Quebec driver Antoine L’Estage (of St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, QC) and his co-driver Nathalie Richard (of Halifax, NS) continue their western tour this week. After two rounds of the Rally America series in the states of Washington and Oregon, which allowed them to increase their lead in the North American Rally Cup, the reigning Canadian, North American and Rally America champions head a little north to Alberta’s Rocky Mountain Rally this Friday, the second of six events in the Canadian Rally Championship.

Victorious at the opening round of the season (February’s Rallye Perce-Neige, in Maniwaki, Quebec), Antoine L’Estage and Nathalie Richard will take to the start of the rally on Friday morning just west of Calgary in the Kananaskis region. In addition to leading the 2011 Canadian Rally Championship, the duo is also leading the North American Rally Cup. At the wheel of their Rockstar Royal Group Mitsubishi Evo X, their goal to make this a second consecutive Canadian victory is clear. “This rally marks the end of the longest break in the 2011 Canadian rally calendar. The Rocky Mountain Rally is a tough event because we can never guess what Mother Nature has in store for us but it’s a rally I enjoy and have had a good amount of success at. I’m pretty confident,” explains Antoine, three-time winner of this rally, as is co-driver Nathalie Richard. “The Northwest US rallies have allowed us to get some good seat time in the car,” adds the Quebec driver, who marked a decisive victory at the extremely challenging Rocky Mountain Rally in 2010.

The Rockstar Royal Group team brings with them a full line-up of Yokohama tires for this event, where the roads can just as easily be covered in gravel and dust as they can be in mud and snow, as was the case last year. “Thanks to Yokohama, we have very competitive tires for all types of surfaces, which is key to doing well,” explains Antoine L’Estage.

A good part of this year’s course is new for 2011. “Although it’s now 100% in the Kananaskis region that we’ve been going to for several years now, many stages will be a new discovery for us this year. We know some of the roads but others will be completely new to us. In addition, the rally will take place solely on Friday, another big change for the 2011 edition,” indicates co-driver Nathalie Richard. For L’Estage, this is something positive. “I like long competition days and it will be a big change of pace compared to the last US rally that was spaced out over three days!” he specifies.

Oregon Trail Re-Cap

This past May 13th to 15th, The Rockstar Royal Group team contested the Oregon Trail Rally, the fourth round of the 2011 Rally America series. Sandwiched between the Olympus rally and the Rocky Mountain Rally, this three-day event saw Antoine L’Estage and Nathalie Richard once again finish on the podium. While leading the rally, the duo suffered from an unusual amount of punctures on Day 2, dropping them to second place. “We had mixed emotions when we left Oregon. I was very happy with the car and despite some minor mechanical problems, we won the first three stages on Saturday and took over the lead of the rally before our punctures. This type of problem almost never happens to us! From there on, we just had to maintain our second place, which allows us to increase our lead in the North American Rally Cup,” concludes Antoine, who set the fastest time on six of the eleven forest and farmland stages.

Antoine L’Estage holds three North American championship titles (2007, 2008 and 2010), three Canadian titles (2006, 2007 and 2010), one American title (2010), and twenty-seven overall victories in Canada and the US. Nathalie Richard holds six overall national championship titles (3 in Canada and 3 in the USA), as well as thirty-three overall rally wins on both sides of the border. She is also a six-time North American Co-Driving Champion (2004- 2010, excluding 2006).

Antoine L’Estage and Nathalie Richard participate in the 2011 Rally America and Canadian Rally Championships with the support of Rockstar Energy Drink, Royal Group, Yokohama Tires, Mitsubishi Canada, Drenth Motorsport Gearboxes, Garrett Turbos, Energie Cardio, Libra Racing, Driver’s Edge Autosport (OMP), VP Racing Fuels, exe-Tc and Hawk Performance Brake Pads. For more information on the team or on rallying in general, visit antoinelestage.com.

Photo by Matthew Young/World Rally Sport

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