BANCROFT, Ont. (Nov. 25/2001) - Newly-crowned Canadian rally driving champion Tom McGeer capped a banner year by taking his sixth win in eight events at the season-ending Rally of the Tall Pines in central Ontario on Saturday.
McGeer, driving a Subaru Impreza WRX, finished exactly seven minutes ahead of second-placed Jean-Sebastien Besner, in a Mitsubishi Lancer.
The 41-year-old Georgetown, Ont., driver had already clinched his fifth title in the Subaru Canadian Rally Championship, presented by Yokohama, by winning the previous event at Charlevoix in Quebec. The Tall Pines win also earned him the North American Rally Cup, combining results from both Canada and the U.S.
This year's 31st edition of the Tall Pines, run out of Bancroft, was much faster than usual, because of mild and dry conditions. This rally is typically run in snow and ice.
"It's usually a cat-and-mouse game because of the slippery conditions," said McGeer. "These roads are fun in the dry. They're technical, twisty and tight."
He and his navigator, American Mark Williams, completed 200 kms. of special stages - the competitive portions of the event on forestry gravel roads temporarily closed to the public - in one hour, 58 minutes, seven seconds for an average speed of 101.6 kph.
McGeer described the rally as largely "uneventful" after the disappearance of his main rival, six-time Canadian champion Frank Sprongl. He fell by the wayside midway through the event with motor problems on his Audi Quattro S2.
"It was hammer-and-tongs this morning, but once Frank went out of the rally, we expected to win," said McGeer. "If Frank had finished, I think it would have been close."
Sprongl had a small lead over McGeer at the time his motor went. He had been quickest on four of the first six special stages, while McGeer won two of them and the pair shared fastest time on the other. After Sprongl's retirement, McGeer was quickest on all of the remaining six stages.
For Besner, meanwhile, second place represented his best result in more than five years. The Montreal driver, with father Jacques as his navigator, finished three-and-a-half minutes ahead of John Paynter, in another Subaru Canada-entered Impreza WRX, with brother Clarke as navigator.
The third-place finish elevated Paynter, from Lower Sackville, N.S., to the runner-up spot in the championship, with 64 points, while Besner took third place overall, with 61 points. Paynter also took top Production class honors in both the rally and the championship.
Pat Richard, of Vancouver, who entered the rally in second place overall, had a tough day. He was battling Besner for second when he lost power after part of the turbocharger system cracked on his Impreza WRX. He lost almost 20 minutes and finished just 13th. He fell to fourth in the championship.
Antoine L'Estage finished a career-high fourth in his Eagle Talon, a result which earned the 28-year-old driver from L'Acadie, Que., the novice (or rookie-of-the-year) title.
L'Estage, son of one of Canada's top drivers of the 1970s, had arrived at the Tall Pines trailing fellow Quebec driver Pierre Bazinet by three points in the novice standings, but ended up two points (27-25) ahead.
Bazinet, of Bellefeuille, Que., was seventh in his Impreza RS. Separating L'Estage and Bazinet at the finish were Peter Thomson, of Toronto, in an Impreza WRX and Harry Anderson, of Thunder Bay, Ont., in an Eagle Talon.
James Robinson, from Ohio, was eighth in a Honda Civic and took top honors in the Group 2 division for modified two-wheel-drive cars. The smaller-engined Production classes were won by Charles Hammer, of Montreal, 11th overall in a VW Golf, and Jean-Sebastien Busque, of Toronto, 23rd in a Suzuki Swift.
Besides Sprongl, other notable retirements included Quebec champion Jon Nichols, of Lachine, and Keith Townsend, of Toronto. Both went off the road early on, in part because of mechanical problems - a brake failure on Nichols' Impreza WRX and gearbox difficulties on Townsend's Mitsubishi Lancer.
RESULTS of the RALLY of the TALL PINES
Round 8 of the Subaru Canadian Rally Championship, presented by Yokohama
(driver, navigator, homes, car, time)
1. Tom McGeer, Georgetown, Ont. / Mark Williams, U.S., Subaru Impreza WRX, 1h58m07s; 2. Jean-Sebastien Besner / Jacques Besner, Montreal, Mitsubishi Lancer E5, 2h05m07s; 3. John Paynter / Clarke Paynter, Lower Sackville, N.S., Subaru Impreza WRX, 2h08m36s; 4. Antoine L'Estage, L'Acadie, Que. / Yanick Napert, St-Jean, Que., Eagle Talon, 2h10m53s; 5. Peter Thompson / Brian Maxwell, Toronto, Subaru Impreza WRX, 2h11m50s; 6. Harry Anderson / Mark Anderson, Thunder Bay, Ont., Eagle Talon, 2h13m55s; 7. Pierre Bazinet, Bellefeuille, Que. / Dave Shindle, U.S., Subaru Impreza RS, 2h15m34s; 8. Bruce Perry / Philip Barnes, U.S., Eagle Talon, 2h15m59s; 9. James Robinson / Jim Newton, U.S., Honda Civic, 2h18m34s; 10. Tim Stevens / Carolyn Bosley, U.S., Mitsubishi Galant, 2h19m02s.
DRIVERS' CHAMPIONSHIP (final standings): 1. McGeer, 120 points; 2. Paynter, 64; 3. Besner, 61; 4. Pat Richard, Vancouver, 53; 5. Frank Sprongl, Mississauga, Ont., 50; 6. Jon Nichols, Lachine, Que., 49; 7. Sylvain Erickson, Gatineau, Que., 37; 8. L'Estage, 26; 9. Bazinet, 18; 10. Dave Koszegi, Port Alberni, B.C., 16.