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Ojibwe Forests Rally blazes through Detroit Lakes

Subaru Rally Team driver David Higgins and co-driver Craig Drew take a corner on a dusty road during Saturday’s racing in the Ojibwe Forests Rally. DETROIT LAKES TRIBUNE/Brian Basham1 / 5
Thousands of people lined West Lake Drive in Detroit Lakes to watch the final two stages of the rally Saturday night. DETROIT LAKES TRIBUNE/Brian Basham2 / 5
Sisters Samantha and Bella Dahl sign driver Nick Roberts’ car during Friday’s Parc Expose on Veteran’s Memorial Parkway in Detroit Lakes. DETROIT LAKES TRIBUNE/Brian Basham3 / 5
Rally enthusiasts were constantly covered in a blanket of dust Saturday at spectator point D, as each car turning the corner kicked up a cloud of dust and gravel. DETROIT LAKES TRIBUNE/Brian Basham4 / 5
The Ojibwe Forests Rally ended with David Higgins and Travis Pastrana did a double drift at the corner of West Lake Drive and Washington Avenue. DETROIT LAKES TRIBUNE/Brian Basham5 / 5

Subaru Rally Team USA’s David Higgins and Craig Drew edged one step closer to a perfect season this weekend, scoring their 13th straight Rally America win at the Ojibwe Forests Rally in northern Minnesota and making it seven for seven in the 2015 championship season.

Higgins credited a team effort for the winning streak. “It’s a combination of everything: the work our team puts in, the work we put in, the car, everything,” said Higgins. “A lot of it is earned confidence as well: like last night, we lost a lot of time to a puncture, then pushed pretty hard and got back in the lead and had the confidence to do it. It’s been awesome.”

The pair had a tough start to the weekend with a flat tire on the second stage of the rally that cost them nearly a minute to teammates Travis Pastrana and Chrissie Beavis. But they rallied during Friday’s night stages, setting an unstoppable pace nearly 2.5 seconds per mile faster than their teammates. When the dust settled on Day 1, Higgins and Drew led the rally by 35 seconds.

On Saturday, Pastrana and Beavis started the day determined to put the pressure on their teammates, but a flat tire in the morning cost them nearly three minutes. The two cars traded stage wins on Saturday but Pastrana and Beavis were unable to make up the time and had to settle for second.

“I feel like we’re not leaving a lot out there. The car’s doing great and we got some stage wins, so no complaints,” said Pastrana, who won five of the 15 stages. “David’s a tough competitor, always, and we knew that coming in. Any time you can take a stage win or two away from him it’s a big deal.”

Rounding out the podium on Saturday were Nick Roberts and co-driver Rhianon Gelsomino who finished third overall in their 2013 Subaru WRX STI and took their fourth Super Production class win of the season. Roberts said the home stretch was tough. “There’s a lot of pressure when you’re sitting first in class and third on the overall podium and still have some stages ahead of you: you don’t want to screw anything up or make any mistakes,” he said.

Second in Super Production, and fourth overall, were Lauchlin O’Sullivan and co-driver Scott Putnam in their 2009 Subaru WRX STI. The result was enough for them to mathematically secure the 2015 Super Production title with one round remaining in the championship. He said he’s looking forward to an all-out battle at the last rally of the year.

“It feels great to have sealed up the SP championship but I’m still looking for a great straight-up fight with Nick and Rhianon, a rally where we both have no issues, each finish really well, and have a good fight,” said O’Sullivan. “We’ve been trading off having our issues all year, and we’re both looking forward to LSPR for a closer rally.”

Peter Fetela and co-driver John Hall rounded out the Top 5 in their 1998 Subaru STI.

In 2WD, Cameron Steely, along with co-driver Preston Osborne, took a second class win of the year and finished sixth overall in their Ford Fiesta ST, while James Robinson and Brian Penza topped the B Spec standings in their Honda Fit and scored eighth place overall.

“We’re just super excited to have the chance to run this car and we’re thrilled with how well it’s been doing here against the other 2WD cars,” said Robinson. “The cars are great, they’re quick, and they’re super reliable. Now we’re trying to push as hard as we can to get as many Honda teams out here as possible: they’re just fantastic cars.”

The rally ended with two runs of a super special stage along a waterfront streets course. It was a popular late summer attraction in the resort community of Detroit Lakes. “Racing in front of all the fans in the downtown area on a public street -- that’s one of my favorite things,” said Steely. “The fans love it and I enjoy it, too.”

Despite the rally’s fast and smooth roads attrition was a big factor this weekend in northern Minnesota.

The visiting Subaru Rally Team Canada team of Antoine L’Estage and co-driver Craig Parry got a flat tire on Day 1 and lost more than six minutes struggling to change it before they drove off-line on Stage 5 and tore a rear wheel off their car. They did not restart on Saturday.

The FY Racing team of Adam Yeoman and Jordan Schulze also recorded a DNF in their 2007 Subaru WRX STI after they discovered a fuel leak Saturday morning and were unable to continue. In two-wheel drive, Troy Miller and Ole Holter damaged a wheel on Friday and withdrew. They returned to competition in their 2011 Ford Fiesta R2 under the rally restart rule on Saturday but were out of contention for the podium.

Higgins and Drew had their own close call on Saturday in their 2015 Subaru WRX STI when a driveshaft broke and they pulled into the 10-minute afternoon service leaking transmission fluid. The team was able to quickly diagnose and repair the problem and return the car to the rally without losing any time.

The Subaru Rally Team USA duo are angling for the first perfect season in U.S. rally since John Buffum scored one back in 1987.

The 34th running of the Ojibwe Forests Rally featured nearly 150 stage miles over two days. It also doubled as the Paul Bunyan’s Ride and 10,000 Lakes Rally regional rallies. The Ojibwe Forests Rally was the seventh of eight events on the 2015 Rally America calendar. Higgins and Drew mathematically secured the overall title with a win at Round 6. The final round in the 2015 Rally America National Championship, Lake Superior Performance Rally, takes place October 16-17 in Houghton, Mich.