Rallye International de Charlevoix preview

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Round 7 of 2000 championship WORLD WATCHES CANADA AS CHARLEVOIX AUDITIONS FOR GLOBAL STATUS LA MALBAIE, QUE. (Oct. 25/2000) - Canada's most important car rally in decades takes place this coming weekend in the Charlevoix region to the east of...

Round 7 of 2000 championship
WORLD WATCHES CANADA AS CHARLEVOIX AUDITIONS FOR GLOBAL STATUS

LA MALBAIE, QUE. (Oct. 25/2000) - Canada's most important car rally in decades takes place this coming weekend in the Charlevoix region to the east of Quebec City.

The three-day Rallye International de Charlevoix, starting Friday, is expected to attract about 65 cars, between 30,000 and 40,000 spectators - and some very special overseas visitors.

Representatives of the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile, motorsport's global governing body, will be on hand to observe the rally, which will be run to FIA world championship standards. If all goes well, they could recommend that this event be added to the World Rally Championship as early as 2002.

Canada hosted world championship rallies five times in the 1960s and 1970s, but the last such event was the Criterium du Quebec in 1979. Indeed, the World Rally Championship has not visited North America since a U.S. event in 1988.

The Rallye International de Charlevoix could also determine the outcome of the 2000 Subaru Canadian Rally Championship, presented by Yokohama.

Tom McGeer, of Georgetown, Ont., has his fourth national driving title almost within his grasp, having won three of the six Canadian rallies so far this year. To secure the crown, he needs only a seventh-place finish at either Charlevoix or the season-ending Rally of the Tall Pines in Ontario next month.

McGeer, 40, who drives a Subaru Impreza and won at Charlevoix in 1998, will face stiffer competition than usual this weekend. Charlevoix's potential world status has attracted a strong international entry with the Canadian regulars being joined by more than 20 cars from the U.S. and several from Europe.

The Belgian-based Colsoul Rallysport team, which competes regularly in world championship events, is bringing three Mitsubishi Lancers, one of which will be driven by ex-Formula 1 racer Erik Comas.

The 37-year-old Frenchman drove in almost 60 F1 races between 1991 and 1994 and finished sixth at the Canadian Grand Prix in 1992. He is now trying to launch a new career in rallying. He will be using Charlevoix as a tune-up for his world championship debut in Australia in mid-November.

The other European-entered Lancers will be driven by a pair of Belgians, Bob Colsoul and promising 19-year-old Francois Duval.

The most experienced driver in the field will be John Buffum, 55, of Vermont, in a Hyundai Tiberon. He is an 11-time U.S. champion who also holds the record for the most rally wins in Canada. He took his 41st Canadian victory in May at the Rocky Mountain Rally in Alberta. He won at Charlevoix last year.

Six-time Canadian champion Frank Sprongl, 33, of Mississauga, Ont., will be back in his Audi Quattro for the first time since its motor blew at the Rocky Mountain. He is a four-time winner at Charlevoix, most recently in 1997.

Other top contenders include Subaru Impreza driver Sylvain Vincent, 35, of La Plaine, Que., currently second to McGeer in the points chase, and Jon Nichols, 38, of Lachine, Que., a four-time champion of the Group 2 category (for two-wheel-drive cars), making his four-wheel-drive debut in a Mitsubishi Lancer.

FIA's international standards, it will have a totally different look this year. It will be run exactly like a world championship rally.

One of the biggest changes is the duration of the event - now spread over three days, instead of the usual one. It will start at Clermont, just north of La Malbaie, at 12 noon on Friday and wrap up at 3 p.m. on Sunday.

As well, teams have been allowed to make reconnaissance runs on the special stages, the competitive portions of the rally held on roads temporarily closed to the public. These reconnaissance runs, which began on Tuesday, allow the navigators to take detailed notes about the twists and turns of the roads.

Finally, many of the stages are different from past years. At the FIA's request, asphalt roads have been abandoned in favor of gravel roads, mostly through forest areas linking the Charlevoix and Saguenay regions.

There will be a total of 16 special stages, over eight different sections of road, during the three days. These special stages will make up 287 kilometres of a total rally distance of 1,096 kilometres. That is about twice as long as a typical Canadian championship event.

The Rallye International de Charlevoix is sponsored by Export "A", as part of its extreme sports series, and will offer a purse of $25,000.

It is one of four rallies being reviewed by the FIA for possible inclusion in the 2002 world championship. Of the 14 rallies now making up the championship, 10 are in Europe, one each in Kenya, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand. The other potential new candidates are in Belgium, Turkey and Lebanon.

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