Now with added snow & slush!

Before we go through my pictures, here’s the official highlights reel from CRC. It was quite a sight seeing SRT Canada defend the homeland against SRT USA, among others, but it was the conditions that came out on top at the end. Of the 31 entrants, only 30% made it to the end of the night after 17 stages - a most peculiar result, but more on that later.

As some of you may recall, I attended the rally for the first time last year (coincidentally 365 days this post) and left that night slightly disappointed, having not seen L’Estage on the stages due to a mechanical retirement. With that behind me, I made the trek into Bancroft this year with a better idea of what to expect - both in terms of the cars present and the kinds of shots I wanted. The last thing I wanted was another event of the same “style” of photos so I picked an area of my photography repertoire that needed work (manual tracking shots) and set that at the top of my list, along with some different creative styles I wanted to play around with.

A quick refresher: last year, Tall Pines was abnormally warm with only hints of frozen ground and ice on what was a gravel rally the majority of the event. For 2016, the bipolar Canadian weather as of late decided to throw a curveball and cover Bancroft with a decent layer of snow - the caveat being this would again be another warm year, and the snow would quickly turn to slush by mid-day. Competitors that were back from 2015 would see themselves face a significantly different set of challenges, as the stages no doubt would behave differently than what they had driven in the past.

My “new” Sigma 70-200 f2.8, replacing my old Sony SAL55300.

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The drive east this year was as eventful as ever, but not because of other drivers (on the contrary, the route was relatively empty). There were torrential rain storms as I left Toronto, then clear skies around Oshawa; only when the blue sky broke past Peterborough did I get a glimpse of winter snow, something that can be considered a rarity down here in the Golden Horseshoe.

Once on Highway 28 however, not even the snow could detract from the fact that the stretch of road that squiggles North through the Kawartha region is one of the most memorable drives in this area of the province. Immense elevation change, endless wilderness and blasted rock faces every few minutes - what looks initially like an average drive on Google Maps in reality turns into quite a fun way to kill time behind the wheel. At least, if you’re not stuck behind another car.

Sometime after 7AM, I reached Bancroft Rally HQ, once again at the Dungannon Recreation Centre for this edition of the rally. Rather embarrassingly, it was at this point that I proceeded to lock myself out of my car after gathering my gear, but let’s not get into that.

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Rally HQ / Parc Expose

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The service park was surprisingly empty when I arrived, but I knew it wouldn’t last and rushed through my shots (while simultaneously on the lookout for that tow truck I may or may not have called). It’s not often SRT-USA makes the trip up North so I’m sure many made special note to snap a few extra of the #199 VR15R. The last time Pastrana was up here in the great white north was 2008, and with a prospective return to the event in 2017 I do hope I get to have a proper chat with him then.

Among some of the returning teams from last year, I was hoping I’d see the Subaru of Rally Pilot Racing around the paddock somewhere but alas it appeared the team couldn’t get a car together in time after the unfortunate crash at Rallye Perce Neige earlier this year. A real shame since Jeremy Norris looked incredibly strong last year, but here’s to seeing him back in a rally car in the new year!

Not to fret you GC/GM fans, as there was one other memorable entrant returning from last year. That was of course the grey and orange Subaru of Old School Motorsports, driven by Chris Martin & Brian Johnson. Although the exterior may look rather unassuming, never count this duo out as a podium result is never far from their grasp.

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Bancroft being one of the premier events of the rally season, it always attracts a good number of teams from outside of Ontario despite the wonky weather. A fair number of which come over from the neighbouring province of Quebec, one of which is TEST Racing which fields two open class 4WD Subarus. Most notably is the car once fielded by Sylvain Vincent and now piloted by son Simon Vincent, as he is in the running to take the title of Rookie of the Year.

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Do you see a trend yet? Yes, this is another Subaru! Additionally, the number of cars in the production classes this year would have made for a good, tight battle if the conditions weren’t so inconsistent.

If there was any team that deserved the spotlight amongst the headlining teams, it was definitely the All Fours Rally Team out of Washington, USA. To drive 2,700 miles across the continent just to compete here is nothing short of amazing, and their production class STI was definitely capable of giving the field a good fight.

