Subaru Canadian Rally Championship
Presented By Yokohama
Round 8 Of 2001 Championship
Champion McGeer Faces Renewed Challenge From Sprong
BANCROFT, Ont. (Nov. 21/2001) - Canada's final performance car rally of 2001, the Tall Pines in Ontario on Saturday (Nov. 24), promises to be a showdown between newly-crowned national champion Tom McGeer and long-time rival Frank Sprongl, making his last appearance in his record-breaking Audi Quattro S2.
McGeer, 41, of Georgetown, Ont., clinched this year's Subaru Canadian Rally Championship, presented by Yokohama, earlier this month when he won the Rallye International de Charlevoix in Quebec. It was his fifth win in seven starts in 2001 in his Subaru Impreza WRX and gave him his fifth national driving title.
Sprongl, 34, of Mississauga, Ont., is a six-time Canadian champion, but has made few appearances the past two years due to engine problems on his ageing Audi. Those difficulties appear to be over - he won last time out at the Rally of the Voyageurs - but he still plans to retire the car after the Tall Pines.
Although Sprongl won the Voyageurs in September, it was a close-fought contest with McGeer until the latter suffered mechanical woes in the final stages. The new champion is looking forward to the resumption of their duel in Saturday's rally, which runs out of Bancroft, Ont.
"I think it will be a heck of an event and a good fight with Frank. We'll pick up where we left off at Voyageurs," said McGeer, who won last year's Tall Pines (while Sprongl was absent). He will have Mark Williams as his navigator.
The event will be bittersweet for Sprongl and his navigator, younger brother Dan, knowing that at the end of it, they will be parking their Audi for the last time. The car has won a record 30 Canadian rallies since its 1993 debut.
"I can't think of a more fitting final event than the Tall Pines," said Frank Sprongl, who has won this rally a record seven times, including six in a row from 1994 to 1999. This will be the car's third Canadian appearance of 2001.
"We'd planned to make last year's Pines, but the motor was still in Europe [being rebuilt] and we never got to make the farewell tour. So we're [making] a few final appearances this season. The Audi still has what it takes to mix it up with the new cars when the going gets tough. And Pines is always tough."
Indeed, many regard the Tall Pines as the trickiest rally in Canada. There is usually enough snow and ice to make the roads slick, but not yet any snowbanks to absorb the impact if a car spins out. "Winter roads, summer ditches," is a common description of the event, although rain is forecast this weekend.
Forty-six cars are entered for this 31st edition of the Tall Pines, which will start from the Bancroft Seniors' Club at 9.30 a.m. on Saturday.
The first of 12 special stages - the competitive portions of the event held on roads temporarily closed to the public - will take place at Tait Farm, just outside of town, before competitors head east to gravel forestry roads.
The teams will cover a total distance of 427 kms. during the day - including 200 kms. of special stages - before returning to Bancroft at about 10 p.m.
While McGeer has clinched the Canadian championship, with 100 points from five wins, there are still still several close contests to be resolved, including the battle for the overall runner-up spot.
Just seven points separate five drivers - Pat Richard, of Vancouver (53), John Paynter, of Lower Sackville, N.S. (42), Sprongl (50), Jon Nichols, of Lachine, Que. (49) and Jean-Sebastien Besner, of Montreal (46). Richard, Paynter and Nichols all drive Subaru Impreza WRXs; Besner drives a Mitsubishi Lancer.
Meanwhile, just three points separate the two Quebecers battling for the "novice" (or rookie-of-the-year) title: Impreza pilot Pierre Bazinet, of Bellefeuille (21) and Eagle Talon driver Antoine L'Estage, of L'Acadie (18).
Finally, the North American Rally Cup - which combines results from both Canada and the U.S. - is still up for grabs. McGeer currently leads the NARC standings, but Subaru Canada team-mate Richard - who has had better results in the U.S. - would snatch the title away if he should win this weekend.