How the Mustang-engined Mk2 Escort did it again

Seamus Burke has wrapped up yet another 2WD title in the ARA this season


Seamus Burke has officially made it three in a row in the American Rally Association presented by DirtFish 2WD National championship after claiming this year’s title on the Susquehannock Trail Performance Rally last weekend.

Burke is definitely a long-time favorite in the US, having competed for years in AWD cars before going back to the much-beloved Mk2 Escort platform.

Burke’s Escort is perfectly Americanized for the championship as well, taking advantage of an amazing sounding V6 from a Mustang, as well as a sequential transmission, making it one of (if not the) most advanced two-wheel-drive stage rally car in the country.

Though Burke’s is the first title to be official in this year’s National championship, it was no run-away feat for the well vetted Irishman.


Despite winning the past two years, a delayed start to the championship, as well as co-driver Martin Brady stepping into Kyle Tilley’s R5 earlier this year meant the cards were already starting to stack against Burke, not to mention the competition he’d have to face this year.

Micah Nickelson got a leg up on the championship after a win at Sno*Drift, and second place at 100 Acre Wood Rally, a very promising season start for the underdog competitor.

This season would also have threats from long-time rival Michael Hooper, Cam Steely, Brad Morris, and Lia Block. All of whom might not have been as favored for a championship at the start of the season, but were perfectly capable of a title fight if the cards fell properly.

Burke’s first two rounds also happened to be the West Coast swing of the championship, Olympus Rally, and Oregon Trail Rally.

Georgia-based Burke is no stranger to these roads, but that two-wheel-drive territory is largely ruled by Derik Nelson’s turbo BRZ, and Dave Clark’s M3. While neither were expected to run for a full championship, already starting on the back foot, Burke would need all the points he could get, and these two were perfectly capable of stealing them from him.

While not gold medals, Burke did come away with two podiums, and jumped up to fifth in points after having missed half the season to that point.

“I must say,” co-driver Martin Brady told DirtFish after their win at STPR, “thanks to the other two guys that sat with Seamus this year. We had Gary McElhinney and John McCay. Gary did Washington and John did Oregon.

“So if we’re champions,” Brady added in Michael Scott form, “I suppose we better call [McElhinney and McCay] assistants-to-the-champions.”


And while Brady could be considered an ‘assistant-to-the-champion’ as well, as the driver and co-driver’s championships are separate, it’s hard to say he isn’t just as much a part of the winning team as always, despite not having the trophy in hand to confirm it.

After a few rounds with Tilley, Brady stepped right back in with Seamus for Southern Ohio Forest Rally, and it was almost as if he’d never been gone at all.

As Burke put it when we asked him to talk us through his season following his championship win, “Martin’s your man.”

“I jumped back in with Seamus after [Oregon],” Brady explained. “This season, it’s all been a bit of a blur, but Seamus is very good at managing the championship knowing how long it takes to win it and what it takes to win it. Sometimes you need luck, sometimes you need speed, we had portions of both.

“We had our first accident ever this year, which was an experience, but as Seamus often says, and right after we did have the incident, ‘it’s not if, it’s when,’ so that was our when.

“But as I say, Seamus is really, really good at knowing how to manage problems, and we just, we drive with them or drive around them, and that’s what we did.

“It looked very much like today was going to be our day for finishing second. We had problems, but [Micah] had pace even with our problems, and he had an insurmountable lead when he retired, and we feel sorry for him because we’ve been that soldier on occasion where it just doesn’t work out for you, and you’re stood on the side of the road with something that’s just unfortunate.

“Sympathy to him for losing his result today, and we were there to pick up the pieces and it played into our favor championship wise, but it’s been a good year.

This championship in two-wheel-drive will continue strong, and there's plenty coming behind us Martin Brady

“Michael Hooper was never far away from us either. Lia Block deserves a special mention, she showed some good speed for her tender years this year particularly, and I think it was Ojibwe, she put in some very good time.

“This championship in two-wheel-drive will continue strong, and there’s plenty coming behind us. If we’re not there to take it there’ll be somebody right behind us.”

DirtFish lead instructor Nate Tennis has gone head-to-head with Burke multiple times on stage in the 2WD class, also opting for the ever-fun rear-wheel-drive cars as his favorite, and on a recent episode of SPIN, The Rally Pod, he talked a bit about Burke and what he’s been like to compete against over the years.

“Seamus is always entertaining,” he said. “It’s always fun to chat with him because he will chat at length, which is also entertaining.

“But he is no doubt a wheel man, and his car, yeah OK, that was originally a $500 junk-yard V6, but it is not anymore.

“He’s a fast driver, has a super cool car, so much development into it. It’s really fun just to look at the car and then to see what he can do behind the wheel.

“I mean, he’s absolutely the benchmark that everyone shoots for in two-wheel-drive.”

And while Burke has decades of stories to tell from his years of rallying, when it comes to his accolades he doesn’t care to brag too much, or stay for too long in the spotlight, which is why you don’t hear too much from him directly in the media for the most part.

That said, Burke did confirm to DirtFish that, as always, he hopes to be back out on stages next year, once again battling for the 2WD championship.

Words:Mason Runkel