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By the time I finally got my car key situation sorted, it was time for Parc Expose. That wonderful time of day during a rally weekend where there are cars warming up and moving all over the place trying to get into their spots.

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Ian Crerar’s rally 911 caught me off guard as it rolled past because 1) Matini livery best livery and 2) since when did he have a rally-spec 930? I suppose as someone who races Porsches in the Canadian Touring Car Championship, Crerar is bound to have some toys hidden away but this was a nice surprise nonetheless. (last year he was here in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo V, also sponsored by CWRT)

With ambient temps hovering just above 0C, there was a wonderful symphony of turbocharged four-cylinder noise in the service park as cars everywhere sprung to life and began to warm up. I never actually realized how many GD-chassis Subarus there were at the event, and provided Crazy Leo doesn’t get his hands on one, they should all make it to the finish!

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The #29 car was one to take note of especially as the driver, Peter Macdonald, is often behind the camera shooting rally events and rarely behind the wheel driving in one!

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Just as I got around to the SRT Canada pits, all three cars returned from their shakedown laps, presumably to do final checks on setup and whatnot. New for this year are the two Crosstrek competition cars prepared by Rocket Rally Racing, and while they are not quite the same as the WRC-spec XV that Vermont SportsCar sent to China, these should be more than capable for the 4WD Open class.

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While AWD is always the preferred drivetrain of choice, there have been those in the past who have shown that a properly built 2WD car can finish pretty high up in the standings. Hopes were high for the Thompson Racing Fabrication BRZ, which is apparently for rent for anybody interested.

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Despite fielding slightly older machinery, the rally talent of the Quebecois drivers more than makes up for the apparent shortfalls in technology. While the drivers often get the spotlight, the crews behind them are the real unsung heroes for events like stage rally.

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While some teams made final checks to systems and notes, others were busy being prepped with media equipment. It was also a good time to sneak a good look at what tires teams were running; Yokohama A034 snow & ice tires seemed to be the favourite although there were a few DMACK options around.

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Never underestimate a Mini - this thing was ridiculously loud
It may seem empty now, but when service park is in full swing both sides of this road are lined with cars

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As the clock struck 8, the crowds flocked in and it became slightly more difficult getting some shots with a long lens. This was the only shot I got of the SRT Canada car, but a quick review of the exterior reveals few changes from last year’s model.

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As you can see, Pastrana’s car became quite popular and just standing around this car you can see why. The caliber of the engineering at Vermont SportsCar is truly world class, and to just see this amazing machine in Canada is a truly special memory. A completely brand new chassis to that of teammate David Higgins, Travis definitely had the right tool to challenge the champ for the Rally America title.

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Putting the two SRT cars side by side, you can see where the schools of design tackled the task of rally differently. Meanwhile, here’s Crazy Leo crashing the party in his Race Lab WRX as he (not so) quietly yearns for a factory ride. For the duration of the event, Leo was raffling off free rides on the stages to lucky spectators as a promotion for his new performance driving school aimed at rally-goers.

With two rounds to go and the top 3 separated by a handful of points, Rally Tall Pines was definitely going to be a key points-scoring event. Boris Djordjevic went into the rally trailing in third place, but regardless of the finish I was happy to see L’Estages old Evo X still alive and well. (Oops)

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As refreshing as it is to see some newer machinery out, like this Fiesta R2, the wrap may not be for everybody. Which begs the question: when are we going to see WRC machines proper show up in Bancroft? I was really hoping the Mini would be present, but alas it was not.

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Did I mention there were a few GDs present? Man these are pretty.

Method Race Wheels seem to be a popular option among the top teams

While the Parc proceeded to fill up, I stole a few moments to go see what else was left behind in the pits. First (and only) stop: SRT-USA, and I was again amazed at how organized this bunch are. Even without the full team present, everything about the pit service was incredibly professional. Just look at their toolboxes!

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Juggernaut is back again with their mean, green FWD machine
Another year, another Neon

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Although CRC was live streaming to their own facebook account, I’d wager that these gents were filming something for their own production. Launch Control, maybe? Who knows.

