Black Box rally team announces 2015 season

• January 18, 2015 • Leave a Comment

2/21 – Winter Wellsboro Rally

4/18 – Empire State Performance Rally

6/5 – STPR Rally

7/17 – New England Forest Rally

9/18 – Black River Stages

ESPR preview featured on!

• June 6, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Looks like Mike Shaw featured our ESPR preview on! Looking forward to working with him on a few more articles this season!

ESPR 2014 – A Successful DNF?

• May 3, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Black Box rally team pushing for 3rd in AWD on Day 1 – Photo credit: Jordan Apgar

6 right – FLAT OUT –

“Hey Alvin – do you feel like we’re down on power, it sounds like something is whirring?”

400 straight into 5 –left DOUBLE CAUTION drops outside into river

“Yeah Billy – I hear it, something’s grinding…”

Jump into 400 – 5 right CUT –

“Should we stop?” asks Billy.
“No way”

…I say right before throwing the car into a 100+ mph right hander hoping the tires catch grip before we meet the nasty looking guardrail.

That about sums up our conversation right before the last service of the rally. The whirring noises eventually graduated to clanking and grinding sounds as we were pulling in. Ten minutes into service I look over at Mike our service lead. He responded tersely –

“That’s it, we’re finished”.

The transfer case bearing spewing grease and black soulless fluid everywhere is not supposed to look like that.

The start of the rally was a rough one. A Sheriff’s department emergency had delayed the first stage so significantly that it completely threw the morning’s schedule out of order. This was a big problem because the roads were only closed for a certain period of time- and with the delay, that time was expiring. That meant the organizers had no choice but to cancel stages 3 and 4. I’m not going to lie, I don’t envy the organizers’ job. Even with 100 or so volunteers, I can’t imagine the difficultly of running a stage rally and reminding the almost 7,000 residents of the area that for their safety, they cannot use the roads.

Because of this delay, one stage which was partially-run came into “Force Majeure” rules. This is an intentionally vague rule that basically states, whenever there’s an incident in the middle of a stage run, all competitors affected will get the stage time of the previous competitor. Sometimes this works in your favor. In our case, this resulted in all competitors getting a better time than us, pushing our team to 25th overall; dead last in AWD.

STANCE – oh wait, no, just weight transfer. – Photo Credit: Daggerslade media

Although SS2 was a short stage, we took back 10 positions to 15th overall. By the third stage, we were top 10. And after 4 stages, we were sitting in 6th overall. By the time we hit the long 15 mile stage, we found ourselves in close company of the faster open class cars.

It looks like if we had sustained our morning performance, we would have finished in negative-11th place!—All-Wheel-Drive-Position-Chart.png

On SS8 a sub-15 minute stage, we were just 11 seconds from the nearest AWD competitor. Compared to last year’s 2nd place winner – the Open 2WD Ford Focus of Reilly / Benthien, we actually came in ahead of them by 11 seconds. Our car was finally on-par with other open class teams at ESPR.
Naturally this also corresponded with the time that disaster struck on SS9 when we decided to go FULL RETARD (aka enable Anti-Lag). About 2/3rds through the stage we passed not one, but two cars: the 3nd place Open 2WD Focus of Reilly/Benthien, and the 1st place Open AWD Evo of Donoghue/Mc Elhinney. But, it was not meant to be, as on the way up a long hill, the car went into limp mode.

Black Box rally team on the SS9 having overtaken Reilly/Benthien. – Photo Credit: Daggerslade media

The car was now violently cutting power, even under partial throttle. My only hope was getting it to the service park for the end of the first day. It’s almost funny how fast you can go from podium contender to saving the car in rally. Rolling into service, William and Mike were firing off a million diagnostic questions so they could try to find out how to save the car. After minutes that seemed like hours, they couldn’t find anything obviously wrong, though they did replace the coil packs as more of a guess than anything else. With the car going into parc-ferme overnight, and no service the next morning, we just had to hope that we’d fixed the problem.
The next day, we started off with good news – the car was working fine once again. We confirmed that it was indeed a coil pack failure that made us lose almost exactly a minute on the last stage, which was a shame because it dropped us from 3rd in AWD to 5th. We were getting back into our stride, gaining overall positions again when it happened – our transfer case exploded into a giant fireball of doom. As I already mentioned, luck was not on our side. Our crew chief turned to me and said lightheartedly,

“Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, and sometimes you would have won if your transfer case didn’t explode”.

