American drivers Matthew Johnson and Cowboy Kenny Bartram take Team USA to an 8th place finish in the prestigious international Rally of Nations, an outstanding result from an American Team, especially one that Johnson and Bartram put together just two weeks before. The rally, based Léon, Mexico and run in the golden hills of Guanajuato, is known to many as Corona Rally Mexico – part of the World Rally Championship. In a non-WRC year, FIA sanctioned rally organizers assembled national teams in a new format, the Rally of Nations, attracting rally stars from Finland, Spain, Austria, France, Italy, Germany, Costa Rica, Uruguay, Peru and, of course, the United States.
LÉON, MEXICO – With 40 foot shipping containers on each side, Team USA loaded their box truck and cars, working shoulder to shoulder with names well known in World Rally, teams that have made champions, teams like TOP RUN and ASTRA. Americans are scarce in World Rally competition. John Buffum succeeded in the 80’s, winning rallies, and championships alike. Ken Block, now famous for his iconic Gymkhana videos, has competed internationally and action sports superstar, Travis Pastrana, has tried his hand as well.
At Rally of Nations, teams wore the colors of their flag and were treated to the parties, the gorgeous models and the beautiful scenery of international competition. Matthew Johnson and Kenny Bartram brought the red, white, and blue of the United States and raced against some of the best drivers in the world including Harri Rovanperä, Manfred Stohl, Didier Auriol, and Toni Gardemeister. Drivers like Rovenpera and Gardemeister, Johnson said, have been heroes for a long time.
Matthew Johnson received the invitation to represent the United States in Mexico just a month before the event. Cars, teammates, co-drivers all needed to be found, and a team was built in record time. “With a short timeline, my focus was on physical details, getting the right motors and parts into rented rally cars, quite literally the nuts and bolts of everything. Without my co-driver Chrissie Beavis, we would have had a rally team but it still would have been in Colorado… or hung up in Laredo, TX at the border. Chrissie was awesome and spent days on the details needed to get Team USA in and out of Mexico.”
Ultimately, Team USA was seeded 24th and 25th in the competition, slowly and steadily climbing into the top ten by day two of the three-day event. “Kenny and I were intent on maximizing what we could learn about a World Rally event. It was our first time making notes from scratch and it turned out to be very valuable experience. I am super proud that we completed the full mileage in such a challenging event and ecstatic that performance put us in the top ten,” said Matthew.
Matthew Johnson and Chrissie Beavis and Cowboy Kenny Bartram and co-driver/cousin combination, Dennis Hotson, both drove Subaru STI rally cars prepared to Group N spec, sourced just days before the event. “Our team of all-star talent from Rally America gelled quickly - I grabbed most experienced folks from crews around the country, many of whom had never worked together. In the true spirit of rally, everyone worked together for a common goal – it was awesome. Special thanks to Salta Motorsports, Rising Sun Tuning, Sisu Rallysport, Flatirons Tuning, and Diebold Autosport.”
Up next is New England Forest Rally, the 6th round of the premier US championship, Rally America, where Chrissie Beavis will trade seats and be joined by Lucy Block, the wife of Subaru Rally Team driver Ken Block, to compete in the rally. Beavis and Block will alternate driving and co-driving tasks. Meanwhile Matthew Johnson will spend time being interviewed on Speed TV’s show “The Grind” while his rally car is prepared for the ESPN X Games Rally competition beginning in just two weeks.
The Event - The Corona Rally Mexico is held in Guanajuato, Mexico on July 9, 10, 11 and 12 under an innovative format called “Rally of Nations,” where a large number of rallying stars will convene for this unique competition that will take place in the same facilities and along the same route that has hosted the World Rally Championship for five years now.
The rally consists of a three-day competition along a 250-km route that features a super special stage and, for the first time, a street stage. One of the highlights of this rally is its scoring system, whereby points are tallied for each driver individually, as well as by country. At the end of each day, the points are posted on a scoreboard, so the time difference does not matter. The scoreboard sets the opening positions for the following day and so on, until the awards ceremony on Sunday, where extraordinary prize purses are awarded per driver and per country.
