Monday, November 26, 2012

Pat Richard Grabs Victory in the Closing Stages of Rally Of The Tall Pines 2012



Bancroft, Onario, Canada. Nov 25, 2012 – After battling through the 2012 Canadian Rally Championship and enduring some unbelievable bad luck, the tide finally turned for Team Subaru Canada Pat Richard and Alan Ockwell. After trailing Antoine L’Estage in the early stages of the 2012 Rally Of The Tall Pines, mechanical issues would plague L’Estage in the late stages, opening the door for Richard to pull ahead and claim overall victory in Bancroft.
Some may have been quick to think that Antoine L’Estage would just cruise through The Rally of the Tall Pines this past weekend without taking any big chances where he and co-driver Nathalie Richard had already tied up the 2012 CRC Championship at Rocky Mountain Rally earlier in the month. Well, apparently nobody passed Antoine the memo!

The weather had been good, for the most part, in the days leading up to the rally.  Rain that had been forecasted for Friday passed and, as the teams did their recce on the stages, conditions were nearly as perfect as they can get for Tall Pines; fast, smooth dry gravel with several hundred jumps along the way.  There were a few notable rough areas on the eastern stages around Egan and Mayo lakes, but nothing out of the norm.

Weather in the Bancroft area can be very unpredictable, though. Just as teams started the shakedown stage on Friday night some light snow start falling in the area. Although there was minimal accumulation it would leave some interesting conditions considering the drastic drop in temperature overnight.

For 2012, the rally would run the “Upper Hastings Stage” as the opening stage of the rally. Leading off first on the road, Pat Richard and co-driver Alan Ockwell would be faced with the daunting task of finding all the new ice that had formed on the stages overnight. There is no allowance for gravel crews in North American rally to pre-run the stages after recce has been completed.

With the 2012 CRC Championship in the bag, L'Estage let the RockStar Energy Mitsubishi fly long and high over the many big jumps that line the Tall Pines stages. Photo Neil McDaid
Unlike Richard, who was understandably somewhat cautious over the big crests on SS1, L’Estage had cranked up the wick and was on an all out attack! Fully committed to the notes, the normally conservative L’Estage launched his Evo flat-out over the many big crests on the opening stage. Antoine would take the stage victory by 12 seconds over Pat Richard, with Alexandre Beland and Lyne Murphy showing some surprising pace to finish third.

L’Estage would continue in pursuit of Richard into SS2 the dreaded “Peanut." Again, Antoine would take the stage win over Richard.

After a quick service at rally headquarters, cars would be reseeded based on scoring position. After setting the pace on the opening stages, L’Estage would now lead the charge into SS3, and  the second pass on “Upper Hastings.”

Antoine would opt for ice tires on the second pass after a few “exciting moments” on the ice on the first stage.  He would later state that he should have stayed with the gravel tires. Nonetheless, he still managed to grab his third stage victory in as many stages.

As we reached the midway point on this, one of the toughest rally’s on the North American calendar, and with only 6 of 14 stages completed, we'd already seen the retirement of 19 cars!

Several had rolled, several were listed as having off road excursions, and the rest fell to a shopping list of mechanical issues. Before the rally ever got started, defending Tall Pines champion “Crazy Leo” Urichich withdrew from the tally citing set up problems with the newly rebuilt car.


Up and coming driver Max Riddle also withdrew prior to the event when his co-driver Aaron Neumann became sick. Photo Neil McDaid

Antoine L’Estage and Nathalie Richard's pace over the opening stages had opened a gap of over a minute on their nearest challenger, Pat Richard. It was looking like L’Estage was heading for yet another victory. But, as much as Antoine excels on Hastings stages, Pat Richard seems to fare better on the tougher Egan Lake Loop. Pat would claim his first stage victory on SS8 “Egan Creek." Antoine answered his pace and took the victory on SS9, and again back to Pat for the stage win on SS10.

