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Last Ditch Racing overcame adversity to clinch the 2009 Rally America Eastern Regional Open Class Championship at this past weekend’s New England Forest Rally held in Bethel, Maine. Round 6 of the 2009 Rally America Championship, the New England Forest Rally is a driver’s favorite and has a reputation for being somewhat rough and rocky.

Friday’s stages consisted of two super specials and the famous Concord Pond stage. Hoping to better their top 10 stage time from 2008, it became apparent to Cassidy and Getchell early in the stage that the car was down on power. The team did what they could to minimize time losses, with Cassidy driving the car a bit further into corners and trying to carry speed where possible. A failing driveshaft was later identified and fixed during the overnight service.

Saturday saw the start of the Berlin Rally and the first two stages saw the team setting competitive regional times. But it was not to last. Cassidy could see white smoke trailing(and entering) the car as early as stage three. In service, oil seen on the skidplate and the crew surmised that there was an internal engine issue that was overpressurizing the crankcase, forcing oil out under load.

The team were battling with the Team O’Neil team of Knox/Wilburn in their Group 5 Mazda Speed3 for the Rally America Eastern Regional Open Class Championship. Knox had been leading the Eastern Regional Championship after a strong run in an Open Class Subaru at STPR. But Knox was having issues of his own-a gearbox leak causing concern.

The situation forced Cassidy/Getchell to change their mental approach to the race – ignoring the smoke and whine from the engine under load while still pushing as hard as possible took all energy they had. They had to resort to carrying supplemental oil onboard to top of the car before and after each stage. The final stage saw the two teams separated by mere seconds. With a 30 mile transit back to the finish at the Sunday River Resort after the stage, Cassidy/Getchell were carrying a full fuel load and 6 liters or supplemental oil. “We were the heaviest we’d been all day, and we knew the car was sick. We also knew that we had to pull out the best run of our day on our third run through the short, tricky stage,” said Cassidy.

The stage went without incident and the crew felt they were clean and tidy. Now the long transit back to Sunday River, and the final MTC, began. The crew stopped every 12 miles or so to pour more oil into the engine. “It was all we could do to nurse her home. Every time we’d put the engine under load uphill, I’d see a thick fog of smoke blowing out the back. I don’t think the line of cars behind us appreciated it very much, but we were in survival mode.”

The team arrived at Sunday River and Co-Driver Wilburn found Cassidy. Cassidy/Getchell were 5 seconds quicker their last time through the stage and secured the final podium spot for the day, and the Eastern Regional Open Class Championship by a mere 3.3 seconds! The regional competition was very close, and all of the competitors agreed that it made for some good drama during the day. “We all came to race, and having to fight for seconds at the end of a physically and mentally taxing day is something we soon won’t forget,” said Cassidy.

Cassidy ended the 2009 Rally America Eastern Regional season first Driver in the Open Class and second in the Overall driver points. Getchell took second overall Co-Driver and second in Open Class. Last Ditch Racing has secured the Eastern Regional Open Class Championship the last three years in a row and the Eastern Regional Overall Championship in 2008.

Once their engine issues are sussed, the team is looking forward to competing in Canada later in the season as well as returning to the Rally America Regional Rally Championship in Missouri in 2010.

And finally, Last Ditch Racing would like to thank their 2009 Partners for their support:
Triple Caution, LLC, http://www.triplecaution.us
Mark Fleming Photography: http://www.markflemingphoto.com
Team O’Neil Rally School, http://www.teamoneil.com

For photos, videos, team blogs and more information on Last Ditch Racing, please visit: http://www.lastditchracing.com
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Photos copyright Pete Kuncis, 2009, http://www.onalimbracing.com

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