Antoine L’Estage and co-driver Nathalie Richard (Ste-Jean-sur-Richelieu, QC) charged to an early lead at the 2010 Rocky Mountain Rally, and continued to build their lead to the finish despite harrowing conditions that forced organisers to change the schedule for Saturday’s stages. The Calgary based Rocky Mountain Rally is the second round of the Canadian Rally Championship, presented by Subaru and supported by Yokohama.

“We had the perfect Yokohama tires for the event,” said L’Estage, driver of the Rockstar EVO X. “We took mud tires for the first stages and built a big lead that we kept through the rally. It is our first win since last year, so it feels fantastic.”

Rival team and defending Canadian Rally Champions Pat Richard (Squamish, BC) and Alan Ockwell (Toronto) of Subaru Rally Team Canada suffered from a poor tire choice at the start of the rally and struggled to find their pace, eventually finishing second, more than two minutes back from L’Estage.

“The stages were super haywire,” said a dejected Richard, who holds four national overall driver titles and a North American driver’s title. “It’s been disappointing, I don’t know the last time I came second.”

Bruno Carre and Yvan Joyal (Laval, QC) benefited by using tall and narrow snow tires that cut through the sloppy conditions, driving to a third place finish. Their result was good enough to retain the top spot in the point standings for the Canadian Rally Championship.

“We found the secret weapon in terms of tires for these conditions,” said Carre, who worked his way to second place before dropping behind Richard and Ockwell on the final stages. “We’re still leading the Championship, which is great, especially against guys like Antoine and Pat.”

Tire choice proved vital for every team as massive snow dumped onto the stage roads leading up to and during the event. Some roads at altitude in the Porcupine Hills region of Alberta had up to 30 cm of snow, mixing with mud and water to create a slippery, difficult and unpredictable surface.

Leo Urlichich (Thornhill, ON) and Christine Beavis (San Diego) drove a disciplined rally to finish fourth overall. Craig Henderson (St-Constant, QC) finished third at the season opener, Rallye Perce Neige, but struggled to find his pace on Friday. A blown head gasket slowed his progress on Saturday, but he and co-diver Lyne Murphy continued to finish a hard earned fifth.

Jan and Jody Zedril (Winnipeg) opened a minute lead on the first day, and drove conservatively to manage the lead. The strategy nearly failed when hard charging Kris and Jaclyn Schofield (Calgary) made up all but 11 seconds by the end of the final stage. The Zedrils finished 13th overall, also the top ranked two wheel drive car. The Schofields came in 14th overall, second in their class.

“We had a few big moments, but it was a lot of fun to be back in the car after a year and a half out of competition,” said Kris Schofield.

Conditions created challenges for rally organisers. Saturday’s schedule had to be completely redesigned when the road surface proved impassible on the southern stage roads. Organisers created a new schedule with the remaining roads, and teams tested themselves on five stages, finishing the rally late Saturday afternoon.

“It was a collaborative effort,” said Shabir Haji, organiser of the Rocky Mountain Rally, of the decision to rewrite the schedule. “We knew when the forecast was bad we may have to change the route. This morning when marshals were getting stuck, the decision was quick. We had to develop a format to get the stage distances for the teams.”

The championship battle continues at the Rallye Baie Des Chaleurs in New Richmond, Quebec. Thrilling roads and huge jumps combine with some of the biggest spectator crowds on the calendar, making Rallye Baie Des Chaleurs an event not to be missed.

The Canadian Rally Championship is comprised of 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. The Rocky Mountain Rally is scheduled to premier Sunday June 27 at 11:00am EDT on TSN and Sunday July 11, at 11:00am EDT on RDS.

For more information: www.carsrally.ca or www.rockymountainrally.com

Rocky Mountain Rally Final Results

1. Antoine L’Estage – Nathalie Richard – one hour, 11 minutes 48.8 seconds
2. Pat Richard – Alan Ockwell – 1:14:05.6
3. Bruno Carre – Yvan Joyal – 1:14:25.5
4. Leo Urlichich – Christine Beavis – 1:15:33.20
5. Craig Henderson – Lyne Murphy – 1:18:25.4
6. Hardy Schmidtke – Adam Vokes – 1:18:25.0
7. Simon Losier – Philippe Poirier – 1:19:13.1
8. Graham Bruce – Leanne Junnila – 1:23:48.3
9. Mark Jennings-Bates – Jennifer Daly – 1:24:04.2
10. Ian Crerar – Ray Felice – 1:25:11.5

Photo Credit: Andrew Harvey Photography

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