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And just like that it was 9AM, time for the ceremonial start. L’Estage was first off the ramp, and he rolled off with so much speed I didn’t get much time to grab proper shots. Luckily for us, there’s an onboard video of Car #1 as they blast through SS1 - being first on the road, you can see how much work L’Estage has to put in sweeping the road yet it looks so fluid and incredibly fast. A testament to the 8 time champ who knows these roads better than anyone else.

And then the VIP bus got stuck on a bit of snow

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With Labrie and Djordjevic back-to-back on the road, the battle for the podium is sure to be intense. Throw in Pastrana, someone who is relatively inexperienced in this type of event, and anything can happen. The talent pool between these three cars is truly incredible.

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Off the Subarus went, one by one down the road to the first stage. Tire selection will be crucial for the first loop given the unknowns and no doubt teams would have given it extensive thought.

Dusty would have loved this 911. It was far from the fastest, but man was it cool.

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Although the OPP Bancroft branch was just down the road, I don’t recall seeing that many cruisers out and about on patrol. Maybe they were all stage-side?

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With the gap between cars, I figured I’d change up the angles of attack a bit. Here’s that uncropped subie pic, as well as a few others playing around with the light. There’s something inherently cool about shooting rally-prepped vehicles amongst normal cars.

That gulf livery tho.

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I don’t think many people have crashed coming down the ramp, but a fair few have definitely stalled from time to time.

And just like that the last cars headed out of the park and onto the first loop of stages. Myself, I headed back to the car for a quick nap but you would have known that if you followed me on instagram.

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Service #1

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Decided to kill a bit of time and see what was up at the first service before heading off to Old Detlor. Just looking around the SRT USA pit, you begin to sense what a world class team this is. Everything from the cleanliness to the organization, it’s no wonder they’ve dominated the American rally scene.

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While not as picturesque as it was last year, there is an equal beauty in the winter scenery in Bancroft. Or maybe it’s just something about a half-frozen Tait Lake and all the scenery which makes for a neat backdrop for car spotting, though not much of that happened.

Subaru Canada brought out a 2017 Impreza

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Service #1 revealed some truly worrying details. The inconsistent conditions caught a lot of teams out, and several ended up going off at various points. It may be hard to tell from this picture, but the TRF BRZ ended up sliding off into a tree, leaving a perfectly circular dent on the right side quarter panel.

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While waiting for the rest of the cars to trickle into service park, I spotted Travis’ recce car - a 2015 WRX with a set of Method Race wheels and Nokian Hakkepelitta R2 non-studded tires, a rare sight even in these parts.

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As the front runners made their way back to timing control, it was an opportune time to snap a few pics before any misfortunes caught up with them. As the two were often seen trading seconds out on the stages, I guess it’s fair to say L’Estage and Pastrana had a few things to say to one another.

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Some cars came back to service cleaner than others, but there were the few unlucky ones. Brandon Semenuk ended up sliding off the road into a tree as well, damaging the rear door. Agatino Fortunato got off slightly easier with just a flat tire, but they would later go on to have some scary moments of their own.

It was at this point everybody realized we were missing a car from the road order. Djordjevic ended up snapping his driveshaft while out on stage, hence his absence from the queue. And so the championship race would be down to 2.

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As Stef so eloquently put it: trees suck, team cars forever!

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Maybe one of these days I’ll linger around service park more and get some better shots of the crews in action, but for now there was somewhere I needed to be.


Stage A5/A7 (Old Detlor, Iron Bridge)

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While not quite as intense as Old Hastings in terms of elevation change, Old Detlor is incredibly fast and twisty in its own right. While last year teams may have trapped higher average speeds through here thanks to a mainly gravel surface, this year would be completely different. Already you can see the gravel peeking through, but the snow banks on either side will be especially dangerous and the fairly light dusting of snow on the stage itself will make for slippery conditions.

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Having built something like the Beast (RIP), I suppose what better outfit than Can Jam Motorsports to modify Subarus and get them stage-ready. Would have loved to see them run their crazy widebody STI on these stages with Alex Beland behind the wheel, a sweep vehicle will do!

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One of the downsides of being at this point is there really is no good indication of when the cars are coming. It’s only a few moments from when you hear the faint sound of an engine in the trees to when its barreling through the braking zone, and then off it goes.

