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2 Subaru Rally drivers die in crash

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11:18 July 14, 2003)

Subaru's Lovell, Freeman killed in Oregon Trail ProRally crash

By JOHN D. STOLL

The Oregon Trail SCCA ProRally was supposed to be the event where Subaru's USA Rally team would get back in the hunt for the 2003 championship. Instead, hopes of triumph turned tragic just moments into the race.

Team star Mark Lovell and co-driver Roger Freeman ran their WRX off the prescribed course only a quarter-mile into the rally's first stage, Saturday, July 12. The duo was the first team to tackle the Hillsboro, Oregon, course. Both drivers were killed instantly, according to emergency medical personnel. Lovell and Freeman are survived by their wives Julia and Alison. Each driver also leaves behind two children.

Lovell, 43, and Freeman, 52, have been sharing the cockpit on rally courses across the world for 20 years, according to a SCCA press release issued after the accident. This was their third SCCA ProRally together this year having taken first in the open class at Pikes Peak earlier this season. The pair didn't finish Pennsylvania's Susquehannock Trail ProRally due to mechanical difficulites. Lovell's alternate co-drivers, Nicky Beech and Steve Turvey, ran the other two SCCA ProRally events-SnoDrift in Michigan and Rim of the World in Los Angeles- in Freeman's stead. Turvey was top co-driver in 2002, mostly due to his work as Lovell's co-pilot.

Lovell joined the American rally league in 2001 as a Subaru factory driver and won the driver's championship that year. In 2002, he took second overall, finishing behind current 2003 points leader David Higgins. Going into Oregon Trail, he was in sixth place overall with 19 points.

This season has been disappointing for Subaru and the death of its foremost driver only serves to further frustrate team officials and company personnel. "It's very sad, we're all in a bit of shock," said a company spokesman. Prodrive Chief David Richard reiterated the feeling in a press release issued by Subaru's motorsports affiliate.

We met Lovell in 2001 when he showed up on the U.S. rally scene. At this season's Rim of the World event, Lovell was piloting the 2004 WRX in its inaugural race. We were given a ride before the car saw competition and Lovell patiently talked us through his observations of the vehicle and the intricacies of his style.

The 2003 ProRally campaign began on a disappointing note for Subaru as Lovell and teammate Ramana Lagemann both stalled out of the season's inaugural SnoDrift in January without finishing. Then, Lovell took second, Lagemann sixth in Los Angeles at an abbreviated Rim of the World rally plagued by unseasonable downpours in May. Nevertheless, success was short-lived as Lovell and Lagemann both retired from Susquehannock in early June without finishing.

At that point, Subaru's championship hopes were in serious doubt, even with six events remaining. Mitsubishi's new factory team, headed by David Higgins, was running away with the championship, and Subaru's guarantee at the end of the disappointing 2002 campaign to take first place seemed to be an empty promise. Air Force-reservist and Ford Focus pilot Tim O'Neil, a longtime U.S. rally driver, was also posing an unpredictable, but serious threat to beat Subaru drivers out for second place.

Subaru turned it around in Colorado June 26 and 27, where Lovell repeated as open class winner for the second year in a row at the Pikes Peak Hill Climb and Lagemann followed in a close second, despite having to overcome serious mechanical problems. Oregon Trail was the next-scheduled event in Subaru's run at recovering precious ground.

After word of Lovell's death reached SCCA ProRally officials, action was halted as teams and orgnizers met about what to do in response. David Campion, Subaru's team manager, gave the okay to rally organizers to finish an abbreviated Saturday schedule and then race all day Sunday. Lagemann and co-driver Michael Orr did not, however, keep racing. David Higgins won the rally in his Mitsubishi, Tim O'Neil finished second in his Focus with Lauchlin O'Sullivan (Mitsubishi) third. "There were no winners this weekend," Higgins said, reflecting on the accident. "Those guys were true ambassadors for the rally sport over here in America."

As for the SCCA's rallying efforts in 2003, the ProRally incident adds to a rally season that has been marred by a previous ClubRally incident in which two spectators were killed at the Sawmill ClubRally in Pennsylvania May 11. The event prompted a suspension in standalone ClubRally and RallySprint event operations.

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