The last loop of stages also saw the departure of "Fast Eddie"
McNally. Eddie showed some incredible pace on several stages
posting top five times in the Ford Fiesta R2. Photo Neil McDaid  
It was shaping up to be a battle like we have seen between these two on more than one occasion at Tall Pines. But, in the end, the big push over multiple crests would take its toll on Antoine’s Mitsubishi. He would suffer rear suspension failure and just about managed to drag the car back to service on three wheels, erasing his lead to 5 seconds.  

Heading into the last loop of stages both Pat Richard and Antoine L'Estage would both suffer punctures. Antoine would opt to change his flat on the stage in the dark. Pat opted to drive through the stage with his puncture, which in turn also damaged his brake lines.  

Antoine’s issues handed the lead to Pat,

"On the very last set of stages, we both got flats on the long stage. I drove mine out," recalled Richard, of the late event drama. "We kept the car on the road and the plan of keeping it steady today, and pushing where it matters... paid off." 

 "That's not the way I wanted to finish the season," said L'Estage. "I wanted to win, but we had some problems. It's a good season overall; six rallies, four wins and two second places overall. Congrats to Pat and Alan and the Subaru team for this win. They had a tough season, so good for them."

 Attrition played a big role in the way the results panned out for the entire field. Ugo Desgreniers (Orford, QC) and co-driver Erik Kirby (Sherbrooke, QC) managed the difficult conditions in a battle for third, ultimately taking the spot when others experienced severe problems. Desgreniers and Kirby had problems of their own and were happy to finish on the podium.

"I feel great because it was a really hard rally for us. We had problems with the car for the second half of the rally. By the end we had no brakes, and no fourth gear, but it was so much fun to drive," said Desgreniers. 

The fourth place team of Ryan Huber (Mississauga, ON) and John Vanos (Markham, ON) capitalized on their local knowledge of the roads to climb to a career best fourth place national finish. Both Huber and Vanos began their involvement in rallying as volunteers, working their way up to being competitors. Their performance also clinched the Ontario Performance Rally Championship.

Fifth place went to Alexandre R. Ouellette (Gatineau, QC) and Nicholas R. Ouellette (Gatineau, QC), who finished first in the Production GT class, open to all wheel drive cars with limited modifications. The only other Production GT car to finish in the top ten was newcomer Jeremy Norris (Kitchener, ON) with six time Canadian Champion driver Frank Sprongl (Georgetown, ON) making his debut as a co-driver. The two finished in eighth place.  

Martin Walter (North Gowan, ON) and Ferdinand Trauttmansdorff (Nepean, ON) finished in eleventh, the fastest two wheel drive car, winning the Group 5 class.

Eric Grochowski (Calgary) and Leanne Junnila (Calgary) finished fourth after coming into the event aiming to win the Canadian Rally Championship in two-wheel drive. The pair clinched the title with a disciplined drive. Keeping themselves in good position all rally meant the pair didn't need to take any risks in the challenging conditions.
"I know the event's reputation," said Grochowski. "We love the stage roads, but there's a lot of attrition out there, a lot of tricky conditions, a lot of gotchas. This caps off a really good year. There have been some ups and downs, but we're thrilled to have won the championship."

Rally of the Tall Pines Final Results

1        Pat Richard - Alan Ockwell - one hour, 46 minutes, 18.4 seconds

2        Antoine L'Estage - Nathalie Richard - 1:50:56.1

3        Ugo Desgreniers - Erik Kirby - 1:52:39.1

4        Ryan Huber - John Vanos - 1:56:24.5

5        Alexandre R. Ouellette - Nicholas R. Ouellette - 1:59:04.3

6        Maxime Labrie - Robert Labrie - 1:59:32.9

7        Hardy Schmidtke - John Hall - 1:59:51.7

8        Jeremy Norris - Frank Sprongl - 2:01:34.8

9        Michelle Laframboise - Dean Hopkins - 2:03:14.7

10    Mason Moyle - Craig Drew - 2:05:31.1

Report and Photos: Neil McDaid
Sources: CRC