Vincent Earns Narrow Victory at Black Bear

The Black Bear Rally is always decided in equal parts of speed and mechanical sympathy. Featuring some of the roughest stages on the Ontario Performance Rally Championship calendar, it frequently snatches victory away from those pushing the hardest.

With just eleven entries for the 2015 edition of Black Bear, it really was anyone's race to win. But veterans Sylvain Vincent and Dominique Cyr jumped out to an early lead, narrowly edging Martin Donnelly and Angela Cosner on the first three stages.

As Vincent concentrated on keeping his Subaru Impreza on the road, competitors behind him were dropping like flies. Mike Poole and Lance Magrath crashed out hard on the first stage, competing in just their second event as a team - and their first with Poole behind the wheel. Matt Ballinger and Bruce Leonard lost a wheel and suffered major suspension damage on the third stage, forcing them to retire. That third stage also claimed 2WD Champion Kurt Thiel and Russell Norton with suspension damage, as well as Laurens Wit and Jonathan Cox in an off.

The carnage was of no concern to Martin Donnelly, however. The reigning Ontario Champion pressed as hard as he could in an attempt to catch Vincent in first, beating the Quebec driver on the fourth stage, and tying on the fifth.

Heading into the final stage with just a 12 second lead over Donnelly, Vincent kept his cool, narrowly edging the Irishman to take the overall win.

"(It was) a challenge" Vincent admitted, "Martin and Jeremy really had great pace, so we had to push."

"The morning went really well, we were really happy with the first couple of stages done" Donnelly explained, "(We were) a little rusty after not being in the car for a while and it was good to get back in it again... We had a real good stage four and that sort of set the day for me."

The closest battle of the day though belonged to Jeremy Norris and Eric Vlasic, competing neck-in-neck for third. Vlasic and codriver Dean Hopkins got a great start, holding the position for the first half of the rally.

But Norris and Jeff Hagan began to claw back time on the third stage, pushing hard for the final podium spot. Beating Vlasic on the third and fourth stages of the day, Norris headed into the penultimate stage just 0.5 seconds behind Vlasic.

Another great battle on that stage gave Norris the lead heading into the final test of the day, albeit just under 2 seconds ahead of Vlasic. A 0.6 second margin separated the pair on the final stage, with Norris coming out on top to take the final podium position.

"It's been a really good day" Norris surmised, "We had a great battle with Eric Vlasic, I gotta give a shout out to him. Me and him were neck in neck the whole way though, trading stage times... I'm really happy to get to the finish, and to come third behind Sylvain and Martin is a really great accomplishment for me."

Zoltan Kovacs and Shane Bozic finished first in the 2WD category after a solid, consistent event. With so many of their fellow 2WD competitors running into reliability issues, Kovacs came very close to ending his own rally when he overshot a turn on the second stage and slammed into a tree. Despite the tree striking the left rear door and doing some suspension damage to Kovacs' Mistubishi, he was able to press on. And from there on out he kept his car on the road, riding a steady pace to the class win.

"We were pushing until stage four" recalled Kovacs, "And after that we had a few minutes' lead so we took it easy on the fifth and sixth stages, crawling around basically."

Kevin Turner and Matt Rhoads finished second in class after jumping out to a flying start. After leading the class for the first two stages, Turner ran into mechanical issues on the following loop losing several minutes stopped on stage. Regaining his pace for the final two stages of the day, the American posted the best times in class on those final stages.

Gary Sutherland and Kelly Mathew rounded out the class podium in third position. The Juggernaut Motorsports pair went off the road on the second stage of the day, but recovered and persevered to finish the rally as the only remaining category competitor.

At the halfway point of the championship, Eric Vlasic maintains his lead over Jeremy Norris, with Martin Donnelly close behind in third. In the 2WD category, Kurt Thiel still holds first place, while Zoltan Kovacs and Kevin Turner into a tie for 2nd place.

Remaining in Central Ontario, the next round for the OPRC takes place in three weeks time. The Galway Cavendish Forest Rally returns to the Parnell Contracting Quarry, which will now host the rally HQ and service park in addition to its traditional role as a stage area.