Nov 28, 2017 – Rookie rally driver Conner Martell made a remarkable gravel rally debut at the 2017 Rally of the Tall Pines, earning a 2nd place overall finish at the wheel of his Vermont SportsCar-prepared Subaru WRX STI. Martell, with experienced co-driver Greg Dorman drove a faultless rally, defeating more experienced crews on what is widely regarded as one of the toughest rallies in North America. This was Martell’s second rally event in his career, after competing in a snow rally in 2016. The 20-year-old from Colchester, Vermont began his driving career just two years ago in the Red Bull Global Rallycross Championship where he competed in the Lites class, having achieved six victories to date while challenging for the driver’s title there.
The 2017 Rally of the Tall Pines represented round six of the highly competitive Canadian Rally Championship. Based in Bancroft Ontario, the Rally of the Tall Pines is one of the most difficult rallies in Canada due to the mix of high-level competition and notoriously variable road and weather conditions. The event also features a daunting 115 miles of competition stages run in just one long day, taxing both the crews and the cars. Martell entered Tall Pines with a Vermont SportsCar-prepared 2008 Subaru WRX STI. Martell’s Subaru was prepared to the Super Production class specifications used in USA rallying, but ran in the Canadian Rally Championship’s 4-wheel drive Open class.
“It’s kind of unreal to be honest, I am glad we got the car to the finish in one piece. We’ve had some moments, we had a slipping clutch, we had two tire punctures, but we never gave up. It is definitely the most fun I have had in a car,” said Martell at the podium. “We had a great battle with Leo (Urlichich) throughout the event and to come out on top feels pretty amazing.”
The Vermont SportsCar backed crew of Martell and Dorman started off the rally on a strong note, placing themselves in the top three in overall classification before the first service stop, but were in the tight battle with series veterans Leo Urlichich and co-driver Alex Kihurani. Martell and Urlichich traded stage times throughout the day until Martell put in an excellent drive on stage ten, beating their closest rivals by over 25 seconds to move into second place overall. However Martell’s car began to have a clutch issue which would force him to back off his pace for the remainder of the event.
Martell entered the final loop of stages with just a 14.5 second advantage over third place and were heading for four difficult stages in the dark. Despite Martell’s minimal experience with pace notes, which are vital for night stages, the pair excelled and was able to increase their advantage over their rivals and secure 2nd Overall. Martell finished behind only the Subaru Canada factory entry of Canadian Rally Champion Antoine L’Estage.
“I am impressed how well Conner drove all day. This was his first gravel event, first time in this car, first time sitting with me and on top of all of that Tall Pines is such a tough event,” explained Greg Dorman. “The conditions were difficult, probably the toughest in the last five years. I expect this result will open the door for this young talented driver to compete in more rallies and I’m sure we will see him on many more podiums in the future.”