Thursday, October 18, 2012

Antoine L'Estage and Nathalie Richard Clinch Canadian Championship With Pacific Forest Rally Victory

2012 Pacific Forest Rally Overall Podium:
Photo Credit: Andrew Snucins
Merritt, BRITISH COLUMBIA, Oct 14, 2012 – Antoine L'Estage (St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que.) and Nathalie Richard (Haifax) of the Rockstar Energy Drink team won the 2012 Pacific Forest Rally, the fifth round of the Canadian Rally Championship. The victory establishes the pair as the 2012 Canadian Rally Champions, the fifth such title for L'Estage and Richard. “It was a good rally for us,” said L'Estage. “After we won the championship, I just wanted to have fun and drive fast. Everything was perfect, not a scratch on the car.” 

Coming into the event, L'Estage had to balance the need to beat rival Leo Urlichich (Toronto) and co-driver Carl Williamson (Swansea, Wales), but not risk a mistake that would cost a successful finish. However, Urlichich and Williamson crashed out early on the first stage, handing the title to L'Estage and Richard. “Our main goal was to lock up the championship here,” said Richard. “With Leo crashing out on the first stage, that goal was attained, and so that took the pressure off.”

The Quebec-based team ended the first day in the lead, despite a broken wheel on the final stage that cost valuable time. The pair benefitted from running first on the road for most of the day, while those behind had to deal with dust hanging in the air following the leaders. “We had a very good start to the rally,” said L'Estage. “Times are good, and we'll keep the same pace for the rest of the night.”

 In second place for much of the event was Pat Richard (Squamish, B.C.) and Alan Ockwell (Toronto) of Subaru Rally Team Canada. However, the engine in the Subaru had failed by the end of the day onf Friday, and the crew feverishly worked through the night to put in a replacement engine. The new engine was donated to the cause by Subaru's crew chief, from his own daily driver, but was not as powerful as Richard's race engine.

Behind the leaders a battle was developing with Hardy Schmidtke (Cochrane, Alberta) and John Hall (Edmonton) doing their best to hold off Max Riddle (Vancouver) and Aaron Neumann (Vancouver). The two crews continued to trade times and positions right until the final stage of the rally. Two newer drivers, with experienced co-drivers, found their way into striking distance of the podium. Alexandre Beland (Drummondville, Que.) and Lyne Murphy (Montreal) found themselves running fifth place after the first day, in Beland's third-ever national rally. 2012 Freeride Mountain Bike World Tour Champion Brandon Semenuk (Squamish, B.C.), co-driven by Jennifer Daly (Kelowna, B.C.) was just outside the top five after the first day, with a lot of confidence going into the second day of stages.

Starting on Saturday morning crews faced damp road conditions that meant no dust to interfere with visibility. Richard and Ockwell made it halfway through the day before an engine fire forced the team to retire from the event. “We had really high expectations for this event,” said Richard. “The last few weeks, we've put a lot of effort into the car, and the whole team has been working really hard. I feel really devastated for the guys. They put so much effort and energy into getting us here. We've been in this sport a long time, and I've had years like this before, and you have to put it behind you.”

With Richard’s retirement, the battle between Schmidtke and Riddle was now for second place while Beland and Semenuk rounded out the top five. The final three stages, all run downhill on Helmer Road, gave teams a last chance to make up ground on their competition. L'Estage was comfortably in first place, and cruised to victory. “I really liked today's stages,” said L'Estage. “Conditions were good, and the Yokohama tires worked perfectly.

Between Riddle and Schmidtke, competition was very tight. Over the first two passes of Helmer, the two teams traded times and positions. Heading for the final stage, Schmidtke's car was experiencing turbo problems but held off Riddle to claim second place, a career-best finish. “We left for the last stage and the turbo went,” said Schmidtke, of his late-rally drama. “Before the stage, we topped up the oil. The turbo seized, but we just limped along. We're here, and we're so excited to have a podium. It's been the best battle of my career.”

Riddle had struggled earlier in the season in the aftermath of a heavy crash, but proved that he's back to his fast ways with third place. “We beat Hardy on the last stage, but not by enough,” said Riddle. “It's our first national podium. It's amazing, and it erases all the bad things that happened earlier this year.” The trend of best-ever results continued, with Beland earning fourth place, and Semenuk taking fifth.
Only one car finished the rally as part of the two-wheel drive class. Krystian Ostrowski and Christopher Galeki finished 14th, the last car in the rally, after every other two-wheel drive car failed to finish the event. “The event ran extremely well. We had some challenges yesterday with the dust,” said Peter Hill, Clerk of the Course. “The volunteers are so knowledgeable and experienced, so they really were able to do an excellent job in making the event come together.”

The Canadian Rally Championship is comprised of six events held nationwide in a season that extends from February to November. The series is presented by Subaru Canada, supported by Yokohama Tire Canada and features contingency programs from Subaru Canada and Mitsubishi Canada. The Canadian Association of Rallysport (CARS) is the official sanctioning body for rallying in Canada.

Rally car racing is often described simply as “real cars, real roads, real fast.” The all-season motorsport sees drivers and their co-drivers take modified road cars to the limit as they achieve blistering speeds over closed-road courses that typically cover more than 150 kilometers of gravel, dirt or snow-covered roads. Fans can get up close to the cars in the service areas and catch all the action from specially designated spectator points located at the best spots on the route.