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“Crazy” Leo Urlichich Wins First National Rally at Tall Pines

Urlichich and co-driver Brady won their first Canadian Rally event at the Rally of the Tall Pines. Photo by Andrew Harvey Photography“Crazy” Leo Urlichich (Thornhill, ON) and co-driver Martin Brady (Meath, Ireland) beat a record breaking number of entries at the 2011 Rally of the Tall Pines, their first win at a Canadian Rally Championship event. Competition was extremely strong, with main CRC rivals Pat Richard (Squamish, BC) and Antoine L'Estage (St Jean Sur Richelieu, QC) as well as 2011 Rally America champions David Higgins (Trefeglwys, Wales) and co-driver Craig Drew (Gloucestershire, England), on hand for their first ever Rally of the Tall Pines.

“Wow, this is incredible,” said Urlichich, who literally jumped around on the podium in excitement. “All season the whole team has been working hard to get to this point, and so this win really proves how much the team has put into the effort.”

With the Canadian Rally Championship already decided in favour of L'Estage and co-driver Nathalie Richard (Halifax), no teams had to hold back for the sake of strategy, and right from the first stage, each team was attacking.

L'Estage won the first four stages, taking control of the event, until disaster struck at the end of SS5. The transmission in their car shattered with large pieces of the casing falling off.

“Well, it's too bad. We were leading the rally, and had a good lead, but it's ok,” said L'Estage. “The important thing is we are Canadian Rally Champions.”

Pat Richard and Alan Ockwell (Toronto) of Subaru Rally Team Canada took over the lead, with David Higgins and Craig Drew (Gloucestershire, England) taking over second place. Both teams would go on to suffer punctures, dropping down the order and handing Urlichich the lead.  Richard and Ockwell would later suffer transmission failures and retire from the event.

“This was a really tough event, probably the hardest I've done in my entire career,” said Higgins, who went on to finish second. “Primarily, we came here to test the car, but when you're a competitive person, you want to push for the win.”

Third place went to Bruno Carre (Laval, QC) and Yvan Joyal (Terrebonne, QC). The two were deperately trying to hang on to their podium position, with an overheating car threatening to end their event. With a large margin over fourth placed Ugo Desgreniers (Orford, QC) and Erik Kirby (Sherbrooke, QC), Carre was able to make his car last to the finish.

“The car started overheating with about five stages left,” said Carre. “We had to stop at lakes to get water to fill up the rad. It's been a difficult end to the rally, so we're very happy and lucky to be on the podium.”

In two wheel drive, the entry was equally impressive. Series regulars Jan and Jody Zedril (Winnipeg) faced off against local talent Peter Kocandrle (Kitchener-Waterloo, ON) and co-driver Alex Kihurani (Philadelphia, PA), as well as Simon Dube (Jonquière, QC) and Pat Lavigne (Montreal). 2011 Rally American 2WD Champions Wyatt Knox (Franconia, NH) and co-driver Ole Holter (Long Beach, CA) entered in a Ford Fiesta R2, while 2009 RA 2WD Champ Dillon Van Way (Baton Rouge, LA) and co-driver Jake Blattner (Salem, OR) were also on hand in a Fiesta.

Just as it did in all wheel drive, attrition took a toll on the 2WD cars as well. Kocandrle set fast stage times but struggled with half shaft problems that eventually ended his rally. The Zedrils also retired from the event, and Van Way retired with a broken half shaft, the rough conditions especially hard on the 2WD cars.

Dube and Knox traded stage times and the class lead, and heading into the final stage, Dube and Lavigne had a lead of just over one minute, 30 seconds. However, on the final stage, Egan Creek, Dube had an electrical fault that cut the engine, costing the team six minutes and handing the lead to Knox and Holter.

“This was my first time at this rally, and my first time driving the R2,” said Knox. “It was a really hard event. In the US, we do the same distance, but split over two days, so this really was a marathon. We had a great battle with Dube, and it worked out for us, but we'll see what happens next time.”

“It's been an incredible event,” said organiser Ian Wright. “The record entry isn't just about volume, but of quality, with some really talented teams competing. Everything went really well, and we're happy to introduce Canadian rally to all the first time teams and fans who came out in person or watched at home.”

Production company TV2Go offered fans a home a unique opportunity with a precedent setting high definition live stream to web. Three live shows covered the ceremonial start and first stage, a mid day service and the podium finish. Those who wish to watch the shows on demand can do so on Flatovercrest.com.

The 2012 Canadian Rally Championship season is only a few short months away. Kicking off with the Rallye Perce Neige in Maniwaki, QC teams will take on the classic winter rally February 4-5, 2012. Massive snowbanks offer both help in staying on the road, and a threat in their ability to pull a car off the road. Icy conditions require a special talent as studded tires are not permitted. The Rallye Perce Neige is perhaps Canada's most remote rally with very long and challenging stages.

The Canadian Rally Championship is comprised of six events held nationwide in a season tha extends from February to November. The series is presented by Subaru Canada, supported by Yokohama Tire Canada and features contingency programs from Subaru Canada and Mitsubishi Canada. The Canadian Association of Rallysport (CARS) is the official sanctioning body for rallying in Canada.

Rally is often described simply as “real cars, real roads, real fast.” The all-season motorsport sees drivers and their co-drivers take modified road cars to the limit as they achieve blistering speeds over closed-road courses that typically cover more than 150 kilometers of gravel, dirt or snow-covered roads. Fans can get up close to the cars in the service areas and catch all the action from specially designated spectator points located at the best spots on the route.

Full coverage of the championship will air on RDS and TSN. Check local listings.

For more information: www.carsrally.ca or www.tallpinesrally.com

You can also follow the series on Twitter @CRCRally or at www.facebook.com/CRCRally

Rallye of the Tall Pines Final Results

Leo Urlichich – Martin Brady – One hour, 59 minutes, 4.8 seconds
David Higgins – Craig Drew – 1:59:36.7
Bruno Carre – Yvan Joyal – 2:07:51.7
Ugo Desgrenniers – Erik Kirby – 2:12:25.7
Steeve Hobbs – Jean-Mathieu Tremblay – 2:13:19.7
Simon Losier – Brian Maxwell – 2:16:24.0
Nick Mathew – Kelly Matthew – 2:17:59.1
Michelle Laframboise – Dean Hopkins – 2:20:04.8
Wyatt Knox – Ole Holter – 2:20:19.7
Ryan Huber – John Vanos – 2:21:16.1

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