|FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE|
August 31, 1999
|Contact: Noel Lawler Motorsports|
Manchester Village, VT -- Noel Lawler and Charlie Bradley, natives of Ireland living in the U.S., widened their points lead in the Michelin/SCCA U.S. ProRally Championship with a dramatic victory in the Ojibwe Forests ProRally in Minnesota that came down to the final race stage. Competing in a Hyundai Tiburon, they are the first team all season to win two rallies in seven rounds of the championship.
With just two events left in the series, Lawler and Bradley now enjoy a comfortable lead over Hyundai teammates, Paul Choiniere and Jeff Becker, who have won the U.S. championship seven times. They could easily clinch the driver and co-driver championships at the next rally October 1-2 in Arizona.
Lawler and Bradley started first off the line in the two-day event held on the gravel logging roads of northern Minnesota known for their jumps, and never gave up the overall lead during the entire rally. However, reigning Canadian champions Frank and Dan Sprongl put the pressure on in their Audi Dealer/Team Castrol Audi Quattro S2 - the two teams finished only seconds apart on every stage.
A scary "moment" on stage nine nearly ended the team's day when they took a jump in fifth gear at 80 to 90 mph. According to Bradley, "the back end of the car got up high in the air and we were looking straight down at the dirt in a nosedive. It seemed like we were up in the air forever. I thought the car would flip end-over-end, but it just came down hard. Then it seemed like forever as we waited for something to break. I couldn't believe we got away with it. It wasn't scary, but it sure got our attention."
Lawler admitted it was a tough battle against the Sprongls. "It required full concentration, and we were soaked in sweat. A momentary lapse of focus would have cost us the winning stage time and perhaps the rally."
The last stage provided high drama -- Lawler was just a minute ahead of Sprongl with 21 miles of rugged jumps and corner sequences ahead. Just 100 yards off the starting line, a rear halfshaft on the car broke, forcing it into front-wheel drive. "The banging of the part sounded like a jackhammer in the car," said Lawler. "The more I accelerated, the worse it got." Knowing he could not beat Sprongl in speed, he switched to a defensive strategy and slid the car sideways through every patch of loose dirt he could find to kick up dust and cut Sprongl's visibility. The strategy worked because Sprongl could not make up enough time on the final stage to win the event.
When the final results were tallied, Lawler won 10 of the 14 rally stages, Sprongl won three stages, and they tied one stage. Paul Choiniere and John Buffum took third place in a Hyundai Tiburon.
"This was my most satisfying win," said Lawler, "because we beat the other teams on the road. None of the top cars had any mechanical problems to use as an excuse." He added for the record that the part that broke in the Tiburon's custom all-wheel-drive setup was not a Hyundai part.
In addition to Hyundai Motor America, the team's 1999 corporate sponsors include Cargotec, a heavy equipment manufacturer; Pirelli Tire North America; Snap-on Tools; Hansen's Beverage, makers of Energy Drink; and Hella International.
Lawler and Bradley's success this season includes a win in Washington, a second place finish in Pennsylvania, a third place finish in Maine and a fourth in California. Last season, the team finished second overall in the U.S. championship, helping to secure the Manufacturer's Cup for Hyundai in an Elantra. They also competed in Ireland and Jamaica.
The pair, who have competed together over the past nine years in the U.S. and internationally, recently earned their FIA seeding. Lawler is a native of County Mayo, Ireland now residing in Manchester, Vermont and Bradley is a native of County Donegal, Ireland now residing in Ardmore, Pennsylvania.