Friday, December 8th, 2017
The Big White Winter Rally marks the finale of the 2017 Canadian Rally Championship. With a field of more than 30 entires, each class promises a host of contenders ready to prove their outright speed on the snowy mountain roads surrounding Kelowna, B.C.
Antoine L’Estage and Alan Ockwell of Subaru Rally Team Canada arrive with their titles all but a formality. L’Estage secured his title at the Rally of the Tall Pines two weeks ago. Co-driver Ockwell has a 20 point lead over John Hall and will need to finish ahead of Hall to secure the title.
Last year, L’Estage and Ockwell took an early lead in the event’s first time as part of the national championship. From there, they continued a strong pace to win the event. Though the pair have long been favourites at any round of the championship, the team has occasionally ended up notching a DNF proving that even the best teams with the best cars can still fall victim to the demands of rallying.
Second off the line will be Brandon Semenuk and John Hall. The two were in the championship hunt until a frustrating result at the Rally of the Tall Pines knocked them down the points table. Last year, the team finished fourth at the event, less than a minute back from the podium. This year, the pair won the Rocky Mountain Rally, and finished second at the Pacific Forest Rally. A strong finish at Big White would be a good cap to the season for the team.
Conner Martell and Greg Dorman impressed rally fans by finishing second at the Rally of the Tall Pines last month, his second-ever stage rally. Last year, Martell contested the Big White Winter Rally in a rear wheel drive Subaru BRZ, but ended up with a DNF. This time, he’ll use the same car he had at Tall Pines, a Vermont SportsCar Subaru STI. Martell is likely to be in the podium hunt if he and Dorman can find the same sweet spot of speed and control as at Pines two weeks ago.
Travis Nease and Krista Skucas have contested most of the Canadian Rally Championship this season, under the Hi Camp Racing and DirtFish rally school banners. Though the team have had mixed fortunes, they are in contention for the North American Rally Cup, battling against Semenuk and Hall.
David Nickel and Alex Gelsomino are back after sitting out the Rally of the Tall Pines. The two have had difficult fortunes this season. A crash took them out of the Rocky Mountain Rally, and the motor failed in the final stages of the Pacific Forest Rally. Last year, co-driven by Chris Kremer, Nickel rolled the car and did not finish the Big White Rally. While he can show speed, Nickel will likely want to notch a finish to try to end the season on a more positive note.
In Production 4WD, the title was secured by Leo Urlichich at Tall Pines. Key western competitors are on hand at Big White to test their mettle against each other. Nicholas Spencer and John Kesslar will continue the shakedown of Spencer’s new WRX, and will have strong competition in the form of Eric Grochowski and Martin Headland. Eric Pehota and Jennifer Daly put in a strong drive at the Pacific Forest Rally and are quick and consistent.
Dave Wallingford and Leanne Junnila dominated the 2WD class this year, securing the title at the Pacific Forest Rally in October. The pair are at the head of a strong 2WD field at Big White in what may be their final event in the class – the two are moving into an Open Class Fiesta R5 for 2018.
Jason Bailey and Shayne Peterson emerged victorious in the 2016 edition, and are back to defend their result at their home rally. The pair had a season long battle with Wallingford and Junnila but were too often subject to mechanical troubles to effectively pursue the championship title.
Will Hudson and Biran Szykowny have entered Big White in a 2WD Fiesta. Hudson finished ninth in the WRC Drive Dmack Cup in 2015, but has largely been absent from competition since then, retiring from the 2016 Ojibwe Forest Rally with co-driver John Hall.
Joining the fun in 2WD is Wim van der Poel and Bryan Lord. The pair are better known for their bright orange Chronus Rally EVO, but have decided to try something different moving forward.
2WD isn’t just one big Fiesta party. Nick Wood and Steve Stevenson have entered their Datsun 1200 which the team used to finish third in class at the Pacific Forest Rally in October.
Michelle Miller is a familiar face on the co-driving side of the car, but will be hopping in as a driver this weekend, in a Focus. The DirtFish Team Manager and instructor will be co-driven by Tiffany MacDonald, with Mindi Cross and Tina Watt signed on as service crew. Each of the team members have competed in motorsport or work in the automotive industry. Though they are last on the start list, the skills are in place to move up the order.
The Big White Winter Rally is headquartered at the Big White ski resort, and features a total of 10 stages over two days, covering 176km of roads covered in snow and ice. Set in the Monashee mountains of British Columbia, the Big White Winter Rally the final rally of the year.
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