BANCROFT, ON – Held this past weekend in Bancroft, Ontario, the classic Rally of the Tall Pines marked the final round of the Eastern Canadian Rally Championship’s (ECRC) 2016 season. This event is always hotly contested, especially when the dirt roads are covered in snow or ice, as was the case for this 2016 edition.
A reunion of the majority of the competitors registered in the ECRC saw nice battles among the leaders, with victory eventually going to Ontarian and past event winner, Chris Martin, co-driven by American Brian Johnson in a Subaru WRX STI. For the entire duration of the competitive stages that counted towards the ECRC, Martin/Johnson were being chased by Simon Vincent and Hubert Gaudreau (also in a Subaru WRX STI) who once again shone bright in Simon’s first time driving this particular event. At the national level, the rookie driver finished behind stars Antoine L’Estage and Travis Pastrana, but in the Eastern Canadian Championship classification, a gap of 25 seconds put Chris Martin ahead of Simon Vincent for the victory.
The podium was completed by another Subaru-driving team consisting of Americans Arek Bialobrzeski and Grzegorz Dorman. This was their best career finish in the ECRC, as they capped it off in third place, a little more than seven minutes behind the leaders.
Leading two-wheel drive until they went off the road, Quebecker Philippe Benoît (co-driven by Maxime Fortin-Gagnon in a Mini Cooper S) relinquished the top spot to Zoltan Kovacs and Guy Boudreau as they claimed their third victory of the season in their Mitsubishi Lancer. The duo also earned fourth place overall in the ECRC, just ahead of two other 2WD teams; Robert McNeil/Patrick Wieler (Mitsubishi Lancer) and Gary Sutherland/Kylee Davis (Ford Focus).
Behind this trio of Ontarian teams, who monopolized the two-wheel drive podium, the overall Top 10 was completed by Production four-wheel drive winners Laurens Wit/Jonathan Cox (Subaru WRX STI), followed by Philippe Benoît and Maxime Fortin-Gagnon, who were able to restart after their misadventure, Paul Cary/Bruce Leonard (Plymouth Neon) and Jim Stevens/Jeff Hagan (Suzuki Swift+). Cary/Leonard claimed Production two-wheel drive honours ahead of Stevens/Hagan.
Having earned the 2016 driver’s overall title even before heading into this event, Jean-Sébastien Besner was absent for the Rally of the Tall Pines. His championship victory saw him finish ahead of rookie Simon Vincent, and Bruno Laverdière. Hubert Gaudreau claimed the overall co-drivers title ahead of Yvan Joyal and Daniel Paquette.
In 2WD, Philippe Benoît earns top honours, ahead of Zoltan Kovacs and Simon Dubé. For the co-drivers, the Tall Pines victory for Kovacs/Boudreau enabled Boudreau to snag the title from Philippe Benoît’s co-driver, Maxime Fortin-Gagnon. Final series points gave Boudreau 75 and Fortin-Gagnon 73. Vincent Trudel finished third.
With nine events on the 2016 calendar, the ECRC was the longest rally championship in the country. Nine events with impressive lists of competitors and battles that often lasted right up until the last stage of each rally. The series will definitely return next year, when the new season is kicked off on February 4th in Québec, with the presentation of the Rallye Perce-Neige, in Maniwaki, in the region of Haute-Gatineau.