In the shadow of Oregon’s majestic snow capped Mount Hood a grouping of North America's fastest and most fearless rally competitors gathered to tackle 3 days and over 300 miles of fast flowing foothills and winding ridges in the surrounding farmlands of the city of Portland.

The reigning series champion David Higgins led the field into the battle closely flanked by le patron of Canadian rallying Antoine L'Estage, and right in their wheel tracks came Chinese driver Tingwu Song.

Known for his time in the China Rally Championship with the prestigious GuiZhou BaiLing Rally Team this is Tingwu’s first season in the Rally America National Championship. He is using L’Estage's old Libra Racing team car prepped by the legendary John Buffum.

Tingwu has based himself in the USA for the season in an effort to focus on his primary goal of attaining success and speed in the Rally America 2012 series. Aided by the know how of the Libra Racing Team, Tingwu recruited Irishman Martin Brady to assist him from the passenger seat of the Mitsubishi EVO 10.

Martin has much mileage in the North American rally scene with many drivers and his accolades include second overall in the Canadian Rally Championship in 2011, the first Irishman to do so. The goal of this pairing for 2012 is similar for the Rally America National Championship and they set personal bests for both Chinese and Irish competitors as they tour the United States on the geographically diverse six round championship.

In Oregon it all started reasonably well on the first day’s stages which were based along the track complex and access roads of the Portland International Raceway.

After 4 stages at the venue Tingwu had overcome intercom failure which left the notes coming from Martin to be less vocalized than normal and an unfamiliarity with tarmac driving on gravel tyres to hold 2nd in the regional portion of the rally, and just missing first place by only 0.4 of a second.

This gave the Song/Brady partnership a solid start to begin day 2 of the event which moved to The Dalles and the mountainous stages of Fir Mountain and Ketchum lowlands.

Yet it was the repeat visit on SS7 to the arduous mountain stage that sadly saw Tingwu and Martin pass their stricken Libra racing teammates L’Estage and codriver Nathalie Richard who were forced to retire with mechanical maladies just after Tingwu connected with a large boulder that broke their suspension and steering damage. Tingwu limped back to service at a reduced pace where the Libra Mechanics did an express renovation to the front corner of the car and sent Tingwu back on the stages in fighting form.

Over the afternoon loop of 3 stages, including a blast over the Starveout Ranch farmland ridge pass, Song and Brady fought to take second place in the regional event 1 minute behind well know mountain bike athlete, Carl Decker, who was proving just as fast on 4 wheel as he is on 2 wheels in the Giant Factory MTB team.

The final leg of the rally took the crews to the ultra fast roads close to the picturesque town of Dufur, OR. Fast blasts over wide crests and jumps and not so gentle declines down from the rolling often cambered hills with breath taking valley and mountain views should you be going slowly enough to take them all in.

Now as idyllic as that sounds it was not the plan for Tingwu Song and Martin Brady, they left the start line of the opening stage of the day very much with the head down and faced into battle, firstly with a very committed Mark Fox in his Subaru, swapping times and only half a second ahead of Fox when he succumbed to misfortune and retired from the event on the 3rd stage of the day.

Decker was still pushing hard and Song could not relax as he had only an 18 second cushion over Decker with two stages to go. The hot temperatures were beginning to strain on the engine and it was a nervous push that took them to the finish. The team worried that the engine could succumb to the stresses of the battle, but they mannaged a 44 second lead to claim Song's first regional win on USA soil and attain the honor of the first Chinese driver to stand on the top step of a Rally America podium.

Beaming at the finish Tingwu commented, "This has been a great rally for our team, we came to compete and gain experience and as the weekend unfolded we became faster and finished the rally as the fourth fastest car in a very prestigious field behind drivers I hugely respect, such as David Higgins."

Martin commented “Tingwu built up his pace and experience all weekend and this shows with winning the regional rally today, but also in how fast we are in overall terms of the entire 3 days of the event. I am proud to have sat with him this weekend and see first hand such an improvement and solid result thanks to him and our team and it gives us a lot to look forward to for the rest of the season.”

Photo: Aaron Kathman