Round 7 of 2001 championship

LA MALBAIE, Que. (Nov. 3/2001) - Newly-crowned Canadian rally driving champion Tom McGeer consolidated his lead on the Rallye International de Charlevoix in Quebec on Saturday, the second of three days of competition.

Partnered by navigator Mark Williams, McGeer was fastest on four of the day's five special stages - the competitive, high-speed portions of the rally, held on gravel roads temporarily closed to the public - and extended his lead over fellow Subaru Impreza WRX driver Jon Nichols to two minutes, 55 seconds.

McGeer and Williams are chasing their fifth win of the season in the seventh round of the Subaru Canadian Rally Championship, presented by Yokohama. McGeer had clinched the championship on Friday when Pat Richard, his only rival for the title, hit a rock and broke the steering and suspension of his Impreza.

"I had dinner and went to bed early," said McGeer when asked how he celebrated his fifth national driving crown. "We've still got work to do. I don't want to do anything stupid and throw away the rally. We'll celebrate on Sunday."

McGeer, 41, from Georgetown, Ont., has completed the first 11 special stages, a total distance of 227.6 kms., in two hours, 18 minutes, 36 seconds, for an average speed of 98.53 km/h. The final six stages take place on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Quebec champion Nichols, from Lachine, and navigator Eric Tremblay, looked secure in second place, more than five minutes ahead of the Mitsubishi Lancer of Jean-Sebastien Besner, of Montreal, partnered by his father Jacques.

Another Lancer, driven by Belgian visitor Dominique Julien, held fourth place, while 11-time U.S. champion John Buffum was up to fifth by the end of Saturday following a strong comeback drive.

Buffum fell to last place on the opening stage on Friday when the radiator hose split on his Hyundai Tiberon, costing him more than 14 minutes. He was fastest on the only special stage on Saturday that McGeer did not win.

The Rallye International de Charlevoix, which is Canada's official candidate for world championship status, is the longest and most grueling performance car rally in Canada. Attrition has been high. Three of the top six competitors from Friday fell by the wayside on Saturday.

Irish-American driver Tom Lawless, who had been running third on Friday, had an electrical fire on his Lancer; fifth-placed Andrew Havas, also of the U.S., rolled his Mazda RX-7 into a ditch; while sixth-placed Sylvain Erickson, of Gatineau, Que., suffered a broken crankshaft on his Lancer.