Subaru Rally Team USA driver Travis Pastrana won the Ojibwe Forest Rally this weekend, after teammate Ken Block suffered a heartbreaking crash on the final stage of the rally.

Block and co-driver Alex Gelsomino led the rally from the start, ending Day 1 with a 20 second lead. Pastrana and co-driver Derek Ringer fought hard on Saturday to make up time, but were only able to claw back one second — until Block struck a tree on the final stage.

“We were out-driven all day today, and yesterday,” said Pastrana late Saturday. “It really sucks to see him on the side of the stage right at the end.”

Block and Gelsomino were unharmed, but it is believed their competition Subaru WRX STi took heavy damage.

The victory all but assures Pastrana the 2008 Rally America title. He would have to fail to finish both of the next two rounds, while either Block or Andrew “ACP” Comrie-Picard took both wins – an unlikely scenario for Pastrana, who has developed a maturity this season that has earned him a series of reliable top results.

Second place went to Kyle Sarasin, who battled through a host of mechanical problems to finish on the podium.

“We’re excited,” said Sarasin. “We had a ton of problems at this rally and to finish on the podium — and in second, no less — we’re pretty happy.”

Sarasin and co-driver Mikael Johansson fought through a turbocharger failure on Friday and transmission failure on Saturday.

Australian Andy Pinker and co-driver Robbie Durant earned the third spot on the podium. The duo had not been optimistic for such a strong finish, after they struck a rock on Day 1, and took damage to their car that dropped him to 11th place.

“The two Subaru drivers were pushing hard all day and I thought one might make a mistake today – I just didn’t know who.”

After Round 7, the top three in the championship standings remain unchanged. Pastrana extended his lead over second-place Andrew “ACP” Comrie-Picard – who opted to sit out this event after his end-over-end flip at the X Games earlier this month. Block remains in third place.

Comrie-Picard was not the only top driver absent from the contest after a brutal X Games competition that saw many series frontrunners take heavy damage to their competition cars. Tanner Foust, Matthew Johnson and Pat Moro also chose not to enter this event.

“It’s too bad for the championship to see so many guys had cars that couldn’t be repaired in time to be here and compete,” said Pastrana.

Heath Nunnemacher and co-driver Kim DeMotte drove a strong event to take the Production GT class win, while veteran Doug Shepherd and co-driver Karen Wagner set the fastest two-wheel drive time in their Group 5 Dodge SRT 4. The Production class win went to brothers Jan and Jody Zedril in their Mitsubishi Lancer, and the sole finishers in the Group 2 class were Silvio Alva and co-driver Ben Slocum.

The Ojibwe Forests Rally began Friday afternoon with a spectator stage at the Bemidji Speedway, where teams kicked up the dust for roaring spectators on a quarter-mile oval course, before moving to the sandy forest stages.

The event opened Thursday night with a crowd-pleasing freestyle motocross exhibition from “Cowboy” Kenny Bartram and Pastrana at the Bemidji Speedway. Bartram, a two-time X Games gold medalist in moto events, has been a regular threat on the U.S. rally scene since his 2006 series debut. He finished the event in fifth-place overall.

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.

The 2008 Rally America National Championship series consists of nine exciting events that take place in a range of challenging weather and road conditions in a season that extends from February to October. Throughout the year, teams take on everything from the forest logging roads in Minnesota, to the high-altitude Yampa River Valley in Northwest Colorado, and the Pacific Northwest forest and coast paths.

The series moves west to Steamboat Springs on September 13 and 14 for the next round, Rally Colorado.

Photo by Lorne Trezise

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