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Travis Pastrana drives his Subaru to victory on the Ojibwe Forests Rally Saturday.

Pastrana wins Ojibwe Forests Rally, nails down fourth straight Rally America title

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Subaru Rally Team USA driver Travis Pastrana sailed to victory at the Ojibwe Forests Rally on Saturday, sealing his fourth consecutive Rally America championship title.

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With five wins this season and only two rounds left, nobody else can catch Pastrana in the points. But he says he doesn't plan to stop driving hard this season.

"It's game on for the next two rallies," said Pastrana Saturday evening. "It's great to drive without any pressure."

Pastrana and co-driver Christian Edstrom pushed hard during the opening stages to take the early lead. They had been battling with teammates Ken Block and co-driver Alex Gelsomino for a favorable road position in what is typically a dusty event when Block crashed out.

That left Pastrana to start the second day nearly four minutes ahead of the field. By the end of the rally, he had grown his lead to nearly nine-minutes ahead of second-place finishers Andi Mancin and co-driver Maciej Wislawski in their Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX.

The Polish team battled mechanical trouble all weekend, and Mancin said he was pleased to earn his second podium of the season - and a US career best.

"We had big problems with the car," said Mancin at the finish. "We're happy to be here."

With Block out and contenders Andrew "ACP" Comrie-Picard and Tanner Foust absent from this round, Mancin's strong finish moves him into second-place overall in the championship.

Third place went to Adam Markut and co-driver Christopher Gordon in a Super Production class 1993 Eagle Talon. The car was battle-scarred for its appearance on the podium. An encounter with a tree had badly damaged the rear quarter on the co-driver's side, but Markut said it was still driving fine.

The finish was something of a surprise for Markut, who is not a regular competitor on the national scene. He inherited the podium after Subaru Rally Team USA's Dave Mirra and co-driver Derek Ringer - who had been running in second-place overall -- suffered a mechanical failure late in the contest and failed to finish.

"It feels good," said Markut, whose finish also earned him the Super Production class win. "It's not the type of winning I had wished for, but I'll take it."

The two-wheel drive victory went to Lauchlin O'Sullivan and co-driver Karen Wagner in a Dodge SRT-4. O'Sullivan also took the MaxAttak! win.

The DNF was a disappointment to Mirra, who had said earlier in the day he finally felt like everything was going his way. The relative newcomer is running in the Super Production class as Subaru Rally Team USA's newest member this year, and has been gaining confidence as the season progresses.

The two-wheel drive competition at this event was strong, with the MaxAttack! sub-series concluding this weekend. MaxAttack! Drivers competed not only for a podium finish, but a cash purse totaling $5,000.

Among the MaxAttack! competitors was the notable entry of Mark Utecht and Rob Bohn, who drove a 2010 Ford Mustang under the manufacturer's "10 Unleashed" promotion. Ford selected 10 lucky drivers to live out their Mustang dreams in a factory-supplied car this year. More on the program can be found at www.the2010mustang.com. The longtime Mustang competitor said he was delighted to be one of the lucky few selected for the opportunity.

"Most amateur drivers dream about having a factory ride at some time," said Utecht. "I'm one of the few that get to say I've had one."

This event features a smooth and fast course through the region's beautiful forest and lakes. Cars began a Super Special stage on Friday afternoon at the Bemidji Speedway and then headed out for a series of forest stages where the glow of brake rotors and the gleam of headlights illuminated the dark forests. Competition concluded late Sunday.

About Rally America, Inc.:

Based in Golden Valley, Minnesota, Rally America sanctions the premier rally racing series in the United States, the Rally America National Championship Series. In 2009, Rally America will conduct nine National Championship events at venues across the country, from Portland, Ore., to Newry, Maine. Rally America competitors reach speeds well over 100 mph in modified street-legal rally cars on natural-terrain courses consisting of gravel, dirt or snow.

Day 1 results

BEMIDJI, MN - Subaru Rally Team USA driver Travis Pastrana has a healthy early lead at the Ojibwe Forests Rally, after teammate Ken Block rolled early in the contest and Polish driver Andi Mancin lost ground to an overheating engine.

Pastrana said he and Block had both been pushing hard to earn a good position on the road as night fell and dust became a serious issue. Then Block crashed hard.

"It was an epic battle with Ken," said a disappointed Pastrana, who enjoys the rush of competition. "Now all we have to do is finish in the top five to get championship points."

Block and co-driver Alex Gelsomino were unharmed in the Stage 3 crash, but it dealt a serious blow to their championship hopes. Block entered this round a distant second to Pastrana and, with just two rounds remaining in the season after this event, he needed serious points here to gain ground on his teammate.

In second place after the Day 1 stages was the Subaru Rally Team USA Super Production class entry of Dave Mirra and co-driver Derek Ringer. The duo suffered a flat tire early on, but made up ground as Mancin struggled to push his ailing Mitsubishi through the night stages. Even so, they were nearly four minutes behind Pastrana and co-driver Christian Edstrom.

Mancin said he spent the first day just trying to hold onto a reasonable position until his mechanics could dig into the overheating car's engine overnight. He and co-driver Maciej Wislawski finished the night in third - a minute and 50 seconds behind Mirra and Ringer.

With Block already out and contenders Andrew "ACP" Comrie-Picard and Tanner Foust absent from this round, a strong finish by Mancin could give him an edge in a tight points battle for the top-three.

The Super Production battle saw class leader Piotr Wiktorczyk out with turbo trouble on the second stage, leaving the door open for a late-season championship charge by challengers Mirra, Pat Moro and Jimmy Keeney.

The two-wheel drive competition at this event is strong, with the MaxAttack! sub-series concluding this weekend. MaxAttack! Drivers are competing not only for a podium finish, but a cash purse totaling $5,000. After seven stages Friday, Lauchlin O'Sullivan and co-driver Karen Wagner led the two-wheel drive charge, and were sitting in fifth-place overall in their Dodge SRT 4.

This event features a smooth and fast course through the region's beautiful forest and lakes. Cars began a Super Special stage on Friday afternoon at the Bemidji Speedway and then headed out for a series of forest stages where the glow of brake rotors and the gleam of headlights illuminate the dark forests. Competition resumes midday Saturday for the second and final day of competition.

About Rally America, Inc.:

Based in Golden Valley, Minnesota, Rally America sanctions the premier rally racing series in the United States, the Rally America National Championship Series. In 2009, Rally America will conduct nine National Championship events at venues across the country, from Portland, Ore., to Newry, Maine. Rally America competitors reach speeds well over 100 mph in modified street-legal rally cars on natural-terrain courses consisting of gravel, dirt or snow.

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