Antoine L’Estage takes charge at PFR

Posted on 18. Oct, 2008 by in Pacific Forest Rally 2008

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Friday’s stages at the 2008 running of the Pacific Forest Rally have wrapped up, though for some teams the day ended much earlier. Most crews have been able to make it through the rough stages.

Craig Henderson was third on the road from the start and then on the first pass of Princeton Cutoff, Henderson clipped a rock and flatted. The shredded tire cut through the fender liner and ripped the wiring harness apart, stopping the car dead.

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Fellow Quebec driver and defending 2007 Canadian Rally Champion, Antoine L’Estage and co-driver Nathalie Richard have had a much better event.

“We’re having a great event, and had a small lead over Pat. Then Pat had problems, so that is good for us.” L’Estage also commented that he was happy to have today’s stages over and done with. “There is no room for error and you have to be so careful, it’s good to have that part behind.”

That observation would be critical for Pat Richard and Alan Ockwell of Subaru Rally Team Canada. The two hit the same rock that claimed the Henderson car, and also flatted. The tire shredded off the rim and wrapped around the front driveshaft. When they stopped to change the tire, the rubber was so tightly wound that it took them ten minutes to change the tire. In doing so, the pair also discovered that the damage had gone further, bending the control arm, and damaging the front diff.

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Moving up the order are Norm LeBlanc and Gord Olsen. LeBlanc has had a largely trouble-free run. He is having to hold his shifter linkage to keep it from popping out of place. Olsen was smiling, enjoying the trying conditions as much as he was amazed at the rough nature of the roads.

“There are rocks the size of helmets out there, and you just have to try to steer clear. I hit one like that at Defi and it lifted the whole car off the ground!” Olsen has kept it clean here so far, and is looking forward to the action tomorrow.

Both Rejean and Simon Losier are at this event for the first time. The recce schedule meant that teams had to write notes for Princeton Cutoff in the dark, and this evening it was the same conditions in which teams had to try to go full out.

“Well, really, we didn’t go so hard,” started Simon Losier. “We flatted at the start of Princeton and so we just went slow. People say Defi is rough, but it’s not like this, Defi is much better.”

Simon explained how after slowing down he had pulled over to let his father, Rejean, pull past, but Rejean had been forced to stop because of the dusty conditions, and remained behind.

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Battling for the Group 2 Western title, Eric Grochowski and Leanne Junnila were seemingly haunted by the troubles that struck at Defi last month.

“We had fuel pump issues at Defi, and in troubleshooting it, I replaced the fuse, but I guess I didn’t really put it in properly. On Comstock today, We went through the rough hairpin and it knocked loose. We literally coasted all the way down the hill, just past the finish boards and spent a bunch of time after the control trying to figure it out.” A big jump over a cattle guard also brought the team a bent tie rod.

Kris Schofield is the driver Grochowski has to worry about in Group 2, and Schofield has had his own share of troubles. “We bent a driveshaft on the first stage, and flattened our exhaust. We have parts coming from Vancouver tonight, and we should have them by midnight. It’s an easy fix so we’ll be good for tomorrow.

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Hardy Schmitdke and Adam Vokes are running their sixth event and have been quite quick in their career so far, contesting the Production 4 class against Warren Currie of Edmonton, Alberta. Schmitdke suffered some damage to a front strut and has been dealing with handling issues as a result, but will be able to make repairs overnight.

Tomorrow teams head out for the remaining 100+ kms of stages, ending the day with two passes of the Helmer Lake stage. The weather has been mixed, and the forecast tomorrow suggests more of the same. L’Estage is in a comfortable lead with over two minutes on Norm LeBlanc, with Scott and Robert Trinder in third overall. Pat Richard and Alan Ockwell lost over ten minutes and sit in last place at the end of today’s action. There is no doubt he’ll make up significant time tomorrow, but whether it will be enough to secure the championship remains to be seen.

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Check in tomorrow for all the action from day two of the Pacific Forest Rally in Merritt, British Columbia.

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