The New England Forest Rally continues to grow and evolve as it celebrates its 25th year this weekend.

The event is a two-day stage rally on the back roads of Western Maine and Northern New Hampshire. It is sanctioned by Rally America. The New England Forest Rally is one of six national championship events that take place in the United States. This year’s event features some of the world’s best drivers including the return of former Rally America and X-Games champion Travis Pastrana, Ken Block and five-time Rally America champ David Higgins.

“The group of cars that we’ve got this year, without a doubt, will be the most professionally prepared cars that we’ve seen in a long time,” said race announcer and media liaison Craig Zurhost. “There’s just been a lot of effort put in because this is definitely a showcase being the 25th anniversary. There’s a lot of different battles on the line.  So it’s going to be a very exciting and very hard fought event. There will be a lot of competition through all the classes.”

The rally will have an international flavor with drivers from New Zealand, Ireland, Columbia, Italy, Ecuador, China and Georgia as well as some well-known racers.

“We have the most competitive field that we’ve had in recent memory,” Zurhost said. “We have people here that include Travis Pastrana and Ken Block. Those are guys that people will recognize from the X Games. David Higgins is a post World Rally champion an he’s been the champion here in the U.S. for a number of years. We’ve got Brendan Reeves from New Zealand, who is a top-rated driver. We have Ramana Lagemann, who is going to be in a, basically, fully-prepared Ford Fiesta. It’s almost as fast as Block’s and arguably just as competitive. Chris Duplessis (of Bethel) is in the Suburu BRZ.”

Other notables include Indy Lights, World Endurance Championship and LeMans racer Gustavo Yacaman and Bangor’s John Cassidy. As of Thursday afternoon,  64 racers were entered in the event.

The race will feature 98 stage miles both Friday and Saturday. In rallying, driver and co-drivers take the course one car at a time, at set intervals. They race against the clock and varying stage road conditions. Co-drivers provide navigation information to the drivers over helmet intercoms. Cars can reach speeds of over 100 miles per hour and make controlled slides around corners, to maintain speed and momentum.

The event has evolved from its early stages into an event that attracts some of the sports top races. The New England Forest Rally is now three events in one, the national championship event and two regional rallies, the Maine Rally and the New Hampshire Rally.

“It’s kind of been an interesting evolution,” Zurhorst said. “It started as the Maine Winter Rally. Then it evolved into the Maine Forest Rally. The largest field we ever had was 128 cars and that was just too big and there was no way to manage it. This year the field is as large as we’ve seen in a long time and the quality of the field is way up.”

Friday’s events include a Parc Expose in the morning at South Ridge at Sunday River. Cars and drivers will be on hand for autographs and photos. Then three stages of racing begin around 11 a.m. with a servie break around noon.

Saturday features another Parc Expose early in the morning at South Ridge at Sunday River followed by 10 stages of racing and three service breaks.

Spectators have the opportunity to get up-close and view the racing. Transportation will be provided by Sunday River to spectating areas along the race course. Passes are available in advance but a limited number of walk-up passes will be available on the day of the event.  Passes are $10 per person on Friday and $15 per person for Saturday.

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