Cruisin’ Kootenays

Cranbrook's Jim Nichol & Rocky Mountain Rally chair Jim Blaber hope to grow racing in the region

Cranbrook's Jim Nichol goes for a rip in his 1993 Subaru Impreza last week in preparation for the 2014 Rocky Mountain Rally

Cranbrook's Jim Nichol goes for a rip in his 1993 Subaru Impreza last week in preparation for the 2014 Rocky Mountain Rally

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Taylor Rocca

The Rocky Mountain Rally is making a return to the Columbia Valley and for the second consecutive year, Cranbrook will be represented at the Canadian Rally Championship event.

Rally car driver Jim Nichol and co-driver Jeremy Friesen, both of Cranbrook, will be racing for the second time at the event, which runs Oct. 31 and Nov. 1 in Invermere, B.C.

“I’ve always been interested in motor sport,” Nichol said.

“I found out rally is in our own backyard. It’s here in the Kootenays.”

The Rocky Mountain Rally is one of six national rally races in the Canadian Rally Championship series. This is the second year the race will be run out of Invermere.

“Two years ago, we actually hit on Invermere as a key location,” said John Blaber, chair of the organizing committee and clerk of the course for the Rocky Mountain Rally.

“We’re looking to make this a long-term base for the rally. We’re looking to develop things with the towns, with the communities and to really just expand it and make it an annual thing that everybody knows about.”

There are two rally distances drivers can compete in — national and regional. Nichol will be competing in the regional rally distance, which features 117 kilometres over six stages. The national rally stretches 185 km over 10 stages.

As of Oct. 21, there are 26 drivers registered to run in the race.

“There’s a lot to do. You start early in the morning and you go until late at night,” said Nichol, who drives a modified 1993 Subaru Impreza. “I didn’t realize it would be so busy and there would be so much to do. There’s a lot to keep track of and I have my co-driver [Jeremy Friesen] with me.

“He tells me the gradient of the turns, how sharp the turns are and what to expect on the road. He also has to keep track of the timing. We have to be at certain places at certain times and if you don’t get there at the right time, you get penalized.”

As far as he knows, Nichol is the only rally car driver in the East Kootenay. Blaber hopes the sport will grow in the area with increasing attention on the Rocky Mountain Rally.

“People understand what rally is and they’re usually keen to learn more about it,” Nichol said. “It’s just they don’t know that it’s here. They don’t know that it’s close by and they can go and see it.”

The ceremonial start for the race will take place on Main Street in Invermere Oct. 31 from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. The rally officially gets underway at 11:30 a.m.

“Last year was the first year we were here in the Columbia Valley,” Blaber said. “We had to build the rally, find the roads. We worked very hard with the Ministry of Transportation and also the forestry departments, to find those roads.

“We purposely kept [the 2013 rally] low key because we just didn’t know what we were going to get…This year, we’ve focused more on the PR and spectator side of things. We’re working hard with the two towns of Invermere and Radium. They’re coming out and supporting us in various ways.”

There are a variety of spectator locations scattered throughout the Columbia Valley with the first four stages of the event taking place Friday, Oct. 31. The first two stages of the event can be viewed along Westside Road south of Invermere. The third and fourth stages of the event swoop further south between Canal Flats and Skookumchuck. Stages five through eight take place Saturday, Nov. 1 in and around the Radium area. Those wishing to take in the event are encouraged to follow the signs and directions of course marshals and volunteers.

“You can actually be standing no more than five or 10 metres from the cars,” Blaber added. “[You can] see the whites of the [drivers’] eyes, is probably the best way to put it.”

The Rocky Mountain Rally was first run in 1973, organized by three separate Alberta car clubs — the Edmonton Light Car Club, the Northern Alberta Sports Car Club and the Calgary Sports Car Club. The 1974 edition of the event saw racers drive from Jasper to Banff, racing approximately 1,500 km in three days. The event has moved locations over the years, beginning in places such as Calgary, Edmonton and the Pincher Creek/Crowsnest Pass area.

The Calgary Sports Car Club is still involved in the presentation of the event to this very day.

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