Jeremy Norris Wins Tall Pines Regional, Clinches Ontario Championship

Rally Pilot Racing's Jeremy Norris went into the final round of the 2015 OPRC season simply needing to finish the event. With second placed Eric Vlasic needing to finish second or above (with a Norris DNF) to win, things were looking good for the Kitchener-based driver.

Vlasic and codriver Dean Hopkins came to the event ready to push for the championship. With a large gap on their closest challengers, and a new car waiting for them next year, it was all or nothing for Vlasic.

That approach caught up to him on the second stage, when he lost grip around a fast right hander, launching the car off the road into a nearby marsh. Fortunately, both Vlasic and Hopkins emerged unscathed, and actually drove the car away after being pulled from the marsh by the sweep crew. Upon further inspection of the damage, they elected not to continue.

"It's funny, yesterday I was thinking there wouldn't be a lot of traction" said Vlasic, "The first stage, I realized the traction was okay, and just came out of the corner a little hot and here we are taking a bath."

With Vlasic out, the battle for second came down to the top 2WD competitors - Martin Walter and Fraser McConnell.

The 17 year old Jamaican McConnell impressed in his first ever Canadian rally, putting up stage times that rivalled those of the veteran Walter. With renowned Canadian co-driver Nathalie Richard calling pacenotes, McConnell surprised everyone at the event by finishing an impressive third overall.

But it wasn't enough to match the experience of Martin Walter and Ferdinand Trauttmansdorff. Competing at an event that they know well from their many years in the championship, the pair had very little drama en route to second overall.

"We actually started off pretty hard, right from the get-go" Walter admitted, "We got back after the second set of stages and I'm like 'just going to drive my own rally'."

Despite being able to cruise to the championship victory, Jeremy Norris had issues of his own. After the fourth stage, a boost hose becoming detached from his turbo, leaving him down on power. Later on, a hard run through a water splash caused severe fogging inside the car, leaving Norris to drive a large part of the Egan Creek stage with only a tiny sliver of windshield to look through. But Norris and codriver Jeff Hagan persevered, and were rewarded with the regional win.

For Norris, his first OPRC title comes five years after his first rally, which took place at Tall Pines.

"Last year I took the year off to rebuild the car and i did most of the work myself." Norris admitted, "So it's really rewarding (that) this year we won the championship."

With Walter and McConnell also holding the top two spots in 2WD, third in the category went to Zoltan Kovacs and Bruce Leonard. The Mitsubishi crew ran into trouble after striking the infamous bridge on the Iron Bridge stage, but fortunately the crew was able to get the car repaired at the following service break. The category podium wraps up an excellent year for Kovacs, who secured both second place in the 2WD championship and the OPRC novice title by virtue of his finish at Tall Pines.

With the 2015 Ontario Performance Rally Championship season coming to a close, teams now have just over two months to prepare themselves for the 2016 season opener at Rallye Perce Neige. While the makeup of the OPRC field remains largely unknown, several teams will be bringing brand new cars to bare for the upcoming year. And with returning champions almost certain to be competing in 2016, it is almost guaranteed that next season will be one of the most hotly contested in many years.