McGeer wins second straight North American Rally title.

BANCROFT, ONT. (Nov. 24/2002) - Five-time Canadian driving champion Tom McGeer dominated the season-ending Rally of the Tall Pines in central Ontario to earn his second straight North American Rally Cup.

The 42-year-old driver from Georgetown, Ont., led the event from start to finish and ended up one minute, 44 seconds, ahead of Subaru Canada team- mate Pat Richard, of Vancouver, who had already clinched the 2002 Subaru Canadian Rally Championship, presented by Yokohama. Both drove Subaru Impreza WRXs.

McGeer, the Canadian champion in 2000 and 2001, has run a limited schedule of rallies this season, handpicking events here and in the U.S. to maximize his points in the North American Rally Cup (NARC), which combines results from both sides of the border. This was his third win from four starts in Canada.

"To win the NARC championship was our goal for this year and we accomplished it." said McGeer, who needed only to finish in the top three to clinch the title. "But we also wanted to win this rally."

This was McGeer's third straight win at the Tall Pines, run out of Bancroft, Ont. He completed 175 kilometres of special stages - the competitive portions of the event on ice and snow-covered forest gravel roads temporarily closed to the public - in 1 hour, 55 minutes, 29 seconds, an average speed of 90.92 kph.

McGeer had expected to be challenged by Frank Sprongl, a six-time Canadian champion making a comeback after running only a handful of rallies the past three seasons. But Sprongl's much-anticipated return lasted less than a minute as he rolled his Mitsubishi Lancer into a ditch on the opening stage.

"Once the threat from Frank was neutralized, I just drove as fast as I had to," said McGeer, who had American Mark Williams as his navigator. "I was on cruise control most of the day, although I turned it up on a couple of stages when Pat [Richard] got a little too close. It was a good day at the office."

McGeer's only problem all day was a flat tire, but it happened near the end of a stage and he was able to drive to the finish without losing much time. Flat tires were a common complaint. Richard also got a puncture and his flat came in the middle of a stage, costing him about a minute.

Third-placed Sylvain Erickson, of Gatineau, Que., also lost time as a result of a flat on his Mitsubishi Lancer. But Erickson, who was in a tight battle with Richard for the championship until mid-season, said he was happy just to finish after mechanical failures at the past three events.

"This lifts our spirits," said Erickson, who ended up three-and-a-half minutes behind Richard, but comfortably ahead of fourth-placed Andrew Comrie-Ricard, also driving a Mitsubishi Lancer.

While Richard had wrapped up the 2002 Canadian title in September, with two events still to go, there was an intense battle for the overall runner-up spot and Comrie-Picard's fourth place clinched the position for him.

Comrie-Picard, a native of Edmonton now living in New York, went off the road early in the day, but a team-mate stopped to pull his car out of the ditch. He climbed back from 14th place, despite a lack of turbo boost on his Mitsubishi.

"It was tough going. The whole day was tricky," said Comrie-Picard, who had already clinched the national rookie-of-the-year title and also picked up the Ontario provincial championship crown with his result here.

Subaru Impreza driver Peter Thomson, of Toronto, who had started the day in second place in the points standings, failed to add to his score as he lost about 14 minutes in an off-road excursion and finished just 18th. He fell to fifth in the championship, behind Richard, Comrie-Picard, Erickson and McGeer.

McGeer and Richard were each quickest on four of the 12 special stages, while Erickson and Comrie-Picard were each fastest on two.

John Paynter, of Dartmouth, N.S., finished fifth in his Subaru Impreza and took top honors in the production class for showroom stock cars.

Sixth place went to Gord Olsen, of Brooks, Alta., who won the Group 2 division for modified two-wheel drive cars in a VW Golf. He also took the championship in that category, beating out season-long rival Peter Reilly, of Brampton, Ont., who was eighth overall, second in class, in his Ford Focus.

Winners in the smaller-engined production classes were Charles Hammer, of Montreal, 10th overall in a VW Golf; Jean-Marc Alcaraz, of St-Lambert-de- Levis, Que., 13th in a Subaru Justy; and Yavor Klostranec, of Newmarket, Ont., 21st in a Nissan Pulsar.

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