ESPR preview featured on!

June 6th, 2014 by

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 3rd, 2014 by

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:

Empire State Performance Rally 2014 preview

May 1st, 2014 by

Last Year’s Empire State Performance Rally winner Roumiantsev/Fabianphoto – Photo credit: “Liviu Hrituleac |

The second round of the Atlantic Rally Championship will kick off this weekend at NASA RallySport’s Empire State Performance Rally. As the US of A’s only tarmac rally, the street roads of Rock Hill and Monticello New York will set the stage for every rally driver’s worst nightmare – tarmac stages. (Full disclosure – I am the driver for Black Box rally team, so I have a slight bias).

Why every rally driver’s worst nightmare you ask? Unlike Europe, tarmac rallies are a bit of a rare gem here in the U.S. Every driver will have lots of experience on gravel and loose surfaces, and those talents tend to translate from one gravel event to the next. Tarmac experience leading up to the rally? Other than my 100 mile commute to work on the highway, the only real “training” I’ve had would be hotlaps in Forza or Gran Turismo. Hill climbers like Jude DeMeis/Pascal Belperron probably have a bit of an advantage here against traditional stage rally guys.

Thomas Lawless/Brendan McCabe landing a jump poorly – Photo credit: April Buck of Black Box rally team

With average speeds over 80mph, this has been the fastest rally in America. It will be the norm this weekend for these rally cars to see triple digit speeds, and only the constant threat of rain promises to throw a kink in things (as it has for every year since 2012). With such fast speeds, the slightest off will mean Game Over. Last year, over 1/3 of the entries Did Not Finish.

Pictured here is Bill Caswell and Wyatt Knox after striking a guard rail during EPSR 2013.

On paper, Cyril Kearney, this year with co-pilot Nathalie Richard (9x North American Rally Champion), should take the overall podium assuming Cyril can keep it on the road (Cyril has gone off quite catastrophically the past 2 years). As far as consistency goes, Mike Reilly and Josh Benthien outright dominated the rally last year in their Open 2WD Ford Focus until the last 2 stages, where a mechanical issue allowed Greg Roumianstev to pass them on the second to last stage. If they can fix whatever robbed them of their victory last year, I really like them for the overall win.

Threatening the 2WD podium is Erika Detota/Mary Warren. With reportedly 60 more hp in their new engine, the only question I have for Erika is, “Will the transmission hold up”? (

Erika taking flight – Photo Credit: Jake Peters Photography

New to watch for this year, the teams of Gary Donoghue/Kieran Mc Elhinney and Donal Crooke/Noel Joyce have made the move from 2WD to AWD in their new Mitsubishi Evo 8 and Subaru rSTI, respectively. Those two battled intensely at last year’s ESPR, at one point, only separated by seconds – I’m sure they’ll take the same battle to AWD this year. Finally the BRAKIM racing team Matt Brandenburg will be joining us in their totally built-up 280whp S52 BMW M3. Aside from some exploding clutch bits from a pre shake-down run leading up to the rally, they should be giving the 2WD class some serious contention.

Brakim Racing’s built e36 M3

As far as the classes are concerned, Tarmac is a great equalizer between AWD and 2WD classes. The 2WD cars will have the weight advantage, while AWD will only be advantageous in the wet. On tarmac, the power advantage of high hp cars will be hard to level compared to gravel rallies where the amount of grip is the main factor. Speaking of big engines and high power, keep an eye out for the flying truck piloted by Gary DeMasi and Stephen Kurey. Few things make me more afraid than a 2 ton truck catching big air over jumps.

If you’re able to make the event, check out the schedule at for the Rally’s comings and goings. Oh and as for Alvin Fong and Billy Machin, though we did place 6th overall last year in our stock-class car, this year’s entry list is larger than ever (41 entrants from 33), so our fully-overhauled now-Super-Production-class car will still have quite the challenge in finishing within our goal of the top 25%. Look for the Black Box Rally Evo at the event or follow us at facepage, or eventual-gram. And don’t be afraid to stop by and say hi at the Rock Hill Fire Department service park!

Black Box rally team on their way to finishing 6th overall, the highest placed stock car at ESPR 2013 – Photo credit: April Buck of Black Box rally team

Finally, I leave you with a preview of ESPR 2014!

Video credit: Balazs Toth of Rally Minutes

Black Box rally team – Highest-placed stock vehicle at ESPR 2013!

May 13th, 2013 by

Black Box rally team completed the inaugural Empire State Performance Rally(ESPR) in Rock Hill, NY as the “best-placed stock vehicle”, finishing 6th overall. The rally covered over 230 miles of roads through the city of Rock Hill, NY, about 80 minutes from New York City.

ESPR is the only national tarmac rally in the United States, a rarity since almost all other US rallies take place on gravel. The event was fast, with rally drivers getting up to triple digit speeds frequently, and averaging over 80mph throughout the event.

Thanks to all the rally organizers and volunteers for making this event possible!


2013 ESPR highlights teaser

April 25th, 2013 by

Billy put together a teaser for our 2013 ESPR highlights, Enjoy!


2013 Empire State Performance Rally Recce/Day1

April 21st, 2013 by

Pictures and video from our first rally of the 2013 season; Empire State Performance Rally (

Recce/Tech/Parc Expose:

Day 1:

Check out for the latest!