Rally America’s premier Group 2 teams return to the forests of Minnesota for rounds 9 and 10 of the Central Regional Rally Championship. Racers return to the Nemadji Trail complex for the second time this season, after a stop in Wisconsin for cheese, fireworks, and the Gravity Park Rally. The Nemadji Trail Rally stages are run in a twin-sprint format, where each pass through the stages is scored as a separate race with a brief service break between each rally. The drivers tackled six special stages today, making up a course over 17 miles long for each sprint. New gravel was laid down on the main road after the last month’s rally, the first few cars on the road will be sweeping the loose gravel off of the road surface, leaving more and more grip for the car behind – a big advantage for drivers lower down in the start order.

Light rain before the start kept the dust down for Nemadji 2A – the first of two runs through the stages. Chad Eixenberger and Colin Vickman took full advantage of starting second on the road in their Volkswagen GTI, opening up a 21 second gap over Mark and John Huebbe’s historic class VW Beetle on Stage 1. Brent Carlson and Mark Utecht shot up to third place despite fuel problems with their GTI, nine seconds behind the Huebbe brothers’ Beetle, a great start for the Brent’s first time in the driver’s seat.

Eixenberger made up time on the rough two-track sections of Stage 2 to open up the lead over the Huebbe’s Beetle to 36 seconds, clinging to second place overall, 4.8 seconds ahead of Janusz Topor and Michal Kaminski in their Open class Subaru. Carlson and Utecht didn’t lift even after their hood flew open early in the stage, losing ground to the Beetle, but still comfortably holding third place.

Chaos ensued on Stage 3, the Huebbe brothers were unable to continue after sliding off the road, moving Brent Carlson and Mark Utecht to second place, finishing fourth overall. Bryan Holder and Tracy Payeur held off a late charge from Derek McCorison and Paul Johansen’s Hyundai Tiburon to take third place in their Plymouth Neon by 1.8 seconds. With the loose gravel fully swept from the main road the Open class cars should have pulled away, but Carl Siegler and David Goodman high centered the Ziptie Rally Subaru in a ditch while leading the rally, leaving Janusz Topor and Chad Eixenberger to fight it out for the overall win. Eixenberger and Vickman pushed hard to maintain their lead, but lost enough time to give the JT Rally Subaru team a 4.8 second lead. But in rally the race isn’t finished when the last stage is run. Topor and Kaminski picked up a two-minute penalty for speeding on the road section back to the service park, handing Chad Eixenberger and Colin Vickman their first overall win!

After a 30 minute service at the Duquette General Store allowed bruised egos to heal, the cars headed back to the forest to tackle the stages in the opposite direction for Nemadji 2B. Chad Eixenberger shot off to and early lead again, Derek McCorison’s Hyundai trailed the yellow Volkswagen by 44 seconds after Stage 4. Brent Carlson and Mark Utecht continued to struggle with engine problems, but had a firm grip on third place 30 seconds adrift of the V6 powered Tiburon. Eixenberger and Vickman continued to walk away from the field on Stage 5, Carlson made up enough time on McCorison’s Hyundai to slip by to second place by a mere three seconds. With Bryan Holder charging from behind in his Neon, the stage was set for a three way battle for second place with 13.8 seconds separating the three cars. Brent Carlson would prevail, setting an unbeatable time on Stage 6 to hold on to second place, but this time Bryan Holder and Tracy Payeur would snatch the final spot on the podium from McCorison’s Tiburon on the final stage, taking third place by 0.6 seconds. Chad Eixenberger and Colin Vickman drove away to win in Group 2 by a three minute margin, but without a repeat of the drama from the first rally they finished in 2nd place overall behind Janusz Topor and Michal Kaminski’s Subaru WRX.

With a pair of 2nd place finishes to his name in his debut, navigator turned driver Brent Carlson takes the top rookie honors in his Volkswagen GTI, running as high as 4th place overall.

The Central Region Rally Championship returns to Duquette Minnesota for Nemadji Trail 3 on July 31st.

Photos by Jerry Winker

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