The top two cars came through here incredibly quickly, and judging by the rooster tails you can guess how much my gear had been covered by the resulting snow and dirt. No complaints though!

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For a production class car, the Alls Four STI sure can get the back end out (and look amazing doing it).

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As the cars continued to come down the stage, the surface kept getting progressively more tricky. Some teams preferred to take a smoother line to avoid going off whereas others went for the higher speed approach.

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Just be careful to not push too hard because who knows what the ditches can hide. This STI got off incredibly lucky, barely escaping the draw of the snow back - no doubt it was a good show for the spectators further up the hill.

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While no less exciting, something about the slower cars made them easier to shoot. Maybe a dozen cars passed by at this point and the stage has already become a slush fest - a double edged sword for speed vs entertainment.

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Is there anything cooler than a 1982 911 on a rally stage, let alone one wearing a Martini livery?

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It’s not often you see cars catch each other on a stage, let alone near a spectator area, but these three got quite the cheer from the sideline. They may be slow but FWD cars always produce close racing. Plus, kudos to Jim Stevens in the Suzuki Swift+ who has competed in every Rally Tall Pines since 2005.

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It was at this point I regretted not bringing a chair, as sitting on the snow for a couple of hours is far from enjoyable. Noted for next year, unless the weather shifts again and there’s no snow at all...

The long delays left me plenty of time to shoot random objects

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While their first pass through Old Detlor Road may have been snow covered, it had become nearly entirely gravel at this point. Still on snow tires, the leading duo continued to push on despite the conditions - it was apparent that it would be a close battle to the end.

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While not fielding quite the same caliper of machinery, championship leader Maxime Labrie didn’t shy down from the fight and drove a smooth, consistent pace reminiscent of the Vincents, whose car came through right after.

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Don’t know what it is about these GDs, but they just photograph so well! (and sound oh so good)

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As much as it was nice seeing plenty of Subarus out, a stage rally isn’t complete without seeing one of the older Mitsubishis tear up the stage. I was never a fan of the WRC wing on Evos to begin with but clearly they work well.

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For such a new platform, the Crosstreks showed promise. Some teething issues for sure, but definitely a program to keep an eye out for as the development months go by. The liveries that Rocket Rally decided to run are pretty neat too - the black/red/yellow has a Lotus F1 feel to it.

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Thankfully there was no further precipitation in the forecast, but who knew what the other stages would look like as the day continued. (bwoahisthesameforeveryone) Snow and slush isn’t nearly as exciting as gravel, but witnessing rally cars in their element is a sufficient compromise.

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Surprisingly the Juggernaut Focus came out of the bend with what appeared to be a tank slapper - slightly odd behaviour for a FWD car, or maybe it really was just that slippery.

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Rally Sputnik is back!

It’s not every day you see an early Talon or Starion in stage rally, but here they were. The Starion nearly had a close call this morning when it had a no start. RWD on these stages must have been quite a handful though.

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Always the joker Leo is, but this year he was here to promote Race Lab - a new organization aimed at teaching people advanced driving techniques catering to offroad driving. For a fair price, you would have access to their vast fleet of vehicles and have Leo as an instructor (be warned: he got the nickname Crazy for a reason). One lucky spectator got taken for a wild ride down Old Detlor, and wisely decided to empty his coffee before setting off.

The tall pines from which the rally gets its name

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Stage B1 (Iron Bridge)

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Because of the deteriorating conditions, it forced the organizer’s hand and they had to adjust how some stages were run. Traditionally Iron Bridge would be run North first, then South but given the the state of the road they opted to swap the order.

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Keen to decrease the gap to L’Estage, Pastrana absolutely drove the wheels off his Subaru, cutting the corner a fair bit and rolling through the dip as if it wasn’t there. It would be nice to see what this car is like on a full gravel rally like 100 Acre Woods, but I’m glad they’re going to contest a winter round in Quebec for the 2017 championship. That’s a bit too far for me, so here’s to hoping they come back to Bancroft next year!

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I didn’t realize until I got home, but I apparently didn’t get many usable shots of the OSM Subaru. A real bummer because it was my favourite among the field (though they seem to have addressed the monster truck suspension I joked about last year).

