July 20th, 2015
Two Days and Nights, driving 392 miles on winding back roads, 15+ miles of walking, smelly, dirty, covered in bug bites, desperately needing of a shower, and I wouldn’t change one bit of it. This is the result of chasing 60+ rally cars around the back roads of Maine and New Hampshire, all for the thrill of catching them for just a few seconds as they scream by you. The New England Forest Rally is an event that is an experience for the die hard fans and for the casual enthusiasts, and is everything you hope going to a rally race would be.
The early weekend started Thursday evening, loading up the cars starting the drive to Sunday River, in Newry Maine, to set up camp, at the base of the mountain, for the night and begin the two days of great friends, fun roads, and fast cars. Waking up Friday morning, to the sounds of rally cars climbing the hill to the early morning expose, and to prep the cars for the days racing, we headed up to see the activities and the cars out for display. Getting out our cars and seeing the crowds gathering around one spot, we headed over to see what all the commotion was about, we weren’t disappointed. Ken Block’s Ford Fiesta in all it’s glory, sitting there for everyone’s viewing pleasure. The expose really allows you to get close to the cars, talk to the drivers, and get a feel for how great the community around the event really is, everyone is in a great mood and friendly, willing to talk about their cars and happy to answer any and all questions you can throw their way about their cars, great atmosphere.
Friday, Day one, had three stages planned for the day, and part of the fun (challenge) of going to a stage rally event is deciding where and what view. Friday was a fairly easy decision, catch the 1st stage, spring to the 2nd stage, and stay put for the 3rd. which was Stage 2 but a return trip. We left just as the expose was getting going, getting an early start on making the stages is always a good idea, some of the best spots on the courses require a decent walk to get to, we decided to set up on the top of long sweeping left corner, with good viewing of the cars coming up the hill towards us, and dropping down the other side as they rounded for a long right. Once the officials cleared the stage the anticipation grew, now it’s only a matter of minutes before the cars start flying past us, 1 by 1. The excitement grows as the time goes by, any second now, and then you hear it, off in the distance slowly getting louder, that unmistakable sound of a tuned Flat4 something with a Subaru badge is coming and coming fast.
The noise grows louder, knowing that the first car of the weekend is fast approaching really gets the heart going, any moment the car should round the corner...
"THERE!" screams one of the spectators, flying down the straight towards the corner we had set up on, only letting up on the throttle to shift the car for more power, sliding it into the entry of the long sweeping left. The Subaru roars past us, inches from where we are standing, a quick hop over the small ditch would put you right in the path of the snarling metal beast. As quickly as it appeared it's gone, sliding out of view as it rounds the next corner, and all that you are left with is the stinging of the rocks that where thrown your way, and the snapping of the exhaust as the car races away from you, and we are left waiting for the next car in line to rush past us
After all the cars that hadn't crashed or had mechanical issues finished and the 1st Stage was cleared, we had to make a quick dash to the cars and head out to the next Stage of the day, which was a solid 30 minutes from where the 1st Stage finished. Luckily there was a "service" between the stage we finished on and the stage we where going to. A spirited drive down some twisty back roads is always a great way to keep the adrenaline flowing. We arrived shortly before the course was closed. After a short walk (jog) we arrived at the perfect spot, a tight right hander coming off of a fast straight, the perfect corner to get all the high speed sliding action you could want. The drivers didn't disappoint, car after car chucking it around the corner at high speeds kicking up dust and rocks as they barreled through the corner losing almost no speed. The precision of most of the drivers is really incredible to watch, the cars enter the slide with such finesse that it almost looks to easy.
After the herd of cars finished sliding around the corner, it was off to stage 3, which was a quick adjustment just a matter of moving to the other side of the corner we where sitting on to watch them exit the same corner, but from the opposite direction (down and back stage). You had to be on your toes for this end of the stage, the entry to the corner was off of a fast left handed dip, too quick and the cars had the potential to head our way, or spin out on the now loose gravel. To our relief and minor disappointment none of the cars had issue with the corner, but they did still managed put on another spectacular show sliding around the corner and speeding off as fast as they came. The stage wrapped up, claiming a few rally car casualties, sadly nothing in front of us, it was now time to make the journey back to the cars and find a spot to camp for the night.
The spot we decided to camp at for the night put us in prime position to start the day off, camping just a few miles from the entrance to the 1st stage of the day. We had been told the road going into the stage was a "bit rough" and we decided to pile into the back of an F150 and ride along with one of the guys we where with. After a bit of off roading and a few unexpected bumps, we arrived to another great spot. Another tight corner, the rally cars would come down a hill and navigate through a fairly rutted left with lots of loose gravel, exiting into a long downhill straight. The loose gravel managed to catch a few of the drivers out, sliding them wide but not out of control, made for a good show and a few steps backwards.
We packed up and headed to the cars, we had a service stop between the next stage and needed to gas up the cars and pick up a few supplies for the days activities. After stocking up on munchies and drinks we where off to the next stage, picking up a few more friends and strangers who wanted to tag along. Once again, into the back of the F150 for some more speedy dirt road driving. We arrived at the stage a little late, missing the leaders and some of the faster cars by a few minutes. Staying long enough to get some food and have a couple drinks we packed it up once again and headed back towards the cars. Deciding that we couldn't make the next stage, we decided to head to a stage none of us had ever been to before. After several minutes of checking and double checking the maps, we had our route and where on our way to the last stage of the weekend.
After a longer the expected dirt road trip, which had us checking the maps more then once to make sure we where heading the right direction, the road spit us out right at the start of stage we where looking for. Parking the cars and walking up past the marshals we received some news that we really didn't want to hear, "Not a spectator stage". Seeing the disappointment on our faces and acknowledging the trek it took us to get there the marshal was kind enough to let us through, telling us of a great spot just a quarter miles walk down the road. Relieved that our decision had paid off instead of costing us several missed stages and sour note to the end of the weekend, we headed for the spot just a quarter mile down the road. Half a mile later we found the spot that the marshal had described to us, it was an exit to a fast right corner with a transition into a tight left, we had a great view of the exit and an equally excellent view of the transition and exit.
Car after car screamed by us, holding one long drift as they exited the corner in a slide, and flicking the tail end around to slide away around the next bend. The spots we had picked out to view "our" corner where just a small hop off the road, inches from the action and as this wasn't a "spectator stage" it was just friends and rally cars. The perfect spot to end the weekend.
Photos: Aaron Perry
Article: Aaron Perry