The final event of the 2009 Canadian Rally Championship took place in Bancroft, Ontario this past weekend. It was a doozie.
The Rally of the Tall Pines is a Canadian masterpiece, a rally that is feared and respected at the same time. If it snows (which it often does), the roads get icy, but rarely is there enough snow to use the snow banks to your advantage. Many crash. If the roads are dry (which they often are), they are super technical and very fast. Many crash.
This year it was dry, and many crashed. The big story coming into the rally were the battle for the overall championship title, between Patrick Richard and Alan Ockwell in their Subaru Impreza STI and Antoine L’Estage and Nathalie Richard in their Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X. To make things more interesting, Subaru brought in their ringer, local hero and Canadian Legend Frank Sprongl to drive a second team entry to help secure the manufacturer’s title.
The weather this year was ideal for a close battle, with temperatures and road conditions staying fairly consistent throughout the event. The battle waged all day between Pat and Antoine, with Sprongl and series regular Andrew Comrie-Picard battling for third and fourth position.
As Pat’s Subaru developed transmission problems towards the half way point, things were looking grim for the championship, especially when it locked up solid at one point. Luckily, soon after the car released the gear lever from its death grip and the car was able to continue. The team swapped the tranny out at the last service, though long faces told the story. They had lost too much time and therefore the title to L’Estage and his fast, consistent driving.
Or so they thought. In a dramatic and truly heartbreaking turn of events, the clutch on L’Estage’s Evo started giving trouble on the last group of stages. At the starting line of the very last stage, the car was unable to climb the grade of the road. All they could do is try and get the car moving, while watching their comfortable lead disappear. They stormed through the last stage when they finally got going (having a racing gearbox means they only needed the clutch to get moving from a standstill), but it was lost. They ended the rally in fifth place, and handed a surprised Richard the championship. Sprongl held on to his end of the bargain, finishing in third place and guaranteeing the manufacturers title for Subaru.
Other notable results were Michael Hordijk, who drove his VW Golf TDI to top 2wd honours, Chris Martin, who secured the Ontario Performance Rally Championship and Andrew Comrie Picard winning the North American Rally Cup.
A classic rally ending in a classic battle. Congratulations to Pat and of course my brother Alan on their second consecutive Canadian Championship victory. Look forward to next year, where the battle will recommence at the Rallye Perce Neige on February 5-7.