Some of the lower powered cars drove through the stage completely pinned; the Mini was incredibly fast despite only having a small naturally aspirated motor, but what a noise it made.

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With so much foot traffic, even the spectators had trouble getting around. A few, myself included, had a few rather embarrassing falls as the snow quickly packed down to smoothed ice, and the successive bumps and cavities didn’t make traversing the terrain any easier. A RZR sure would have been nice!

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Stage B5 (Golton)

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Much to everyone’s disappointment, the decision was made to run the Golton rallycross stage only once that night due ot the conditions. As the ground was thawing out, the once solid dirt had turned into a thick mud, and the endless rotation of sweep vehicles only revealed what we already knew. Crazy Leo got a run through Golton at the start, and nearly slid off himself, so I guess that was that.

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Since Golton was only run once and teams got an extended service afterwards, the delay to the first car was quite long. I’m glad in hindsight that I bundled up sufficiently this year, but I was really hoping I’d get to tackle night photography more than I did.

A few B&W shots to kill some time, as the organizers rattled off the list of sponsors in the background (huge thanks to the families and provincial government for granting us access to your land!). It was at this point when it was revealed that we only had 15 cars left running, of the 31 starters.

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These were some of the toughest shots of the night, and I had no idea how they would turn out until I sent them through post. I was shaking so much from the cold that I’m surprised I even got somewhat sharp images to be honest. Manual focus, manual ISO - decent results but a decent vantage point would have made things much easier.

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The night stages are some of the most difficult on Canada, at least when you take into account the exhaustion of the crews and the state of the roads they’re driving on. Even so the duo of Vincent and Gaudreau pushed on into the night, unsure of what Bancroft would have in store of them.

This year’s Jump, seemingly smaller due to the lower speeds

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It brought a smile to my face to still see the AFRT STI still going, despite a slightly battered body after that scary 360* spin in a snowbank earlier in the day. Hats off to these guys for doing so well in the production class, and besting some of the open class teams.

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With the AWD carving grooves into the thick mud, the 2WD cars had a slightly tougher time making it through the rallycross. Just as before, the Mini was absolutely pinned on the rev limiter as it tried to climb out of the ruts. The two Lancers made it through with relative ease, but not with much speed.


Service #3

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The extended service was an odd sight. Teams who were still in it were working frantically to repair cars, while those who were out just sat idly by. There was a constant buzz of activity in the service park and I tried my best to grab a few shots before heading home (the exhaustion and cold were starting to really set in).

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Some teams were unluckier still, and words can’t describe how disappointing it was to see cars that were doing so well retire out this far into the rally. The sight of broken rally cars in the night is not a pretty one.

Source: CRC Rally / Rally of the Tall Pines Results

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Congrats to the 9 finishers at the end of 17 stages and 200+km of competitive distance. 4th overall for Fortunato in a production class STI is a very impressive result, and I wish you the best of luck with the long 2000+ mile trip back to the other end of the continent for your next rally. Similarly, congrats to Jason Bailey on winning the open 2WD class after everybody crashed out.

Additionally, here are the results for the regional championship. Congratulations to Old School Motorsports and Christopher Martin / Brian Johnson for taking the Eastern Canada Rally Championship title for 2016! It came down to the wire and they edged out Vincent by a few seconds before the car had to retire. Here’s to hoping we see more of the OSM Subaru in 2017!

So that’s it. Another year in the books, and another couple hundred photos worth of experience to bring into the new year. Shooting everything in manual was an invaluable takeaway from this trip and tracking focus with a long tele is a skill I hope to improve upon with my next trip to Mosport.

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But the rally bug has bit, and I want to shoot more. There’s just something rewarding about mixing cars and the environment, something I haven’t been doing much shooting normal events. Providing my gear survives, I hope to be back to shoot another event in the future. At the mo looking at making the trip back East for either Black Bear or Lanark Highlands Forest Rally, but that’s something to worry about for another day.

It’s going to be a long couple of months before I shoot my next event proper, but I’m looking forward to getting some decent downtime now. See y’all in February for CIAS!