All in all we had a good rally. Last year we came in 6th overall, this year we had the pace for 3rd as a Super Production spec car, in an Open class field. The driver and codriver performed well, the service crew performed well, the car, as a sum of the work the team put into it over the last year, performed well, but certain parts from certain suppliers did not perform well. So by that metric, it was a successful weekend, and we were only left out of official recognition of that fact by some broken parts that were beyond our control. Hence, a successful DNF?

“Helicopter” shot of Black Box Rally NOT falling into the lake – Photo credit: Andrew Pascarella

Oh right, what about the predictions ( Well, Cyril Kearney had a catastrophic engine failure the night before the rally and was unable to enter. Mike Reilly and Josh Benthien unfortunately succumbed to ECU problems that put their car on the side of the road throughout stage 2 and 3, but managed to finish 4th in 2WD. Erika Detota and Marry Warren finished in 5th, one second behind Reilly/Benthien. One second might not seem like a lot of time, but on a stage rally, made up of 1 hour, 14 minutes, and 41 seconds, WOW.

I did say Gary Donoghue/Kieran Mc Elhinney and Donal Crooke/Noel Joyce were teams to watch this year. Gary Donoghue and Kieran Mc Elhinney were leading the rally until the last stage of Day 1 when they mysteriously withdrew. Donal Crooke, this year joined by Bruce Leonard, finished 3rd overall in AWD – an excellent result for their first time in their newly built Subaru rSTI!

Donal Crooke / Bruce Leonard with one wheel off. – Photo Credit: Daggerslade media
Matt Brandenburg and Elliot Sherwood claimed the top 2WD time in all but 3 stages, but an early DNF on stage 2 and their eventual DNF on the last stage, prevented them from getting to the podium. Although they didn’t leave with a trophy, they probably win the flight of the rally award with the jump on ss1:


The wildcard I should have mentioned in the preview was the “2 Brits Racing” rally team. No strangers to rally, Mathew and Mathew began rallying in Canada since 2008. Their family has been involved in rally for quite some time, and the team won the Canadian Rally Championship novice driver award back in 2009, and the Ontario Performance Rally Championship in 2011. ESPR was their first US event and according to Nick, they are planning a return in subsequent years.

“2 Brits Racing” struggling to keep it on the road! – Photo credit: Jordan Apgar

Michael O’Leary and Marcel Ciascai took 2nd overall with a very consistent performance all rally. And in a surprise upset, Erik Potts and Joachim Sandgaard managed to take their 2WD car to 3rd overall (1st 2WD) in their open class Ford Focus ZX3! Potts and Sandgaard were followed by former evo driver Peter Guagenti, who reportedly turned his daily driven e46 M3 car into a stage rally car for ESPR and finished an incredible 2nd in 2WD. And finally, the underdog of the group, Dmitriy Martynov and Daniel Salive managed an impressive 3rd in 2WD, with a stock 2.5RS motor impreza, just 1 second shy of second of Guagenti’s M3.

Me and the famous Chris Duplessis!

That about wraps up the 2014 running of the Empire State Performance Rally. Thanks again to all the organizers and volunteers for all their efforts putting together the event. You can catch us at our next rally coming up the weekend of May 30th, at the Susquehannock Trail Performance Rally in Wellsboro, PA. You can also follow us on Face-page,, Twitter and eventual-gram!

Atlantic Rally Cup - Overall
Place # Entrant Class Vehicle Total
1 933 Nick Mathew Kelly Mathew AWD Subaru WRX STi 1:07:37
2 33 Micheal O'Leary Marcel Ciascai AWD Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X 1:10:54
3 10 Erik Potts Joachim Sandgaard 2WD Ford Focus ZX3 1:11:58

Atlantic Rally Cup – 2WD
Place # Entrant Class Vehicle Total
1 10 Erik Potts Joachim Sandgaard Ford Focus ZX3 1:11:58
2 922 Peter Guagenti Matthew Rhoads BMW M3 1:14:31
3 34 Dmitriy Martynov Daniel Salive Subaru Impreza 1:14:32

Full results here: