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WASHPA Racing, a performance rally team based out of Washington, PA showed the true meaning of the rally slogan “Press on Regardless” by finishing on the podium at the Rally in the 100 Acre Woods. The team had been invited to compete at the Regional Rally Championships after winning the 2WD Championship for the Rally America Eastern Region in 2008 where team owner/driver Jim McClelland was also awarded Rookie of the Year honors.

Despite ever changing weather and road conditions and a very tough field of competitors, team owner/driver Jim McClelland of Washington, PA and co-driver Jon Price of Martinez, CA were able to check in to the final time control in their 1987 Toyota MR2 and secure 2nd Place in the Regional Championship and 3rd place in their National Series debut.

“The stages were great! Fast and smooth! Now the weather, that was our biggest challenge of the weekend. The cold was tough enough, but when the snow started, well, the MR2 and snow make for a very challenging combination,” McClelland said.

The team’s weekend challenges began at the shakedown stages where the 724 Car carried numerous VIPs up and down the rugged roads at the Flat Nasty Off Road Park. “We were doing pretty well until we blew a tire on the last run. ” We really enjoyed the opportunity to meet, greet and drive some of Salem’s community leaders in the 724 Car on Thursday afternoon”, said team manager Darlene Jones. “Jim definitely enjoys every opportunity to talk about rally racing, but he really loves to drive and during the VIP/Press runs he got to do both and he was in heaven”, she added.

After the flat tire and the extremely rough conditions of the shakedown runs the team decided to change out the suspension on the 22 year old MR2. While this is usually an easy item to accomplish on the to-do list, the team was working feverishly to accomplish this task while talking with and signing autographs for a large group of young rally fans, all the while keeping a watchful eye on the severe storm and tornado watches that were on there way to Salem.

“We had three of the strut assemblies replaced, but then the rain came. Once it started the storm was on us in full force, so we had to wait until Friday morning to finish the last corner” McClelland said. “It wasn’t the way I wanted to start the first day of the rally but, it is what it is. In rally racing you just do whatever you have to do to compete and then whatever it takes to finish” he added.

Friday’s stages found the team doing well. They weren’t posting the times that they had hoped for, but Jim and Jon had not been in the car together since they ran Rally West Virginia in August of last year. Jim had the following to say: “We were having trouble getting in sync, especially with the long, flat out sections of road. We are not used to running in such high speed conditions, especially on such smooth roads. We’re used to getting beat around on the rough, brutal, twisty and technical roads of the North East, like Stages 1 & 2 at STPR or pretty much any stage at the New England Forest Rally”. Then they missed a turn during the transit to stage 5 and checked in 6 minutes late and incurred a 1 minute penalty. “Yeah, that was more than a little frustrating, but it happened. The big problem was that by checking in late we were behind quite a few of the novice and slower drivers. We had to pass quite a few cars while on stage. We were right on the tailpipes of 2 cars going into the hairpin right at the spectator area. I know the fans got a show at that corner! One thing is for certain, it’s great in-car video and I can’t wait to post it to our YouTube Channel!!” McClelland said.

Saturday found the team fighting more cold temperatures at the parc expose in downtown Salem, but the real challenges for the day came when the snow started to fall. While the team felt more in sync inside the car, the accumulating snow outside the car was a concern. The team’s tight financial resources found them fighting for traction on many of the stages due to their limited tire selection.

Late in the day Saturday, the team heard that the two other top contenders for the 2WD Regional Rally Championship were also struggling and that all they needed to do is run the last three stages clean, not give up any time and they would have the Regional Cup in the bag!! As in most cases that kind of information is enough to jinx even the best of teams and WASHPA Racing is no different. While trying to run a clean stage on lucky 13 they went off and tried to combine metal with wood.

The good news was that the obvious damage was superficial. They just backed off the tree onto the road and raced to the finish line. Fortunately they didn’t loose too much time and they were headed to a scheduled service where they could assess the damage. In the truest rally form, they cut off the badly damaged fender and prepared to press on regardless. They only had 2 stages left and the car seemed to be alright.

The bad news was that, unbeknownst to the team, the crash had damaged the steering box. On stage 14 the team suddenly found themselves racing in over a foot of snow in their mid engine, rear wheel drive car. “The bottom of the car is covered in plastic skid plate material and we actually spun out twice due to high centering on the crown of the snow! ” McClelland said.

The two spin outs along with the crash caused an almost complete failure of the steering box and there was a huge sigh of relief in the car when the final stage was cancelled for safety reasons but the transit back to Salem found the 724 Car struggling to make right turns. “The team had to push the front end of the car in the direction we were attempting to turn, but, with everyone’s help we got her to the podium!! Loosing the Regional Cup by 11 seconds is a tough pill to swallow, but with everything that happened, well let’s just say that it’s easier to swallow with podium champagne, or cider that is!” McClelland said with a sense of pride and exhaustion…

WASHPA Racing would like to thank the organizers, workers and volunteers that made the Rally in the 100 Acre Woods such a resounding success. Also a big thank you goes out to volunteer crewmembers Aaron Taylor and Scott Canon for all of their help in getting us to the podium. WASHPA Racing is sponsored by Innovative Leasing Resources, a commercial equipment lease financing firm. Please visit them at www.yourILR.com. For more information about WASHPA Racing please visit their website at www.WASHPA-Racing.com.

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