The Road Leads to Bancroft!
As the leaves change colour and fall to the ground, we are coming into the last few corners of a long road that is the Ontario Performance Rally Championship. The road ends in Bancroft, ON on the 26th of November with the Small Pines Rally and the Pine Cone Rally. Both Rallies will be approximately the same distance in competitive stage kilometres with 91 and 90 kilometres apiece, the big difference being the Pine Cone Rally is 100% after sunset. With very few stages being completed after dark in the OPRC this will be a new test to some drivers and surely a big factor in who will win the title. After 19 teams challenged the fourth Rally, Rallye Defi Petite Nation, the championship picture is coming into focus but not quite clear. Mainly because having two events in one day leaves twice as many points on the table, making many teams still mathematically in the title races within their respective classes.
In the overall class it has come down to 6 drivers that could still win it all this year, with some drivers' probability being substantially lower than others. Out in front with a commanding lead of 21 points over second place is Olivier Martel with 66 points. Martel has been at peak form all year taking the win and maximum points at all three of the rallies he has started. With his sizeable lead Martel will only need to earn 24 of a possible 44 points to secure the 2022 Ontario Performance Rally Championship, which would match nicely with the 2022 Rally Sport Quebec Championship title he won last month. After a devastating off and DNF at Rallye Defi Petite Nation, Matthew Ballinger lost a lot of ground on Martel earning only 1 point for starting the event, bring his total up to 45. Ballinger will have to have a near flawless day if he plans to catch up to Martel and take the title. Only 2 points behind Ballinger in the championship is Gabriel Monette with 43. Monette has been consistent in 2022 finishing on the podium twice and in 4th place once. With a little more consistency Monette could also claim top spot if a few things go his way. A little further back with 35 points is the only driver this year to start and finish all four rallies in the championship. Trevor Pougnet, currently in fourth place, seems to be hitting his stride when it matters most. After only reaching the podium in 1 of 4 OPRC rallies in 2022, Pougnet seems to have stepped it up to another level and reached the podium at last month's national rally, Rallye Charlevoix. If Pougnet takes that momentum into the Small Pines and Pine Cone rallies he will be one to watch out for. In 5th overall and five points back of Pougnet we find Simon Aube. Contesting all three of the rallies on the Quebec side of the border, Aube will have to make his first rally start outside of his native province of Quebec if he hopes to have even the slightest of chances of an OPRC title. In 6th overall with 24 championship points is Jonathan Drake. He still has a chance if you crunch the numbers but you have to do a lot of number crunching. Drake’s chances after his win at the Black Bear rally were looking great but salvaging 2 points was all he could muster at Rallye Defi Petite Nation. Like Ballinger, Drake also suffered a serious off at Rallye Defi Petite Nation but managed to limp to the finish after his service crew bent his car back into shape. It could play out any of a million ways but one of these six drivers, all piloting a Subaru, will be the 2022 Ontario Performance Rally Champion.
The 2 Wheel Drive class is becoming a two car race but at the same time, with so many championship points on the line, almost every 2WD driver still has a chance at the title. Over the championship Kurtis Duddy seemed to get better with every rally, finishing 3rd and then 2nd at the double header in Maniwaki to start the championship. Following that up with a class win at Rallye Defi Petite Nation, he has propelled himself into first with 53 points, giving him an 11 point lead and a little bit of wiggle room over 2nd place, driving his Nissan Sentra SpecV into the last two events. In 2nd place with 42 points is his rival, Hans Larose, driving in his Volkswagen Golf. He was helpful in providing that wiggle room after having to miss a few stages at Rallye Defi Petite Nation and suffering major penalty minutes because of it. Larose uncharacteristically finished the rally off of the 2WD podium down in 5th place. Absent from the last two events was Marc-Olivier Leblanc but his strong podium finishes at Perce Neige 1 and 2 leaves him in 3rd with 31 points. Just entering the championship in the last two events is Roderick Jones. Jones has quietly done well in his Mazda 3 finishing 4th and 2nd at Black Bear and Defi respectively earning 29 points, enough for 4th. Not too far behind Jones in 5th place is Crawford New with 24 points still, after not seeing him in the driver's seat at the last two events. Tied for 6th place with 23 points are Mal Swan and Charles Hammer having both won first in 2WD at an event, having both DNFd an event and both in a Volvo. A mere point behind them in 8th is Mark Toufanov with 22 points. After a solid 3rd place at Black Bear Rally, Toufanov found a rock more solid than his Method wheels while attempting a forest stage at Rallye Defi Petite Nation. Toufanov suffered two flats on his Toyota 86, on that one stage alone, causing him to lose too much time to his rivals, resulting in a 7th place finish. In 9th we find Sean McConnachie with 17 points, followed by Chris Krepski in 10th with 14 points and Nick Wood in 11th with 10 points. All three drivers may have only entered one event this year but all have a chance at the class title. We saw McConnachie pilot his Ford Fiesta to a 2WD National podium last year on these same Bancroft roads. If you have seen Wood in his Datsun 1200 you know he is capable of flying 140 feet and also taking the 2WD win. Rounding out the 2WD hopefuls in 12th is Pascal Besse in his Porsche 911 with 8 points.
The battle in the smaller Production 4WD class has drawn near even after the fourth event this year. Ballinger is still holding onto first place with his 24 points, though only by 1 point. Pougnet, being the only driver in class to score points at Rallye Defi Petite Nation, increased his total tally to 23. With the two of them essentially tied, they know whoever can best the other driver in the last day of competition will take the class. Keeping the fight for first honest though, are Francois Rioux and Vincent Trudel. Rioux unfortunately had a mechanical DNF at Rally Defi Petite Nation and Trudel missed the event causing both to miss gathering any class points at the fourth event, leaving them still in a tie with 9 points in 3rd place.
In Production 2WD we have two drivers in a stalemate for first place between Marc-Olivier Leblanc and Roderick Jones with 18 points. Leblanc won the first two events but was absent from the next two allowing Jones to take the win at both. Rounding out the class podium is Crawford New still with 12 points, as he was unable to get his Plymouth Neon to the Rallye Defi Petite Nation or Black Bear Rally. New seems to have gotten his Neon back together as he is one of the first drivers to enter in the upcoming Small Pines and Pine Cone rallies. Jones on the other hand is in a race against the clock, after a surprising DNF at Rally Charlevoix. Word from an inside source is Jones’ problems at Rallye Charlevoix last month were caused by a bad head gasket. He is planning on undertaking a full engine replacement of his Mazda 3, before getting back to the stages on November 26th and taking on the P2WD class.
One day, two rallies, it will be interesting to see who places where on the final tally sheet for the championship.
All photo have been provided by ECPhotography