|FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE|
Date: July 6, 2000
|Contact: Dave Sharp|
NEW RICHMOND, QUEBEC -- The Rallye Baie-des-Chaleurs on the Gaspe peninsula of Eastern Quebec this weekend is shaping up as a wide-open contest following the surprise last-minute withdrawal of six-time Canadian driving champion Frank Sprongl. The absence of Sprongl opens the door for Sylvain Vincent and Tom McGeer, his two closest rivals, to take over the lead of the 2000 Subaru Canadian Rally Championship, presented by Yokohama.
The Baie-des-Chaleurs, which begins Friday evening (July 7) and goes through Saturday, is the fifth of eight championship rounds. The top three contenders are separated by only two points. Sprongl, a two-time winner this year, has 52 points; Vincent has 51; and McGeer, who won the Rallye Perce-Neige in February, has 50.
Sprongl, who has won the Baie-des-Chaleurs each of the past three years, pulled out on Wednesday. The Mississauga, Ont., driver had sent the engine of his Audi Quattro to Germany for a rebuild. He expected to have it back by now, but he does not. Sprongl had been slated to start the rally as the first driver on the road - cars begin each competitive stage at one or two-minute intervals - but that distinction now goes to Vincent. Starting first could be a huge advantage, as the forest roads on this rally are notorious for their lingering dust. Even starting a minute or two behind, drivers often say they have trouble seeing. "I was not expecting to be first on the road, but this could be an exciting opportunity. It should be an advantage," said Vincent. "I shall pray for dust," he joked.
Vincent, 35, of La Plaine, near Montreal, is a six-time Quebec Cup champion, but still seeks his first win at the national level. He has finished third in each of the four rallies so far this year, driving a Subaru Impreza, with Dominique Cyr as his navigator.
McGeer, who also drives an Impreza, will start fourth on the road, behind Eagle Talon drivers Barry Latreille and Yves Barbe (start positions are determined by a draw within certain seeded groups). McGeer, 40, of Georgetown, Ont., has fond memories of this event. It was on the Baie-des-Chaleurs that the three-time Canadian champion took his first outright win in 1992.
Other likely contenders include Mazda 323 driver Jean-Marc Alcaraz, of St-Lambert-de-Levis, Que., and Keith Townsend, of Toronto, who will be in a brand-new Mitsubishi Lancer that has been prepared for competition by Sprongl. While Sprongl will not be driving on this event, he will be present to head up Townsend's service crew. "It's a potent car," said Sprongl. "It may take Keith a few stages to get used to it, but by the end of the rally, he should be knocking on the door."
The Baie-des-Chaleurs is one of the best-supported rallies in North America, attracting as many as 3,000 spectators in places. A total of 50 cars are entered, the biggest field in at least a decade.
The rally begins at New Richmond at 6 p.m. on Friday. Five stages -the timed portions of the event held on roads temporarily closed to the public - will take place in and around the town that evening. The teams will take to the region's forest roads on Saturday and are scheduled to return to New Richmond at about 8 p.m.
For more information:
Terry Epp, (905) 640-6444
David Hatter, (613) 231-3248