NEWRY — David Higgins seized an early lead and only expanded it as the day went on Friday in the first day of the New England Forest Rally.

Higgins and co-driver Craig Drew started strong and sit atop the standings after the first day of action, which included three stages. The event continues Saturday with 10 more stages of racing.

Higgins set a pace that was more than a second per mile faster than second place finisher Ken Block.

“We pushed really hard and the car has felt really good,”  Higgins told Rally America on Friday. “We’re going to have to work hard for the whole rally.”

Higgins won last year’s NEFR but did so by limping across the course down the stretch. Higgins struck a rock on Stage 10 last year and then had a fire flare up that resulted in a face full of extinguisher spray. He still secured his second straight New England Forest Rally title in addition to a fourth straight Rally America crown and sixth U.S. National Championship.

Higgins led after the first day with a time of 24:17.7. Ken Block was not far behind in second in 24:54.7. Adam Yeoman was third at 25:31.8 followed by Lauchlin O’Sullivan at 27:06.8. Jeff Seehorn rounded out the top five with a time of 27:53.7.


The day wasn’t without some casualties. Travis Pastrana finished the first stage but never made it to the next stage because of an alternator issue. He was done for the day and regrouping to compete Saturday. Ramana Lagemann and Brendan Reeves also failed to finish. Lagemann hit a rock and suffered wheel damage while Reeves had engine issues that ended his day. Local driver Chris Duplessis of Bethel was also sidetracked. He and co-driver Alex Kihurani had throttle issues. Those were repaired, but the crew was tagged with penalties for illegal service.

The three big names in the race started out strong. Block, Pastrana and Higgins jumped out to the early lead in the opening stage. Higgins established a five-second lead on his teammate Pastrana and co-driver Chrissie Beavis after just five stage miles of racing.

“We’re going to have to work hard for the whole rally,” Higgins said. “In general the strategy is to start safe.”

Pastrana was running his first rally of this year after spending much of the season touring with his Nitro Circus show. 

“David put the hammer down right off the bat — which we definitely expected — but we didn’t lose much time,” Pastrana told Rally America.

Pastrana tweeted out that the first stage was without issue and that must have meant he wasn’t going fast enough. He never made it to the second stage. 


“Alternator died on the way out of service,” Pastrana tweeted. “We didn’t even make it to Stage 2. Disappointing.”

Block and co-driver Alex Gelsomino were sitting in third after the opening stage with the 2013 Ford Fiesta, six seconds off the lead. Block told Rally America that he was taking a conservative approach Friday. He hoped to pull out all the stops Saturday. There were only 31 competitive stage miles raced Friday. Saturday will feature 77 miles.

“I was taking it a bit easy on the first stage,” Block said. “I just wanted to get through it.”

After building the early lead, Higgins extended the lead to another 13.1 seconds over Black. Yeoman was the third quickest through the final stage, finishing just 30 seconds behind Higgins.

Higgins and Drew are chasing a number of milestones this weekend. They’re looking to make it 12 in a row for the Subaru Rally Team USA. With the overall championship all but guaranteed, they’re also chasing a perfect season. The last racer to achieve such a milestone in a single U.S. rally championship season was John Buffum in 1987.

 “There’s been so much hype about what’s going on, but all we do is our own job,” Higgins told Rally America. “If we do our own job, then it’s good. If you let things bother you, then you affect how you do your own job. It’s as simple as that,  you just keep doing what you do.”

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