Subaru Rally Team USA’s Travis Pastrana and co-driver Christian Edstrom claimed their second victory of the season at the sixth round of the Rally America Championship, while second-place Antoine L’Estage is expected to be the latest driver to receive an invitation to the 2007 X Games Rally.

“We needed this,” said a relieved and happy looking Pastrana as he pulled his Subaru into the final control of the race. “It’s good for the championship for us.”

Pastrana and his Subaru Rally Team USA teammate Ken Block battled bad luck and engine trouble early this season to slip into second and third-place in the championship standings and both considered this race an opportunity for redemption.

Defending Canadian champion L’Estage and co-driver Mark Williams wound up just seven seconds behind Pastrana and Edstrom after two days of fast-paced action through the rugged northeastern terrain. The two teams swapped stage wins throughout the race, at times separated by only fractions of a second for the overall lead.

In addition to crucial mid-season points, competitors at this race were vying for a shot at the biggest rally contest on the continent. The top finishing, not-already-qualified driver here was to receive a “wildcard” invitation to the 2007 X Games Rally, on August 5.

As winners of the 2006 X Games Rally, Pastrana and Edstrom were the first to receive their invitation for this year’s X Games, but L’Estage – a rare figure on the U.S. scene – had said he hoped to attend the contest this year. He was an alternate in 2006, and never had the chance to take the start in his Hyundai Tiburon.

“For now, I’m more happy with a good result here than thinking about the X Games,” said L’Estage at the finish. “Hopefully we’ll find the proper budget to go there; I don’t think it’ll be easy, but we’ll try.”

L’Estage began the race cautiously optimistic he could take an overall win, but with car trouble at the mid-point on Day 2 and the X Games in the balance, he adopted a conservative strategy to the finish.

“I was not taking any chances,” said L’Estage. “But we’ll have the chance again to have a clean fight.”

He failed to finish the Susquehannock Trail Performance Rally earlier this year and had been eager for a chance to prove he has what it takes to contend with the top teams in the United States.

Rounding out the podium were Block and co-driver Alessandro Gelsomino, who had hoped to challenge for the lead but were slowed by mechanical trouble late on Day 2.

Matt Iorio and co-driver Ole Holter held steady throughout the race to finish in fourth, but nearly didn’t get to claim their points. Their engine in their Subaru failed before they could complete the final transit section and they had to accept help from competitors to get to the end.

Andrew Pinker and co-driver Robbie Durant managed to claw back into the top five on Day 2 after ending the first day in ninth place. Bad luck struck them early in the contest when they had three flat tires on their Syms Subaru in the first four stages. The duo towed Iorio and Holter back some 20 miles and then – concerned about fuel consumption – handed them off to the PGT team of Patrick Moro and Mike Rossy, who towed the team for the remaining miles.

It seemed none of the leaders escaped this race without challenges. Rally car racing is notoriously tough on cars and the extremely fast pace at this event proved brutal for the front-runners.

On Day 2, Pastrana and Edstrom arrived at the midday service trailing a cloud of oily smoke; L’Estage and Williams were complaining that their car was overheating; and Block and Gelsomino said their car was down on power. Service crews were able to return all their teams to the race.

The lure of the wildcard spot prompted several teams to change classes for this contest. PGT drivers Kenny Bartram and Matt Johnson have both stepped up into the faster Open class. After struggling early in the race to adapt to their more powerful cars, they finished seventh and eighth respectively.

Stephan Verdier and co-driver Scott Crouch claimed the PGT win in their Subaru, while Cary Kendall and Scott Friberg won the Group 5 class in a Dodge SRT-4. Christopher Duplessis and co-driver Martin Headland brought their Volkswagen GTI in first in the Group 2 class, and Nick Lehner and Don DeRose claimed the Production class win in their Honda Civic SI.

Race favorites Paul Choiniere and Jeff Becker failed to finish, with apparent engine trouble on Day 1.

Notably absent from the contest was Tanner Foust, who opted to sit this one out due to a scheduling conflict with his other competition series – Formula Drift. Also absent were Andrew Comrie-Picard and Ramana Lagemann, who both elected not to race rather than risk damaging their competition cars so close to the California contest.

The New England Forest Rally, which began in the winter of 1991 as the Maine Forest Rally, has grown into one of the most eagerly anticipated races on the Rally America calendar. Round six of the 2007 Rally America championship, the two-day contest challenges teams to take on rough and rugged logging roads with some of the longest stage roads on the circuit. Quintessential northeastern settings such as winding creeks and one lane bridges add not only beauty to the race, but also added excitement at breakneck speeds.

WRC champ Colin McRae, Pastrana, Block, Choiniere, Foust, Iorio, Pinker, Comrie-Picard and Lagemann have already qualified for the X Games. In addition to the driver named here, two others will be selected from the racing community at large.

Rally car racing is considered the extreme sport of automobile racing and is often described simply as “real cars, real roads, real fast.” This all-season motorsport sees drivers and their co-drivers take modified road cars to the limit as they achieve blistering speeds over courses that cover more than 100 miles of gravel, dirt or snow-covered roads.

Complete television coverage of the Rally America Championship airs on ESPN2. The X Games Rally goes live-to-air on August 5.

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