I got the opportunity to visit the great Province of Ontario and shoot the Rally of the Tall Pines last week, and man, what an experience that was. This was my first time shooting the Canadian Rally Championship as well as my first time in Ontario, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. But isn’t that at the heart of being a Life Blaster?
The day before American Thanksgiving is a terrible time to fly. The airports are crowded and the tickets are expensive. Nevertheless, AJ (FY Racing’s team manager) and I took to the skies and came back down in the beautiful city of Toronto. We breezed through customs with the help of a customs agent who was also a rally fan, then picked up our rental car, ate in one of Toronto’s three Chinatowns, and then walked around downtown. It was cold.
On Thanksgiving, we made the trek three hours north to the small town of Bancroft. We had to check into our lakeside resort cabins and I had to pick up my media kit. It’s nice having all this info at your fingertips, especially in an unfamiliar setting. Rally is at least 10 times as confusing as any other kind of motorsports we cover, so it really pays to study the maps and memorize the schedules. In the CRC, they actually require that photographers make a plan for which areas they will go to on which stages, and get the plan approved by an official, which must be presented to another official upon entering each stage. It’s pretty strict, but that kind of planning does actually make things run more smoothly.
We had food and brews at a local restaurant in town, and I was thankful that Canadian restaurants are open on American Thanksgiving. I’ve spent Thanksgiving away from family before, but this was the first time I’d been out of the country for it. After stuffing ourselves, we headed back to the cabins and the clear night sky.
While AJ and some of FY’s crew members were busy trying to kill themselves sledding down stairs and the playground slide, I was trying to capture light that started its way toward me billions of years ago.
On Friday we woke up to more clear skies and more stunning scenery. There are lakes everywhere, but lakes with snowy, tree covered islands aren’t as common.
Back in the service area I saw some familiar cars. Antoine L’Estage was back in his Evo X that he started the season with, before switching to the WRC Lancer and the Hyundai and the Subaru.
Instead of David Higgins, Subaru has Pat Richard for the CRC.
FY Racing knows how to fix cracked bumpers properly.
My favorite car of the rally was this 1988 Peugeot 205 Group-B clone.
At first glance it might be taken for the real thing, but upon closer inspection it’s obvious that it’s not. Still, it’s got a lot of character and history behind it. I chatted with driver Karoly Toth for a minute, and he wasn’t too confident about finishing the rally and urged me to try to shoot it early on. I was waiting for it on Stage 1 but it never came. I was sad.
Friday is Recce Day at Tall Pines, so there were a lot of personal recce cars covered in dirty snow.
On Friday night there was a shakedown stage. This was the only chance the teams would have to find problems with the cars and do any last minute tuning.
Bright and early on Saturday morning, the teams were making final checks on all the important systems. The cars were kept in a heated warehouse overnight so they didn’t freeze. The temps dropped to -12ºF/-24ºC one night. It was COLD!
Photographer Grzegorz Dorman was also working with FY for this rally, so I hung out with him most of race day. I don’t know why, but 3/4 of the photographers were originally from Poland. Na zdrowie!
Finally I got out on stage and waited for the cars. Crazy Leo was first on the road and it was great to see him after missing most of the rally season. He was just as crazy as ever.
L’Estage wanted the championship and the battle was between him and Pat Richard.
They both looked capable of winning the title.
It was good to see the American teams holding their own. Dillon van Way started in 10th but quickly moved up to 4th.
2 Brits Racing might be the most literal team name in the world. Nick ad Kelly Mathew are both from Warrington, which is not far from Liverpool, but now they live in North America, Kelly in Ontario and Nick in Ohio.
I wasn’t expecting too much from Chris Martin and his GC8. I don’t think any of us were.
Things were going smoothly until Ian Crerar came by, running just a hair wide.
But a hair is all it takes for disaster to strike.
I wondered what exactly I was going to witness. This could have been much worse.
The car almost rolled onto its lid.
But instead it rolled down the hill.
Stopping just out of sight of approaching cars.
That’s probably not a good place to stand!
Back to the action. I was expecting more drift from Martin Walter in his S13.
There were only five 2WD cars in this rally, so any of them could come out on top.
We headed over to Stage 4 next, but got there right as Stage 2 was finishing up. Wouldn’t you know it? Ian Crerar came by like nothing had happened. He had gotten towed out by the Sweep Jeeps after Stage 1 and managed to finish within the allotted time.
Grzegorz and I hiked down the road til we got to a jump. Crazy Leo jumped pretty far.
But Dillon van Way jumped way further. Wow!
I didn’t know L’Estage had a diesel engine!
Martin barely got air off the jump.
Stage 6 was on the same road but running the opposite direction. Can Jam put up this fun banner for Crazy Leo. They sure love him.
Richard was still in it to win it.
But L’Estage wasn’t going to let the championship go without a fight.
Over on Stage 9, Crazy Leo made the best splash through the creek.
Richard and L’Estage were more conservative. Each one needed to finish. L’Estage had already had to stop to fix a punctured tire, so he needed a miracle to win now.
Martin followed suit, and as teams dropped out, he got closer and closer to the front of the pack. I realized Dillon van Way hadn’t come by, and later I found out that on Stage 8, he jumped the car so much that he gave himself motion sickness and threw up three times WHILE HE WAS DRIVING. What a maniac! Codriver Andrew Edwards didn’t feel safe being in a race car with a sick driver so he requested that they stop and retire from the rally. That’s a pretty unfortunate way to go out!
FY Racing fell behind early on when they had a problem with their throttle by wire system, but they worked their way back up throughout the day.
Eric Courchesne certainly put his Focus through its paces.
At the end of the day, after 16 grueling stages, Chris Martin and Brian Johnson came out on top in the Regional Series. Martin Walker and Ferdinand Trauttmansdorff brought their S13 to the overall podium along with Alexandre Ouellette and David Lamarre in their STi. Two old cars on the podium, with one being 2WD, is a rare thing.
The GC8 stayed on for the national podium and Maxime Rochefort-Laframboise and Jérôme Milette joined them in 3rd. Crazy Leo and Pat Richard both dropped out of the rally, leaving Antoine L’Estage 2nd on the podium and also with his 6th CRC championship title!
That’s a hell of an accomplishment!
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