Newry, Maine… it probably doesn’t mean anything to most of you reading this in Europe, but here in the USA, it is the home of the New England Forest Rally, part of the Rally America National Championship. Having been to the rally several times as a spectator, I can attest that this rally has long been one of the best organized events in the USA. In addition, it features some of the best stages in the country. The roads sweep through pine forests and feature a wide variety of surfaces. At times, the roads are smooth, flowing and cambered as they weave around lakes and ponds, almost like the stages in Finland. On other stages, however, the going becomes very rough with the leading cars pulling up big stones. As a result, punctures have always been an issue on this event. For me, the highlight of the rally has always been the famous Concord Pond stage. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to call this the “Ouninpohja of the USA”. The stage is short, at only 5.8 miles, but it is a flat-out blast through the woods. The stage features blind crests, huge jumps and sweeping cambered turns that allow the cars to carry so much momentum. I had the honor of seeing the legendary Stig Blomqvist tackle this stage about 10 years ago, and when speaking to him at the finish, he said that its resemblance to Rally Finland was uncanny. If you’re curious, check out the link at the bottom of this article to see some on-board footage.
As fantastic as this rally is, there is one more reason for US rallying enthusiasts to get excited. For the first time ever, we will see an R5 car competing on US soil. This weekend, Ramana Lagemann will debut the Fiesta R5 on the ultra-fast stages around Newry, Maine. I am especially curious to see how a modern R5 car will match up against the Open Class cars that have long dominated the Rally America National Championship. When it comes to car classes, US rallying has always taken a bit of a different path than the rest of the world. For the most part, the FIA classes haven’t translated well over here in the States. Over the years, the classes used in Europe included cars that simply weren’t manufactured in the USA. The one exception to this trend was during the boom of the Group N era in the mid 2000’s when there was a hoard of Subaru’s and Mitsubishi’s competing on the US stages. Instead of WRC cars, the Open Class cars have been the premier class here in America. The rules allow these cars to be heavily modified versions of production cars that are available for purchase and rally preparation here in the USA. While we have missed out on having WRC cars on the stages here in the States, we do get to enjoy seeing cars such as the 2015 Subaru WRX Sti Open Class car that wouldn’t be eligible to compete in Europe under the current FIA regulations.
When you compare the specs of the Lagemann’s R5 Fiesta and the Open Class Subaru, the differences are quite profound. The Subaru features a 2500cc turbocharged engine that puts out 330bhp and 480lb/ft of torque. If it wasn’t for the 34mm restrictor mandated by the Rally America National Championship, it would produce even more horsepower! In contrast, the R5 Fiesta’s 2000cc turbocharged engine puts out only 290bhp with its FIA-mandated 32mm restrictor. Despite the difference in power, the Fiesta is about 200lbs lighter than the Open Class Subaru, so what it lacks in grunt, it might be able to claw back with agility. In addition, the Fiesta has a significantly shorter wheelbase than the Subaru which might also help balance out the horsepower discrepancy.
In the end, I think that on the ultra-fast roads in the Maine forests, the Subaru will have the upper hand when it comes to outright pace. The quickness and agility of the R5 Fiesta is an asset, but the stages would need to be tighter and twistier in order for it to have a true advantage. Even though it might not be a fair fight, I can’t wait to see Lagemann pushing hard in the R5 and will be curious to see if it drops time to the Subaru over the course of the rally. Regardless of what the result might be, it is fantastic to see some European rally cars making it “across the pond” to compete here in the USA. In addition to the R5 car, M-sport is also bringing over an R2 Fiesta to compete this weekend. Hopefully, these entries won’t be one-off phenomenons, but instead, a trend that continues long into the future.
Concord Pond On-board Video
Rally America Press Release