Martin Donnelly Wins OPRC Round of Tall Pines, Clinches Championship

Martin Donnelly came to the Rally of the Tall Pines as a definite dark horse to win the Ontario Performance Rally Championship. But every once and a while, history loves a good underdog story. 2014 had proven to be an up and down year for the Irish driver, and it seemed appropriate that in order to have a chance of claiming the OPRC crown, Donnelly would need to drive the rally of his career.

However, there remained a number of potential champions looking for their shot at the title. Alan Ryall came into the rally with the series lead, with Andrew Kulikowski hot on his heels, trailing only by a single point.

Kulikowski got off to a flying start, posting the second best regional time on the opening stage. However, an off on the second stage of the rally caused significant suspension damage to his Ford Focus, forcing he and codriver Kelly Matthew to retire from the rally.

With Kulikowski out, and Ryall suffering two flats that put him beyond championship contention, Donnelly and Angela Cosner still needed a top 5 finish leapfrog Kulikowski and clinch the title. Largely avoiding the mechanical issues that plagued them early on in the season, the Can-Jam crew put the pressure aside drove the rally of their life.

Putting on what could have been their most consistent performance of 2014, Donnelly and Cosner not only made the top five, but finished first overall. Their Subaru WRX did suffer through a loss of power towards the end of the rally, but persevered regardless. For Donnelly, it was his first OPRC title since the 2004 season.

"We had a tough year, with a lot of little things that happened" Donnelly admitted, "but to win at Pines is pretty exciting, you know we were looking forward to that. It's too bad (Ryall and Kulikowski) had a few issues, but you know it is what it is. Another whole new championship starts in January, so it's a whole new game again."

"For Martin, (it's) really good" Ryall congratulated, "And hopefully he'll have a great national finish as well. That's just awesome."

With Donnelly topping the podium, Martin Walter and Ferd Trauttmansdorff drove an unbelievable rally, ending up with the runner-up spot to show for it. Despite only competing in three events this season, the pair used their knowledge of the challenging Tall Pines stages to their advantage. Following up their solid performance at Rallye Defi with an even better finish at the season finale, their second place finish also netted them first in the 2WD category.

"We had some incidents for sure." Walter confessed, "(we) almost went off a few times down in Hastings, but we managed to keep it on the road and keep it together. But, good event - awesome event!"

Ian Crerar and Jen Horsey rounded out the podium in third, with Crerar making his return to OPRC competition after taking time off. Crerar drove a clean rally, and as happens in rallying, he benefited from some bad luck for Peter Thomson - who went off the road on stage 6.

Finishing second in 2WD behind Walter and Trauttmansdorff were Gary Sutherland and Yevgeniy Gospodinov, who struggled early on but whose stage times improved dramatically in the later stages of the event, locking up the 2014 Novice title in the process.

Zoltan Kovacs and Guy Boudreau finished in third spot in the category in their 2003 Mitsubishi Lancer. The series veteran battled the unforgiving Tall Pines stages all day, and was rewarded for his efforts with a podium finish.

With the 2014 OPRC season coming to an end, competitors now have a chance to celebrate, recharge and prepare for the 2015 season opener, Rallye Perce Neige. With the plans of many teams currently up in the air, it remains to be seen which drivers will return next season, and in what capacity. What is certain, however, is that if this season is any indication, the competition will be equally fierce next year.