Jeremy Norris Returns to OPRC With a Victory

After what seemed like a short break between the end of 2014 and the 2015 season opening Rallye Perce Neige, the Ontario Performance Rally Championship returned to competition on the snow covered roads of Maniwaki, Quebec.

The inevitable intrigue that comes with a new season heightened with the announcement that 2014 Galway Cavendish Forest Rally winner John Kemp had to withdraw from the rally. Taking his place would be multiple Canadian Champion Frank Sprongl, with the rally legend becoming the instant favourite to take top honours in the OPRC category.

Not to be overshadowed, longtime provincial competitor Jeremy Norris was making his return to the sport after a full year away. Coming to Perce Neige with a brand new car, and also entered in the full-day Canadian Rally Championship event, Norris spent the morning stages shaking off the inevitable rust before the regional event began around the midway point of the rally.

But Frank Sprongl and co-driver Brian Maxwell had hit their stride early in the day, and quickly opened a lead over Norris and navigator Donal Crooke as the regional event began.

Despite their lead in the Ontario event, Sprongl and Maxwell were preoccupied with pushing hard to catch Antoine L'Estage in the national category, and a rally-ending mistake was always a possibility. On the rally's tenth stage, that possibility became a reality when the mistake sent the pair off the road. Thankfully, neither crewmember was injured, but the damage to their Mitsubishi Evo was extensive.

Photo courtesy of Justin Cohen

With Sprongl out, Jeremy Norris took over the lead and never looked back. Consistently posting top ten times in the national category and finishing fifth overall, Perce Neige was an epic return to the sport for the Kitchener native.

"The first few stages I felt very rusty" Norris admitted, "the new car; the new feel, the whole thing, and so it did take a bit of time to get the flow. But we made it to the end!"

Second in the OPRC event went to Max Meconse and Cindy Spencer. Also bringing a brand new car to Maniwaki, but with last year's experience to fall back on, the pair posted consistently solid times throughout the day and kept themselves out of trouble.

"I used to live here, so I learned to drive on these roads" Meconse recounted prior to the event, "our forte is really the long stages: Kitigan, Foret de l'Aigle, and especially Tortue. We're really fast on these stages."

Ian Crerar and Jen Horsey looked like a sure bet to claim third place for much of the rally, building a comfortable cushion on closest competitors Eric Vlasic and Jeff Hagan. Crerar took a conservative approach to the event, doing just enough to keep Vlasic at bay.

Unfortunately for Crerar, mechanical issues ended his rally prematurely, handing the final podium spot to Vlasic, who did well to reach the finish line in the challenging conditions.

The 2WD class featured just two entries in Kurt Thiel and Chris Krepski. But with the two drivers being among the best in the OPRC (and both driving VW Golfs), the race could have gone either way.

But with Thiel and co-driver Russell Norton among the competitors also participating in the national event, the pair used the morning stages to build momentum leading into the regional event. And they carried that momentum to a victory in OPRC 2WD, and 3rd in the Canadian Rally Championship 2WD category.

"It was a challenge today" Thiel acknowledged, "the roads were very slippery and it was a challenge just staying on the road. Also, it was very rough in sections and we had trouble with flats. But we just kept plugging away, hoping for the best. And it in the end we did very well, so I'm happy with the outcome!"

Despite pushing too hard and suffering through a series of offs in the opening leg of the rally, Krepski and Sebastien Richard kept it together on the second loop of stages and posted times comparable to those of Thiel and Norton. The pair captured valuable second place points that will no doubt be important as the series progresses. 

"I was pushing too hard in the first leg, leading to three offs in Forêt de L'Aigle and a bunch of near misses elsewhere" Krepski conceded, "we dialled it back for the second leg and we had a much cleaner run."

After a seemingly short offseason, The OPRC now faces another break until the Lanark Highlands Forest Rally in early May. A favourite among competitors, Lanark has been revamped for the 2015 season. The event will now feature multiple stages along several different roads - an expansion from previous years, which saw one stage being run in alternating directions.