BANCROFT, ONT. (Nov. 26/2000) - Newly-crowned Canadian rally driving champion Tom McGeer capped his best-ever season by taking his fifth win of the year in the Rally of the Tall Pines in Ontario.
McGeer, of Georgetown, Ont., driving a Subaru Impreza WRX, emerged on top of a see-saw battle with Toronto's Keith Townsend, in a Mitsubishi Lancer. After 182 kilometres of competition, he finished 42 seconds ahead. His total time was 2 hours, 3 minutes, 32 seconds for an average speed of 88.24 kph.
"I have been driving in the Tall Pines since 1984 and I've never won here before," said McGeer. "It's a sweet feeling and a great way to end the year."
McGeer had already clinched the Subaru Canadian Rally Championship, presented by Yokohama, four weeks earlier at the Rallye International de Charlevoix in Quebec. He ended the season with back-to-back wins on the last four events.
Although McGeer had won three Canadian championships in the early 1990s, he had earned those titles primarily through consistent finishes. He had a total of just four Canadian rally wins prior to the 2000 season.
"This has been a wonderful year. I couldn't ask for much more," he said. "But Keith [Townsend] gave us a race today. He was driving phenomenally."
Townsend led the early part of the event. But the turning point came on the seventh of the 11 special stages, the competitive portions of the rally held on forest roads temporarily closed to the public. This stage, on Mayo Lake Road east of Bancroft, was the longest of the rally at 29.3 kilometres.
Townsend had been leading by 34 seconds. But McGeer made up 57 seconds on this stage alone - meaning that he almost caught Townsend at the end of the run, as cars set out at one-minute intervals.
"I wasn't aggressive enough," said Townsend. He noted that it was the first time he had been the overall leader of a rally, and therefore the first driver on the road, and he was not sure how hard to push himself and his car.
For Townsend, the second-place finish was still the best result of his career, but he was hardly celebrating afterwards. "To be so close [to winning], I feel a little down right now," he said.
Sylvain Vincent, of La Plaine, Que., finished a distant third in another Subaru Impreza to clinch the overall runner-up spot in the championship, 37 points (115-78) behind McGeer.
Vincent said the alignment of his car was not quite right, likely the legacy of an accident at Charlevoix. "Third was the best I could expect today," he said. "The car wouldn't go any faster."
Tom Lawless, of New York, was fourth in a Mitsubishi Lancer, ahead of another Impreza, driven by Pat Richard, of Vancouver, who was the top finisher in the Production GT class and clinched championship honors in that category.
Production GT - the fastest of three classes for showroom stock cars - was one of three categories where the driving title was still up for grabs. Richard arrived with just a two-point lead over Michigan's Brian Scott.
As it turned out, that title was decided on the very first stage, when Scott rolled his Eagle Talon. He and navigator David Watts were not hurt and damage to the car was light, but they were stuck in the woods and out of the rally.
Richard later had his own problems when he hit a rock and damaged a rear wheel on his car. He continued, but fell to ninth place before finally he was able to make repairs. His comeback for his fifth class win of the year also locked up the co-drivers' title for his navigator, Ian McCurdy, of Whistler, B.C.
Scott Comens, of Kitchener, Ont., clinched the driving crown in Production Sport, even though he finished only fourth in class with suspension problem of his own on his Chrysler Neon. His main rival, B.C.'s Dave Koszegi, was running ahead of him at mid-rally, but then went off the road.
Toronto's Mark Krawczyk - who had already clinched the Production 1750cc title in a Subaru Justy - was another who crashed. In the Group 2 category, for modified two-wheel-drive cars, Karoly Toth, of Mississauga, Ont., snatched the championship crown with a class victory in his GM Optima.
Karl Scheible, of New York, picked up the North American Rally Cup, which combines U.S. and Canadian results. He was so far ahead in points that he had only to start this rally to claim the title. He was fastest on the first stage in his Mitsubishi Lancer, but rolled the car three stages later.
Frank Sprongl, of Mississauga, who has won the Tall Pines in each of the past six years, withdrew from the event at the last minute because he could not get a newly-delivered engine for his Audi Quattro to work properly.
<pre> RESULTS of the RALLY OF THE TALL PINES, Bancroft, Ont., Round 8 of the Subaru Canadian Rally Championship, presented by Yokohama (driver, navigator, hometown, car, time, winner's speed):
1. Tom McGeer, Georgetown, Ont./Mark Williams, Maryland, Subaru Impreza WRX, 2h03m32s (88.24 kph); 2. Keith Townsnend, Toronto/Ian McEwen, Thornton, Ont., Mitsubishi Lancer, 2h04m14s; 3. Sylvain Vincent/Dominique Cyr, La Plaine, Que., Subaru Impreza WRX, 2h13m18s; 4. Tom Lawless/John Drislan, New York, Mitsubishi Lancer, 2h14m12s; 5. Pat Richard, Vancouver/Ian McCurdy, Whistler, B.C., Subaru Impreza RS, 2h19m07s; 6. Jouni Pohjolainen/John Matikainen, Thunder Bay, Ont., Nissan NX2000, 2h19m58s, etc. (17 other finishers).