This has been a super cool trip so far, because not only did I get to take a half-day rally school at Team O’Neil, but I got to do that as a prequel to riding in a rally-prepped Toyota Rav4 with Ryan Millen, and then hanging out at the stage start for the first day of the New England Forest Rally in Newry, Maine. It’s been information and fun overload, so I’m not going to try and lay it all out in one post. Instead I’m going to give you some first day highlights, and then maybe you can put your own questions or suggestions in the comments for what you’d like to know more about.
The O’Neil Rally school was a Toyota program intended to showcase its little Rav4 CUV. Now, the Rav4 is not a vehicle I thought much about before this. In fact, that whole segment of automobilia isn’t normally on my radar, but the sponsored car Toyota runs in AMA (American Rally Association) racing is a lightly modified version of its production machine, and the Toyota Racing folks thought it might be fun for us to experience off-roading in one. There were three versions: Fully stock, SE, which is slightly stiffened but still production, and an experimental version with even stiffer suspension. They had skid plates and 16-inch wheels wrapped in BFG KO2 rubber. I can’t deny this, they were a lot of fun, and handled our schooling shenanigans quite well.
After the school–which was hilarious and informative and you should treat yourself to an adventure there–we met up with Ryan Millen and co-driver Rhianon Gelsomino for ridealongs in the actual racecar. Ryan is part of the Millen racing dynasty. His father is Rod, his brother Rhys, and his uncle is Steve Millen of Stillen performance parts. The dude can drive, it’s like, in his genes. He’s also delightful, always laughing and making good jokes and clearly enjoying what he does for a living. It’s contagious, and I laughed non-stop during the ride and so he probably thinks I’m an idiot. He wouldn’t be wrong. For years Ryan raced with his wife as co-driver, but as she’s currently pregnant with a daughter due this fall, he’s run the 2017 season with Rhianon, who is also delightful, and full of good racing information. They make a good team, taking it seriously enough to win, but not so much that it doesn’t still look like they’re having a blast. After the rides, the race car wouldn’t start, probably because they let someone from Roadkill near it. Later they found out a rock had damaged wiring and fried the ECU. Benefit to running mostly stock? They were able to steal the control modules out of one of our press cars and get back up and running. Nobody got much sleep, but they looked stoked to be at the start line in the morning.
Before the race we wandered the pits and Parc expose–which is sort of a fancy way of saying, “paddock at the beginning of the race,” and we met some cool folks racing in the other classes including Greg Healey in a 1978 Datsun 280Z and Mike Pettengill and his crew who were running a 1982 Volvo 242 for the first time. Mike had upgraded the B21 4-cylinder with reworked dual Weber carbs, lightweight pistons and a custom ground cam from “some Swedish guy named Topi.” Sounds legit. “Who do you want to beat?” I asked them. Mike looked around at all the late-model Subarus and laughed. “The road,” he said. “I’ll be happy if we make it to the end.”
We’ll find out tomorrow on Day 2. In the meantime, scroll through the gallery, and let me know in the comments if you want me to track anybody down for more info about their car, or rally in general.