NEFR ’21 Debrief with Mike White

It’s been over a week since the 2021 New England Forest Rally had officially ended. The event attracted a massive crowd of spectators, who were eager to see some action following the last year’s hiatus. had the privilege of sponsoring Mike White and Geoff Clark from team RallyHo! Motorsports, who competed in the Light 2WD Class with their SAAB 900. Following the rally, Mike was kind enough to give us a rundown of the entire event and share some of his impressions.

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Photo courtesy David Cosseboom

Preparing for the NEFR ’21 Event

Team RallyHo! Motorsports had arrived at the New England Forest Rally staging area a few days prior to the race. They had every part of the upcoming two-day event planned out. Fuel allocation was carefully calculated for both the stage miles and transit miles, service points were planned out — everything was ready.

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Photo courtesy of Chuck DeBlois

The team was confident that their SAAB 900 was squared away, especially following a successful test run at a smaller rallycross event several weeks prior. Even so, Mike and his engineers had decided to leave nothing to chance

On the day of the race, the team performed a final inspection of the car, uncovering two mechanical issues.

“We’d been experiencing some poor starting behavior and sluggish performance and discovered a failed fuel pressure regulator that was running at full steam,” said White. “The fuel regulator wasn’t regulating anything, which led to the car running too rich. Fortunately, RallyHo! Motorsports’ service crew was able to solve these issues on time.

With their SAAB now dialed in, the team was ready to hit the first stage and put the car, as well as the crew, through their paces.

“Knowing that we have found yet one more issue that we were able to fix (and make the car run better), raised our confidence level even more,” noted White. “As a team, we were on point.”

The Authentic Finnish Rally Experience

New England Forest Rally, or NEFR ’21 consists of 14 stages in total. Some stages feature mostly flat-out straights and wide open bends, while others are packed with alternating, and tight, left and right corners.

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White (left) and Clark (right) next to their SAAB 900
Photo courtesy of Brett Rudolf

However, this particular rally is known for having the most “air time” of all national rallies. Concord Pond, one of the most popular stages overall, features some of the highest jumps you’ll find in North America. Dealing with high crests and long jumps is a matter of preparation.

“We recce each stage the day before,” notes White. “We mark the crests where we know we’re going to jump. Then I try to find something that I can use as a reference point to line the car up with.”

White explains that some of the crests, especially on Concord Pond, are simply too high to navigate blindly. Instead, the team had to line up the car with a known reference point. Having the vehicle pointed in the right direction ensures a solid landing and minimal correction once the car touches down.

All the prep work and reconnaissance paid off when White and his co-driver Clark hit the longest jump on Concord Pond.

“It was a smooth take-off and not a terrible landing”, remembers White. “Our newly valved shocks worked great and still we compressed 100% into the bump stops. The spectators along the side said that we went about 65 feet off the jump…and then another 35 feet off the bounce!”

The car handled the stage perfectly. Stage 2 was a repeat of Concord Pond and the crew of RallyHo! Motorsports finished the stage first in their class with a time of 4;54.

The configuration of the terrain and the surrounding forests make this particular rally reminiscent of Finnish rally stages, which is why fans describe NEFR as an authentic Finnish rally experience.

Curveballs Along the Way

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Finishing the stage with ratchet-strapped hood
Photo courtesy of David Cosseboom

Rally is one of those sports where known factors are just a part of a much larger equation. It’s the unforeseen circumstances that often decide the outcome of a stage or an entire rally. Team RallyHo! Motorsports experienced this unwritten rule of rallying first hand during the two-day event.

After a strong start that secured them a leading position in their class, White and Clark had experienced a loss of power steering halfway through Stage 6 of the event.

“We had to do 3 and a half stages without power steering, and then come back to service where they managed to fix the issue,” said White. Despite this issue, the team still finished strong, maintaining their overall position.

However, it was during Stage 8 that Mike and his co-driver were faced with an issue that would effectively put them out of the contention for that first spot in their class.

“On Stage 8, the hood pin loosened, and the hood attempted to come off”, he remembers. “We had to stop on the stage where we lost approximately 6 minutes ratchet-strapping the hood back to the car”

The team quickly recovered and would go on to chase the first two places in the rest of the stages.

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Winning the big check
Photo courtesy of
Brett Rudolf

When the event was over, the RallyHo! Motorsports team had managed to place 5th in Light 2WD class, and 34th overall in the entire event. The hood latch incident was an unfortunate setback, but one that emphasizes the unpredictable nature of this sport.

That being said, the car had performed as expected. The crew, both the driver and co-driver as well as the service team showed great resilience in dealing with issues as they appeared. At the end of the day, the team had achieved most of their goals for this event.

Perfect Weather and Great Organization

This year’s New England Forest Rally was a highly anticipated event, both as a part of the ARA national championship and as a regional rally. As a result, a large number of teams have joined the race across all classes. However, the stages of NEFR ‘21 were also packed with a large number of spectators.

“We had a lot of spectators there,” White noted. “There were a lot of people in the woods, and that’s good for the health of the sport.”

According to White, NEFR ‘21 organizers did a great job with handling the higher than usual traffic. Most importantly, the event was free of any serious injuries, despite a high level of attrition.

What’s Next?

As you’re reading this, Mike and the team are back home where their SAAB 900 is undergoing maintenance.

The team will do a full re-prep of the car and may make a few long-needed updates like replacing the exhaust system. Other than that, the vehicle is pretty much dialed in according to White, who is looking forward to preparing his SAAB for the next regional event.

We’d like to thank White and RallyHo! Motorsports team for taking the time to talk to us, and give us a unique insight into the New England Forest Rally from behind the steering wheel.

Posted in Editorials

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