Los Angeles – The 2017 California Rally Series (CRS) Championship season began on May 6 with the High Desert Trails Rally.  The stages outside of Ridgecrest, CA offered a wide mix of challenges for the drivers, ranging from high-speed blasts through the desert to dodging trees on twisty forest roads.  Twenty cars took the start in what marked the tenth consecutive running of the rally, which totaled over one hundred miles of competitive stages between two CRS points events (Chaparral Stages followed by Mojave Stages).

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Last year’s defending Open class season champions John Coyne and Doug Nagy started off the season on the right foot, claiming maximum points for both events in their Subaru Impreza.  Second place went to Flynn Baglin and Vincent D’Angelo, who were also competing in a Subaru Impreza.  Behind them in Open Class was a third Subaru Impreza, piloted by Deke Williams and Timbrey Lind.


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In the normally-aspirated four-wheel drive Open Lite class, Kurt Northrup and Will Smith took the top spot in both the Chaparral and Mojave Stages events.  Northrup was the 2016 Open Lite runner-up so he will be shooting for a championship win this season.  Their drive was not without excitement – at one point they clipped the inside of a right hand corner just enough to send them into a spin.  Fortunately they were able to keep it on the road and press on with nothing more than a scuff on the front bumper as a memento. 

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After a short hiatus, the large-displacement, two-wheel drive CRS-5 class has returned with growing popularity.  There was plenty of excitement at High Desert Trails, with multiple lead changes.  Bradley Morris and Ryan Scott were the pre-event favorites in their turbocharged Mitsubishi Lancer.  They had a substantial lead after the first three stages, and were mixing it up with the four-wheel drive cars when a mechanical problem forced them to retire on stage four.  The lead then switched to Andrew Cowan, who teamed up with 2016 P-Stock champ co-driver Andres Bautista for this event.  Cowan is last year’s CRS-5 champion who is looking to repeat this year.  They set some impressive stage times and secured first place class points for the Chaparral stages, but unfortunately a CV joint failed during an uphill section of the first stage of Mojave Stages, leaving them stuck on the side of the road.  This allowed the BMW 325 of Michael Cadwell and Omar Cardenas to improve upon their second place finish during the morning event, and take top CRS-5 honors in the Mojave Stages.  An impressive finish for their first rally!

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Small-displacement, two-wheel drive cars compete in the CRS-2 class, which has seen some close competition over the years.  Husband and wife team Erik Christiansen and Amy Floyd drove their Volkswagen Golf GTI to victory in both the Chaparral and Mojave Stages events.  On the very last stage they experienced a similar off-road excursion as Forman/Furlong, going wide on a downhill right turn (in the dark!) but were able to rejoin the road and finish the event.  Second place went to the father and son team Larry and Lance Gross in their Toyota Corolla, despite their car not being well suited for the long uphill straights on some of the stages. 

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Performance Stock (aka “P-Stock) class is a CRS tradition, consisting of two-wheel drive cars with limited modifications.  Chris Palermo and co-driver Cristopher Fine drove a clean rally and were rewarded with first place in both events.  Husband and wife Tony Chavez and co-driver Raquel Salas pushed hard – perhaps a little too hard which resulted in some close calls.  They could only manage a second place finish in both events.


The next championship event on the CRS calendar is coming up this weekend with the Frazier Mountain Rally, based in Frazier Park, CA.  This event debuted last year and features tight and twisty stages that climb up to 7,500 feet in elevation!  John Coyne and Doug Nagy are favored to build on their Open class points lead, but will face competition from Flynn Baglin and Vincent D’Angelo who are second in the standings.  With exposures and trees lining the course, expect Frazier Mountain to be unforgiving to any mistakes!

Open Lite points leader Kurt Northrop will be looking to carry momentum from his win at High Desert Trails into Frazier Mountain.  He will be teamed up with a different co-driver Laurence Babahekian for the event.  Also looking to build on their points lead are the current CRS-2 leaders Erik Christiansen and Floyd.  Meanwhile Tony Chavez and Raquel Salas, who are currently sitting in second place in the Performance Stock standings are hoping to turn Frazier Mountain into an opportunity to pull into first place.  However, last year’s P-Stock champion Brian Tullio will be there debuting a new (to him) Mazda MX-3 with Andres Bautista back by his side in the co-driver seat.  Chavez bested Tullio at this event last year, so Tullio will be looking to even the score.

Frazier Mountain also marks the debut of the CRS Side by Side (SxS) Championship, a new series for 2017 that allows the popular utility vehicles to compete.  The series is off to a promising start, with SxS vehicles making up almost one third of the field.  There some big names in racing eager to give this new series a go.  Rhys Millen, who has competed in Formula D Drifting, Global Rallycross, and Pikes Peak (where he set a rear-wheel drive record time), will be piloting a Polaris RZR Turbo with veteran co-driver Chrissie Beavis reading him notes.  X-Games Rally Car veteran Stephan Verdier will also be competing in a turbocharged Polaris RZR. With the narrow, twisty stages, the light weight SxS vehicles might end up with an advantage over the heavier cars and be in the fight for the top of the podium! In the normally-aspirated SxS class, Cain Smead, a veteran SxS racer is the favorite, and is expected to be setting times alongside the turbo four-wheel drive cars in his Yamaha YXZ 1000R.   

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 40 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.