“It feels great. It was a perfect rally for us. We led right from the first stage,” said L'Estage, at the end of the final day of the rally. “We pushed right from the start and got a big lead, so today was just a matter of trying to pace ourselves.”
Challenging road conditions on day one saw the team excel in wet, muddy, even snowy conditions before moving to dry gravel stages for day two.
“The car was perfect, the crew was great, Nathalie was perfect. We had the right tires for each of the different conditions on this rally, and we have maximum points possible in the championship,” said L'Estage.
Winning at the Rocky Mountain Rally also allows the team to extend their lead in the Canadian Rally Championship, having also won the season opener, Rallye Perce Neige, in February.
Behind L'Estage and Richard, there were a number of battles, including that for second place. Pat Richard (Squamish, BC) and Alan Ockwell (Toronto, ON) of Subaru Rally Team Canada suffered multiple setbacks on day one, but were not deterred and pushed hard to make up time on rivals Leo Urlichich (Toronto, ON) and Carl Williamson (Wales, GB).
“We had a good day,” said Richard at the end of the rally. “We won all the stages and we're pushing pretty hard. First stage we took ten seconds off Leo, second stage we took 12, then 15 and then 25.”
Richard was forced to push harder on each subsequent stage on the final day in order to make up for time lost on day one, when at the start of the final stage of the day, the rear differential exploded when Richard launched the car.
Though the car was able to be repaired overnight, the team awoke to find they had been assessed 45 seconds in chicane penalties.
“It was quite frustrating, because we started off the day thinking we were ahead of [Leo], but it turned out we were going to get assessed a penalty,” said Richard. “We had to big a bit deeper. It was quite an up and down day for us, but I'm happy we were able to claw back the time and win it despite of the penalties”
The second place finish means Richard and Ockwell, who failed to score points at the season opener, are now on the board in the championship standings.
“I'm still not satisfied. I come to these events to win, and we had some problems yesterday. We've got some homework to do before the next event,” said Richard.
Though Urlichich and Williamson finished third, the pair had arrived at the event hoping to find the extra speed to challenge Richard and Ockwell. Over the first day's muddy stages, they indeed found that pace, but once on the drier stages of day two, Richard was simply too fast.
“I have a massive smile on my face now,” said Urlichich. “Yesterday...I said I wanted a battle royale for this rally, and there it was. Ok, with a bit of luck on our side, and different conditions, toughness of the event, changing weather, we had a battle royale. I tried my best everywhere. There was not a stage road or a kilometre where I said 'nah, I'll just take it easy here.'”
A two-day battle also raged for fourth place, between the Calgary based team of Eric Grochowski and Leanne Junnila and Kris Schofield (Calgary) and Jennifer Daly (Kelowna, B.C.) for the two wheel drive victory.
Grochowski and Junnila had made some improvements to their VW Golf, most notably a new, more powerful motor and carved out an early lead on the first day, until overheating problems in the evening cost all of the lead. The pair entered the second day of action four seconds behind Schofield and Daly.
However, Schofield and Daly experienced their own mechanical problems, when they broke both the brake and shock on the rear passenger corner of the car. Those were issues that, along with a deficit in power, would hamper their performance on the extremely fast Hunter Valley stages of day two.
“With the brake failure, and pretty much the whole rear passenger corner of the car – no suspension and no brakes – that probably slowed us down a little,” said Schofield.
With a fully functional car after overnight repairs, Grochowski and Junnila were able to press their power advantage to retake the lead and open up a safe margin over Schofield and Daly, winning two-wheel-drive.
“The car ran flawlessly today, and we pushed really hard today,” said Grochowski at the end of the rally. “I know how fast Kris is, he's fully committed all the time so we weren't sure how it was going to play out. We put time on Kris every stage. We didn't leave anything in reserve today.”
Schofield and Daly took second in class, while Andrew Comrie-Picard (Los Angeles) and Brian O'Kane (Calgary) finished third. The victory in Production GT – a class for nearly showroom-stock all-wheel-drive cars – was claimed by Eric Pehota and Richard Doucet of Pemberton, B.C.
The Rocky Mountain Rally is the first gravel round of the six-event Canadian Rally Championship, and is made up of 13 stages, totalling 184km of competitive distance. The second round of the championship, the Rocky Mountain Rally is the first western event of the year.
“The Conditions were challenging but we were able to run every stage in the schedule,” said Keith Morison, of the organising committee. “We're looking forward to more changes and growth for the event next year.”
Rocky Mountain Rally Final Results:
1. Antoine L'Estage – Nathalie Richard – one hour, 22 minutes, 24.4 seconds
2. Pat Richard – Alan Ockwell – 1:24:03.5
3. Leo Urlichich – Carl Williamson – 1:24:29.2
4. Hardy Schmidtke – John Hall – 1:29:42.7
5. Alexandre Kozlov – Martin Matas – 1:38:09.0
6. Eric Pehota – Richard Doucet – 1:38:40.1
7. Azam Deen – Shabir Haji – 1:41:05.8
8. Tibor Kertes – Spencer Armstrong – 1:41:41.6
9. Eric Grochowski – Leanne Junnila – 1:43:34.8
10. Kris Schofield – Jennifer Daly – 1:44:58.5
Courtesy Service Presse