The California Rally Series (CRS) Championship season began March 3-6 in Blythe, CA with the Desert Storm Rally. Eleven teams competed throughout the weekend in what became a rally marked by attrition. Nicholas Taylor and Robert Olchawa got off to an impressive start in their Subaru Impreza, winning the Thursday night event overall. However, their engine experienced a melt down on Saturday, causing them to DNF the remainder of the event. Engine failures seemed to plague several competitors, with fellow Open class driver Jon Burke losing his engine after only two stages on Thursday night.

The most competitive class of the weekend was CRS-2, which had plenty of drama to match. CRS veterans Chuck Wilson and Brent Ellzey claimed victory on Thursday in their Ford Escort, but engine problems took them out of Saturday’s event, allowing Javier Olivares and Brock Heinz to take the win. Wilson/Ellzey were able to rejoin on Sunday thanks to their team bringing an entire spare rally prepped Ford Escort! They finished Sunday’s rally with the class win, over Olivares/Heinz who took second place. Heading in to the High Desert Trails Olivares/Heinz have an 88 point lead over Wilson/Ellzey on the championship.

The Performance Stock (P-Stock) class was dominated by John Black and Lori Stone in their Ford Ranger. The team scored maximum points for the weekend, with class victories in all three rallies. The four wheel drive stock class, CRS-GT, also saw a clean sweep, with the all-female team of Katianna Pihakari and Marie Boyd scoring maximum points.

The second stop on the CRS calendar is the High Desert Trails Rally, based in Ridgecrest, CA. The rally moves to all new roads this year, and despite being unknown to the competitors, turnout appears to be quite healthy with twenty eight cars set to take the start Saturday, April 9.

Fighting for the overall win will be the Open class entries of George Plsek in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution and Doug Chernis and Craig MacNair in their Subaru Impreza WRX STI. With both drivers having identical speed factors the competition should be extremely close.

Bill Holmes and Sean Gallagher are the favorite in CRS-5 in their Ford F-150, and should not be ruled out as contenders for the overall win. Looking to match pace with the truck’s big V-8 are the turbocharged entries of Jack Szanto and Jack Penley in their Dodge Neon SRT-4, and Brian Hamblin and Ray Hocker in their Volvo 240. Ray is the most experienced co-driver on the entry list, having co-driven this event in 1974!

CRS-2 is once again the most popular class, with eight teams on the entry list. George Doganis and Tom Smith are the favorites in their Honda Civic, which was both fast and reliable all last season. However, two teams who are known for pushing their VW GTI’s to their limits will be there to keep them honest: Michel Hoche-Mong with co-driver Marie Boyd and Gaylord Van Brocklin with co-driver Steve Secviar. Expect to see some tight racing deep in this class.

Kevin Welker and Nolan Sambrano, CRS-GT class champions for the last three years will be there to start their bid to make it four years running. Last year’s P-Stock champion Alex Rademacher is making the move to CRS-GT for 2011 by simply adding the rear drivetrain to convert his Subaru Impreza from front wheel drive to all wheel drive. He and his new co-driver Jeana Yi will be looking to finish ahead of current CRS-GT points leader Katianna Pihakari who is teamed up with co-driver John Dillon for this event.

The P-Stock class has two former champions on the entry list: 2001 winner Tony Chavez and 2009 winner John Black. Tony Chavez is fast, but is coming off a hiatus. Meanwhile, John Black has proved to be a reliable finisher in his Ford Ranger of the past few years. This should make for some exciting battles throughout the rally.

The High Desert Trails Rally was first run in 1973 on roads to the Southeast and West of Ridgecrest, CA. After running for the past two years at a motorsports facility on the edge of town, the rally moves to some never before run hard packed dirt roads for 2011. For more information on the High Desert Trails Rally, visit http://highdeserttrails.com.

The California Rally Series is the premier performance rally championship in the southwestern United States. The Series incorporates events from various sanctioning bodies in order to create a meaningful regional championship for its members. The Series celebrates more than 35 continuous years of performance rally, making it the longest running rally series in the United States. To learn more about the California Rally Series visit www.californiarallyseries.com and follow @crspress on twitter.

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