35 seconds and had to finish the stage with no turbo," Henderson said. Allowed a service interval of 25 minutes, his mechanic had the hose replaced in 15 minutes and the car was ready for more.

An interesting fourth place finish went to Evan Cline and Jake Blattner who finished the race on three wheels in their Subaru after losing the fourth.

Two-wheel-drive top finishers, in order, were Brendan Reeves and Rhianon Smyth, Dillon Van Way and Andrew Edwards, and Andrew Comrie-Picard and Jeremy Wimpey.

Events concluded with an awards ceremony at the Hood River County Fairgrounds, where the winners showered their cars and — each other — with champagne, followed by a victory dinner at the Hood River Inn.

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