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THE TAO OF “CRAZY LEO” URLICHICH


Tuesday, November 13, 2012
Those who compete in the sport of rally share a common characteristic: the need to drive fast, jump, and slide through dirt corners in the face of danger. It’s what makes the sport unique and appealing to so many. And this season Rally America was introduced to a new driver that literally lived and breathed those characteristics on his bare skin.

If you attended any Rally America National Championship events this year, you’ve seen him in his fire breathing 2007 Subaru WRX STI in striking orange and black and sporting an equally fire breathing noble lion graphic ordained on each side of the rally car. It’s a contrasting livery that fits the dynamic characteristics of its driver, Leonid Urlichich from Toronto, Ontario.

Those who know him simply call him Crazy Leo. He has been competing against Canada’s top rally teams since 2007 as a fast driving, fast talking risk-taker who’s every breath is taken to maximize his dreams of winning.

Crazy Leo was born in the USSR and rally racing was the farthest thing in his mind when growing up behind the iron curtain. Once the political system changed his country he decided to take the plunge and attend Trent University just outside of Toronto, Canada at 17 years of age. Urlichich had known about rally racing since he was a little boy, but it didn’t occur to him that he too could become a driver until he attended his first rally when at college.

“Rally is by far the most exciting and complicated of motorsports,” said Urlichich, “I love being able to tweak a car for any condition and try to outdrive those conditions.”

Urlichich is a little bit… crazy… Even his reason to get into the sport arose from a situation far different from other drivers that he laughs about it to this day.

One day, Crazy Leo attempted to convince a salesman that he could handle a BMW M6 by demonstrating car control in his Subaru STI. Instead, he crashed his Subaru during a maneuver at a construction site. Following the incident, he limped the car to Can-Jam Motorsports, in the middle of the night, the only place he knew where he could get some help, and donated his car to the shop.

“There were guys still working late into the night and they were so surprised I was willing to give them my car. After that meeting, the owners of Can-Jam and I developed a relationship and I eventually started driving for them,” said Urilichich.

Urlichich doesn’t settle with just driving, though, he wants to be the best. To his credit he assembled a team that would get him to where he wanted to be using Can-Jam as his crew and engineering support. It was a huge head start into racing that most drivers never get and Urlichich was willing to pour everything he got into the chance.

He then began learning how to drive fast. It’s easier said than done, but considering Urlichich’s intensity to achieve results quickly and efficiently he began using tactics to give him the edge to insert himself into the sport’s upper echelons alongside Canadian icons such as, Patrick Richard and Antoine L’Estage. Video preparation became an integral part of his studies learning rally roads and he poured hours into the practice. He knew he was going to be a flat-out driver and he wanted to overcome the inevitable crash that every rally driver encounters.

“I don’t like crashing,” explained Urlichich, “I go flat out every time I race, but when you have new roads, you will crash. Over time we got to know the Canadian Rally Championship (CRC) events better, which gave us a good chance to win it all. But we will budget for accidents, because I don’t want to take 20 years to get fast. Just look at the top drivers in the world and see how much they crash. Look back in history… it comes with the business and you have to be ready for it.”

To complete Urlichich’s development the team needed a co-driver he could mesh with. He experimented with a new co-driver each season for several years before settling on Carl Williamson from Ammanford, United Kingdom at the start of 2012.

Williamson was a perfect match for Crazy Leo. He brought an extensive rally background logging over 800 rally events and 30 Word Rally Championship starts with 150 different drivers, notably co-driving for Jari-Mati Latvala. Yet, Williamson became more than just a co-driver for Urlichich and extended his duties towards being a psychologist and engineer.

“Leo’s mind is as fast as his driving – it doesn’t stop,” said Williamson, “It’s always going at 100mph before, during and after a rally. But he is always looking at videos and always looking to improve. So we work together about car preparation and correcting driver error. His mind is a sponge that takes in everything I have.”

With Williamson and Can-Jam Motorsports, Crazy Leo then attacked the route book notes using a novel customized system to provide the precision and the edge he desired. His notes did away with the standard turn rating system and divided the degree of turns into finer measurements. Urlichich wanted to be even more precise in the heat of the moment and process information quicker to drive faster.

Ultimately, Urlichich‘s results are paying off as he gains more familiarity from running rally events multiple times. His first overall win came at the 2011 Rally of the Tall Pines and as a result, he finished 2nd overall in the 2011 Canadian Rally Championships. He currently sits 2nd overall in the CRC with the Rally of the Tall Pines left on the 2012 schedule.

As the team continued mastering CRC events, Urlichich and Williamson added the 2012 Rally America National Championship to their docket joining Antoine L’Estage in campaigning two separate Series. It was another learning curve of complexity added to Urlichich‘s already busy development schedule, which meant he needed to once again learn new events and roads even further from his home.

At the completion of his first Rally America National Championship in 2012, Urlichich finished 5th overall and was barely edged out of the overall podium by six points indicating that a slightly different result at a single event could have netted him a better placement.

Unfortunately, Urlichich didn’t finish half the 2012 Rally America events he entered, but he was able to land on the podium at the Oregon Trail Rally and the Susquehannock Trail Performance Rally for the first time in his career. He is particularly proud of the fact that his DNFs occurred only because of his flat-out driving style and not because of any sort of mechanical failure. In fact his last mechanical DNF came from a broken driveline at Rallye Defi ste. Agathe in 2010 – more than two years ago, which is a testament to Can-Jam’s preparation!

In the North American rally world Crazy Leo has developed into one of the most entertaining, thoughtful and humorous personalities on the circuit. Need proof? Just check out his webpage biography, which includes baby photos, or his personal notes on his career log at crazyleo.net/about/.

Urlichich currently works with a media company and he has learned to utilize social media to self-promote his team. He found a social messaging niche, supported by his humorous musings, celebrating his crashes and it became an opportunity to connect with rally fans through his personality.

(Crazy Leo High Speed Off at New England Forest Rally: www.youtube.com/watch

“I know fans like to see crashes,” explained Urlichich, “So we’ll give it to them. It’s a good way of showing us and how we like to live life.”

We can only expect more good things from Crazy Leo, Carl Williamson and Can-Jam Motorsports in the future and Rally America is proud to have such a dynamic driver powering through corners with gusto and in a sea of color. His infectious charisma is a welcome and warming presence for drivers and fans alike… and we can all benefit from his enthusiasm for the sport and for living for the dream.

About Rally America:
Based in Williston, VT, Rally America, Inc. sanctions the Rally America National Championship which consists of at least six national-level events located at a variety of venues across the country, from Seattle, Washington to Newry, Maine. Top competitors in the Rally America National Championship reach speeds of well over 100 mph in modified street cars such as Mitsubishi Evolutions, Subaru WRX STI’s, Ford Fiestas and Scion XD’s on natural-terrain courses consisting of gravel, dirt, ice or snow. For more information regarding Rally America’s National Championship or the sport of performance rally, visit www.rally-america.com.

Photo 1: Neil McDaid
Photo 2: Craig Lang
Photo 3: Pete Kuncis
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