Antoine L’Estage (St-Jean-Sur-Richelieu, QC) and Nathalie Richard (Halifax) continued their success in the Canadian Rally Championship, Presented by Subaru and supported by Yokohama, by winning the Rallye Baie Des Chaleurs, third round of the series. The team took the lead from the very first stage and continued to bolster their advantage on Friday’s stages while other teams struggled.

“It’s a very good win, and we led from the first stage,” said L’Estage at the finish of the rally. “We pushed very hard last night, and made a good gap. Today was more about trying to manage that lead, and everything went well. A lot of guys had problems this weekend, but we did not. It has been a big team effort.”

L’Estage and Richard have been enjoying a long string of success at Canadian events, and are the reigning Canadian champions. If the pair are able to win the remaining three events, they will have accomplished a perfect season.

“I wasn’t thinking about that, but I knew the question might come if we won this weekend,” said L’Estage. “I would like to have a perfect season, I’ve never done it. It’s not going to be easy. There are some tough rallies and tough competition.

Heavy rains struck just as the rally started, and would set the course for many teams fighting to perform.

Combined with high humidity, many teams were forced to persevere despite heavily fogged windshields. For Pat Richard (Squamish, B.C.) and Alan Ockwell (Toronto) of Subaru Rally Team Canada, the effect was so bad that the pair were forced to slow to a crawl, losing precious time. With that problem solved Friday night, the team fought brake, power and overheating problems on Saturday.

“We did a bunch of upgrades to the car, and all of those upgrades performed flawlessly,” said Richard. “We had a bunch of little problems with parts that have been on the car for years. It’s just sort of one of those bad luck rallies. I got a bit disappointed last night and this morning, but both Alan and I hung in there and kept driving and we made it back every time.”

Richard and Ockwell desperately needed to score championship points at the event, in order to keep any hope of contesting the 2012 Canadian Rally Championship.

“Considering what happened, I am really pleased with second place. I don’t like coming second, I want to compete for the wins, but sometimes you have to take it as it comes.”

Leo Urlichich (Toronto) and co-driver Carl Williamson (Swansea, GB) started reasonably well, but problems on Saturday – a damaged engine and suspension – slowed any chance that the team might catch up to the leaders. Instead, the pair found themselves in a fight for third place with Craig Henderson (New Richmond, QC) and Lyne Murphy (New Richmond, QC). Unfortunately for Henderson, Urlichich was able to hang on to enough of a lead to narrowly maintain his podium position to the finish of the event.

“All problems aside, we have worked extremely hard for more than two years on improving my pace,” said Urlichich. “The team has gone to extreme lengths to help me with this. This rally marks an amazing moment where I believe we were faster than Pat Richard on pace. I am very happy because of this pace, and to be honest, that is more important to me than our particular result here.”

Ed McNelly (Dalton, NH) and Ole Holter (Long Beach, CA) drove to the two wheel drive class win. In a highly sophisticated Ford Fiesta R2, the team avoided problems and distanced themselves from their main rivals.

“Baie is everything everybody said it was,” said McNelly, who competed at the rally for the first time in his career. “The transition between fast to really technical back to fast make it an awesome rally.”

Eric Grochowski and Leanne Junnila of Calgary struggled all rally, first with electrical problems and then with suspension issues that heavily impacted their pace on nearly every stage of the event. The team finished second in two wheel drive.

“Oddly, I think yesterday, when things were miserable, I just wanted the rally to be over, but today, I am bummed the rally is over,” said Grochowski. “Even though the car’s not working right, we were starting to put time on everyone in two wheel drive except for Ed (McNelly), and we were starting to have fun again.”

Production GT class, victory went to Alexander and Nicholas Ouellette (Subaru Impreza WRX) while in Production Sport Gaspesians Patrick Cyr / Jerry Plourde prevail with their VW Golf.

L’Estage and Richard have further extended their lead in the Canadian Rally Championship, and L’Estage holds the record for number of career wins at the next round of the series, the Rallye Defi.

The Rallye Baie Des Chaleurs is the third round of the Canadian Rally Championship, marking the halfway point in the season. Held in the spectacular Gaspe region of Quebec, the Rallye Baie Des Chaleurs enjoys some of the best fan attendance of any Canadian championship rally.

“We had a very good team of volunteers to make this rally happen,” said rally coordinator Daniel Leblanc. “This event has a special place in Canadian rally, and we have been able to help continue that tradition.”

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.rallyebdc.com

Rallye Baie Des Chaleurs Final Results

1. Antoine L’Estage – Nathalie Richard – one hour, 28 minutes, 31.5 seconds
2. Pat Richard – Alan Ockwell – 1:31:45.2
3. Leo Urlichich – Carl Williamson – 1:37:26.2
4. Craig Henderson – Lyne Murphy – 1:37:38.9
5. Steeve Hobbs – Jean-Mathieu Tremblay – 1:40:01.9
6. Andre Leblanc – Rene Leblanc – 1:40:58.2
7. Simon Losier – Brian Maxwell – 1:41:23.8
8. Maxime Labrie – Robert Labrie – 1:42:53.4
9. Alexandre Beland – Yvan Joyal – 1:43:03.3
10. Michel Bois – Marie-Philip Simard – 1:43:50.2

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