The impressive roster of drivers that competed include, for Finland, Harri Rovanperä and Toni Gardemeister; Dani Sola and Xevi Pons representing Spain; for Austria, Manfred Stohl and Andreas Aigner; from France, Didier Auriol and Brice Tirabassi; representing Italy, Mario Isola and Stefano Marrini; and for Germany, Hermann Gassner Jr. and Mark Wallenwein.
Joining Johnson and Bartram was another Team USA entry fielded by American driver Pat Moro and guest co-driver Ole Holter. Moro and Holter were supported by Polish driver Piotr Wiktorczyk and guest co-driver Martin Brady of Ireland. “With four cars running under the red, white, and blue of the American flag, we’ll be able to support each other if we need it. We’re very lucky to have some of our friends from the Rally America championship with us in Mexico.” said Bartram.
All teams drove cars compliant with Group N4 regulations including a WRC control tire made by Pirelli used in an effort to reduce the advantages providing by heavy funding. Of course, cars were far from equal.
Rally Car Racing - Considered the extreme sport of automobile racing, rally is often described simply as “real cars, real roads, real fast.” This all-season motorsport sees drivers and their co-drivers take modified road cars to the limit as they achieve blistering speeds over courses that cover hundreds of miles of gravel, dirt or snow-covered roads.
Rally is the most highly viewed event in the annual ESPN X Games, the premier action sports event on the globe, featuring athletes competing for medals and prize money in sports including BMX Freestyle, Freestyle Motocross, Skateboard, and Rally. Matthew Johnson and Kenny Bartram were among the dozen invited drivers in 2008, and Matthew was granted an early invitation to return in 2009.
The Rally America national championship is a nine event nationwide series running from January to late October.
Matthew Johnson is a top competitor in the Rally America National Championship and at the ESPN X Games. As a winner of multiple Rally America Championships, Matthew has a strong background in rally and at a young age. Matthew also spends time coaching other rally drivers and privately teaching performance car control to owners of exotic cars. When not behind the wheel, Matthew is usually seen behind a laptop working to strengthen his rally program while enroute to Brooklyn, Denver, LA or North Carolina.
Matthew Johnson is the kid that came from rally. He’s pure rally at its roots-working hard to accomplish his dreams. Since Matthew started, he’s worked himself into a couple of National Championships, credibility from his peers, and great group of fans. Other top drivers came to rally with big budgets, toy franchises, movie contracts, and action sports conglomerate buyouts. Household name, Travis Pastrana came from FMX, Ken Block ran DC Shoes, but Matthew Johnson went to college in London and came back addicted to rally.
“Cowboy” Kenny Bartram is quite simply the winningest Freestyle Motocross rider in the world. His record 13 IFMA wins and 26 Main Event wins in one season still stands. He also accumulated seven World Championships and 10 medals from X Games and Gravity Games, including four goals. Since dominating Freestyle, Cowboy Kenny has switched gears, winning two back-to-back two-wheel drive Rally America Championships. Kenny is known for his cowboy hat and cowboy roots, and this year Kenny has returned to Freestyle, while continuing to rally as part of Team USA and assembling his Rally America team for 2010.
Team USA is made possible by: Dragon Racing Fuels (www.dragonracingfuels.com); Flatirons Tuning (www.flatironstuning.com); Salta Motorsports (www.saltamotorsports.com); Rising Sun Tuning (www.risingsuntuning.com); Checkpoint Racing (www.cp-racing.com); Colorado Rally Cup (www.coloradorallycup.org); Diebold Autosport (www.dieboldautosport.com); SISU RallySports (www.sisurallysports.com); Performance Friction (www.performancefriction.com); Joe Gibbs Driven Racing Oil (www.joegibbsdriven.com); Exedy (www.exedyusa.com); Stickerdude Designs (www.stickerdudedesigns.com); Deacon Labs (www.deaconlabs.com)