Rocky Mountain Rally

By Tarun Tuli

Started in 1973, the Rocky Mountain Rally is one of Canada’s largest annual pro rally events. This year’s competition was one of the biggest yet, with nearly fifty competitors. Competitors included many local drivers, such as University of Calgary student Janusz Komorowski, and teams from other parts of Canada and the United States.

The two day event started on the evening of Fri., May 28 with a special spectator stage at the Blackfoot Motorcycle Park in Calgary. A short dirt track at the park gave spectators a close look at the cars in action and a chance to chat with drivers. On Saturday, the actual rally began on closed gravel roads at Porcupine Hills approximately two hours south of Calgary.

For those unfamiliar with rally, imagine special purpose built vehicles driving on public gravel and dirt roads barely wider than the car itself, with trees whipping by on one side and sharp cliff drop-offs on the other–at speeds reaching 160 km/h. Each car has a highly skilled driver and a co-driver in the passenger seat who reads out pace notes to the driver about of upcoming corners and other hazards. Otherwise, the driver is essentially blind as it is practically impossible to see upcoming corners around trees and other obstacles.

Competitors aren’t racing head to head, making rally racing different from other motorsports. Instead each team is sent loose on a different portion of an approximately 500 km course, racing against the clock. The winning team is the one that completes all sections of the rally in the shortest total time.

The rally route included long high speed straight-aways, confusing intersections and sharp hairpin turns combined with hazards like fences, large boulders, trees and ditches. Only here could fans see, hear and feel the cars going full-out past spectator areas along the course.

Forecasts for poor weather limited the number of spectators compared to previous years. Luckily, the weather held up for most of the day, with limited moisture keeping dust from getting kicked up by cars, a major complaint in the past.

U of C’s Komorowski who won last year’s Western Canadian Championship scored himself an eighth place finish overall, third place in his class.

Race favorite and last year’s Rocky Mountain Rally winner Tom McGeer, who drove a factory sponsored Subaru WRX STi, retired early in the race due to a multiple rollover, the result of hitting a patch of trees. This opened the way for Vancouver’s Patrick Richard in another factory sponsored STi to claim the overall win for the rally. The top three was rounded out by second-place Alberta resident Andrew Picard and Quebecois driver Antoine L’Estage.

The size of this year rally made is especially exciting for both the teams and the spectators with plenty of action to enjoy over the two-day event. As the sport continues to get more popular, the caliber of the events and competition will only further improve.