Six-time Canadian Rally Champion makes a comeback.
BANCROFT, Ont. (Nov. 20/2002) - The dominant Canadian rally driver of the 1990s will be making a comeback on Saturday (Nov. 23) at the Tall Pines event in central Ontario.
Frank Sprongl, who won six Canadian championship titles between 1991 and 1999, has competed only occasionally the past three seasons. The Rally of the Tall Pines will be his first appearance in Canada this year, even though it is the final round of the Subaru Canadian Rally Championship, presented by Yokohama.
Longtime Audi driver Sprongl, 35, from Mississauga, Ont., has switched cars and will debut a new Mitsubishi Lancer. He and his navigator, younger brother Dan, intend to run this car at the Tall Pines and the first two Canadian rallies of 2003, but say their plans beyond that will depend on sponsorship.
The Sprongls, who have won the Tall Pines seven times, will face newly- crowned Canadian champion Pat Richard, returning from Britain where he made his world championship debut last week, and five-time Canadian titlist Tom McGeer.
Richard, 28, from Vancouver, and his navigator Ian McCurdy wrapped up the 2002 Canadian championship in September, with two events still to go. They have won four of eight events so far in their factory-backed Subaru Impreza WRX.
McGeer, 42, from Georgetown, Ont., won the past two Tall Pines. He also drives a factory Subaru and, following a seeded draw on Tuesday, he will carry the number one and be first on the road (cars set off at one-minute intervals).
With American navigator Mark Williams, McGeer has two wins from three starts in Canada this year. He has also competed in the U.S. and is in contention for the North American Rally Cup, combining results from both countries. He needs to be third or better at Tall Pines to secure his second straight NARC title.
While Richard has already clinched top spot in the Canadian championship, an intense battle is being waged for the runner-up position. Only seven points separate Toronto's Peter Thomson; top rookie Andrew Comrie-Picard, an Alberta native now living in New York; and Sylvain Erickson, of Gatineau, Que.
Thomson drives a Subaru Impreza, prepared by the Sprongls. Comrie-Picard, who was a career-high second at the recent Rallye International de Charlevoix, and Erickson, a winner in Alberta in May, both drive Mitsubishi Lancers.
There are also some class championships that are still open, most notably in the Group 2 division for modified two-wheel-drive cars.
VW Golf driver Gord Olsen, of Brooks, Alta., leads Ford Focus pilot Peter Reilly, of Brampton, Ont., by just three points. Both will face a formidable challenge this weekend, though, as four-time Group 2 champion Jon Nichols, of Lachine, Que., returns to the class in his VW Golf.
A total of 53 cars are entered for the Tall Pines, which is based out of Bancroft, about an hour's drive north of Peterborough. The rally starts at 9.30 a.m. on Saturday and wraps up back in Bancroft about 12 hours later.
Teams will cover a total of 436 kilometres, including 12 special stages adding up to 175 kilometres. These special stages are the high-speed sections of the rally on forest gravel roads temporarily closed to the public.
The first stage is just outside of Bancroft at Iron Bridge, which drew more than 4,000 fans last year. The cars will run this stage three times (at 9.30 a.m., 1 p.m. and 2.45 p.m.). Castledine's Corner is another popular spectator spot. Cars will pass through twice in the evening (at 6.45 and 7.45 p.m.).
The Tall Pines is considered one of the trickiest rallies in North America, as conditions are usually slippery, with snow or ice on the road, but snowbanks have not yet formed to absorb the impact of any accident. The catchphrase of the event is, "Winter roads, summer ditches."