Norris Top of OPRC Class at Rallye Defi

Jeremy Norris claimed the top spot at the Ontario Performance Rally Championship's penultimate round at Rallye Défi, moving into first place in the overall standings as a result.

With only a handful of entries entered in the Ontario regional event, every competitor had the opportunity to pick up valuable points before the season finale at Tall Pines. And several competitors got an extra day of practice, by virtue of being entered in the two day national event as well.

Among the crews competing in both events were Nick and Kelly Mathew. The pair had a challenging day to open the national event, breaking three struts on their Subaru WRX in separate incidents. But despite the mechanical issues, the Mathews had a great day positionally, finishing 6th overall in the national category. And they carried that momentum into the regional competition on day 2.

Leading the OPRC event early on, the Two-Brits Racing crew looked to mirror their successes of the previous day. But the rough stages of Défi caught up to them once again, and they barely finished stage 15 after suffering severe damage to the right front suspension of the car.

After attempting a roadside repair to make the car drivable again, the Mathews were forced to retire and accept a tow back into service. Fortunately, they were able to restart for the second loop, finishing respectably and gaining some points in the process.

"Honestly, just being here (at the finish) is great." Nick admitted, "Six struts, two tires, no reverse gear, rain without a differential so it was rear wheel drive for about four stages, so making it here is fantastic."

Martin Donnelly and Angela Cosner were also looking to turn a good showing on the previous day into further success in the regional event. Unfortunately, their day ended on the very first stage - the pair suffered a roll and were unable to continue.

Despite their misfortune, the Can-Jam crew was able to lend a hand to a fellow competitor. Driving out of the stage in a pickup with a trailer attached, Donnelly and Cosner located the stricken Subaru of Nick and Kelly Mathew. They were able to load the car onto the trailer and gave them a lift back to the service park.

"We had a good finish yesterday afternoon." Donnelly explained, "We were right on our game from the word 'go', the rain didn't bother us, the gravel was a little slick, the pavement was a little slick... just got a little too wide on one corner and the rear wheel caught the edge of a bank and down we went."

Eric Vlasic, coming into the event as the series leader, ran into trouble early on when he and codriver Dean Hopkins received a 3 minute penalty for checking into a stage control point too early. Vlasic and Hopkins set decent times throughout the remainder of the day, knowing that they simply had to keep it on the road to remain within striking distance of the championship lead. They now head to the series finale at Tall Pines a close second in the standings.

After pushing hard right behind the Mathews through the morning loop, Jeremy Norris pounced on the lead when Nick and Kelly ran into trouble. With veteran codriver John Hall to guide him, Norris put down great stage times throughout the day, netting the OPRCwin and finishing a very respectable sixth in the overall event. His OPRC victory puts him two points ahead of Eric Vlasic heading into the finale.

"It's been a fantastic event, probably the best event I've (ever) had." Norris explained, "We were competing with some really good drivers and I came here hoping to be able to compete with Nick and Martin. And we ended up winning."

Second place went to Martin Bruneau and Anthony Bruneau, who put down competitive times in their 2004 Subaru WRX. With their fellow competitors dropping like flies, the Bruneaus took a steady approach to the afternoon stages, keeping out of trouble and holding onto the second position. Despite being unable to challenge Norris for the win, the pair had a good showing in their first OPRC event this year.

As the lone entrant in 2WD, Kurt Thiel picked up valuable points toward his quest for the 2WD championship. With Phil Barnes codriving, the VW driver from Upstate New York pushed throughout the rally with the speed and consistency that has characterized his season to date. Thiel also finished third in the OPRC category.

"I'm just happy I'm here!" Thiel exclaimed, "I thought I was going to tiptoe through the last stages and I decided not to. I put my foot down!"

The OPRC season now comes to a head at the Rally of The Tall Pines at the end of November. With just two points separating first place Norris with second place Vlasic, an all out sprint to the championship should be in store.