Quebec driver Antoine L’Estage, co-driven by Nathalie Richard, both of St-Jean-sur-Richelieu (Quebec), earned twelve critical championship points at this weekend’s Rallye Baies-des-Chaleurs and remain among the top contenders for the overall 2009 Canadian Rally Championship title.

Reigning North American champions, Antoine L’Estage and Nathalie Richard competed in this extremely popular event for the first time at the wheel of their new Rockstar Royal Group Mitsubishi Evo X. “Everything started out well and we were among the fastest on the first few Friday night stages. We were absolutely flying on the fourth stage and I was confident we were going to take over the lead right there … but then the motor started to get very hot and we were forced to really back off,” explains Antoine.

Ranked second at the start of Day 2, Antoine and Nathalie were the fastest on the first loop of three stages, closing the gap to two seconds behind top spot. “I pushed really hard to make up some time. We had a problem with fifth gear but only towards the end of each of two stages so we were still able to clock some pretty good results,” adds Antoine.

Any hopes of taking over the lead were gutted during Saturday’s second loop of stages as the Rockstar Royal Group Mitsubishi team experienced extreme visibility problems that slowed them down by over five minutes. L’Estage confides, “A small leak in the heater core caused steam to come in through the vents just below the windshield, fogging everything up – it was nearly impossible to keep the car on the road. It was very frustrating and dangerous to continue. I was ready to park the car on the side of the stage but Nathalie pushed me to keep going.” Nathalie Richard explains her decision: “Everybody works so hard to get to where we are and coming away from this rally without any championship points wasn’t really a viable option. We had to persevere. We came close to crashing a few times but we really had to pull together as a team in those trying conditions and Antoine was forced to rely on me more than ever before. He did an awesome job of getting us to the end of that loop of stages without a scratch on the car”.

The problems dropped the team to fifth place before a valiant effort – completely without fifth gear – brought them to within seven seconds of the podium. “It was maximum attack on the last two stages. We won half of the stages on Saturday and I’m getting more and more comfortable with the new car.” explains Antoine. “This rally is known for its sometimes rough surfaces but my Yokohama tires didn’t let me down. At Baie-des-Chaleurs, having reliable tires in non-negotiable,” concludes L’Estage.

The duo of Antoine L’Estage and Nathalie Richard will compete next on July 17th and 18th in Maine and New Hampshire at the New England Forest Rally, Round Six of the Rally America series. The Canadian Rally Championship continues with the Rallye Defi, starting in Ste-Agathe-des-Monts (Quebec) on September 11th.

Antoine L’Estage and Nathalie Richard participate in the 2009 Canadian Rally Championship with the support of Rockstar Energy Drink, Royal Group, Mitsubishi Canada, Yokohama Tires, Mobil, Energie Cardio, Libra Racing, OMP Racewear and MBF Racing. For more information on the team or on rallying in general, visit Coyote Rallye .

Antoine L’Estage and Nathalie Richard impressing the crowds at the Rallye Baie-des-Chaleurs. Photo credit : Maxime Poirier



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