MANIWAKI, QUEBEC, February 4, 2012 – Antoine L’Estage (St-Jean-Sur-Richelieu, QC) and Nathalie Richard (Halifax) opened their 2012 season by winning the Rallye Perce Neige in Maniwaki, QC, the first event in the Canadaian Rally Championship, Presented by Subaru and supported by Yokohama. Perce Neige is just the second event for L’Estage in his new car, and already, he’s comfortable, setting the pace from the first stage.
Smart tire choice and road position allowed L’Estage and Richard to open up a small lead over rivals Pat Richard (Squamish, BC) and Alan Ockwell (Toronto) of Subaru Rally Team Canada. Richard and Ockwell landed heavily on a jump on the second stage, damaging the car and losing boost, and then losing brakes. Despite this, the pair was only 27 seconds back from the lead at the first service. They would only run a few more stages before parking their car with driveline problems.
“We led from the first stage, and spun and lost time on the fourth stage, and then got back on track,” said L’Estage. “We didn’t make any other mistakes for the rest of the day and it’s a great way to start the season. I don’t know [why we’re so successful]. Things are clicking and it works.”
For Nathalie Richard, the Rallye Perce Neige is her 100th career start, a fact that makes the win even more gratifying.
“We both really wanted to come here and win this one,” said Richard. “These weren’t easy conditions, and it’s a great way to start the season. We’re just doing what we’re doing and it seems to work.”
Podium regular Leo Urlichich (Toronto) and co-driver Carl Williamson (Swansea, GB) got off to a rough start. Timing mistakes on the first few stages led to six minutes in penalties, and the pair were pushing to make up time and positions – perhaps a bit too hard. A spin on a fast straight damaged the back end of the car, but the two were luckily able to continue. Incredibly, between a fast pace and misfortunes of rivals, the pair were able to climb up the order, finishing second overall.
“It is amazing. We tried hard,” said Urlichich. “Everyone made mistakes, the car had a few problems, I definitely made mistakes, Carl unfortunately made a mistake, but we all fought back for a second place on the podium.”
Sylvain and Simon Vincent (Terrebonne, QC), who were aiming for a top five finish, also benefitted from other’s troubles, and the cagy veteran was well aware of what strategy leads to success.
“You have to pace yourself at a rally like this,” said Sylvain at the midday service stop. “It’s such a long event, you need to make sure you don’t get too tired, too early. You can lose concentration and make mistakes.” A mistake is exactly what destroyed the podium hopes for Bruno Carre and Yvan Joyal, both of Laval, QC. The pair rolled late in the rally, and though they managed to finish, they dropped from second overall to eighth. That allowed Sylvain Vincent to move up to third overall, earning valuable points towards his goal to rank in the top ten lifetime driver rankings.
“I was aiming for a top five, as that would be perfect,” said Sylvain. “It means good points, which is really important! It is really hard with the competition we have, to get into the top five at a gravel event, but on ice and snow, it is a bit easier.”
In Two Wheel Drive, A battle appeared to be brewing early on between the team of Peter Kochandrle and Angela Cosner, and Thierry Menegoz and Guillaume Bechard. After two stages, the teams were just 0.1 seconds apart. However, Menegoz struggled to find grip and dropped down the order before retiring. Kochandrle took advantage of his growing lead and lessened pressure to open a lead of more than 20 minutes over his closest competitor.
“Everything was great until the last four stages. I had my first flat on stage, and a bit of an off, but someone helped us out. Then we got stuck behind a car and followed for a while and then backed off, and then they spun and backed right into us, breaking one of our lights,” said Kochandrle.”We came here to set some points in place for the year and try to build things for this year and maybe run the North American championship. The guys at Open Road Motorsports have been awesome, and they’ve really looked after us.”
The Rallye Perce Neige is the first round of the six event Canadian Rally Championship, and is made up of 16 stages, totalling 248km of competitive distance. Canada’s only true winter rally, roads are covered in ice and snow, but teams are forbidden from using studded tires, requiring a smooth hand at the wheel for a driver to be successful.
“The roads are fantastic. Tortue is already the biggest challenge in Canadian rally, just to make it to the end is an accomplishment,” said Sylvain Erickson, Clerk of the Course. “This year, teams had to do it twice. The speed of the guys was really great, everything worked out to be very impressive.”
The Canadian Rally Championship comprises 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.
Full coverage of the championship will air on RDS and TSN. Check local listings.
For more information: www.carsrally.ca or www.rallyeperceneige.com