Antoine L’Estage and Nathalie Richard win Defi, lead championship

Posted on 12. Sep, 2009 by in Rallye Defi 2009

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Predictions from the top of the order on Friday at the Rallye Defi all sang the same refrain – whoever could lead the event out of the stages on Saturday morning would be the winner. These words soon proved prophetic, as Antoine L'Estage and Nathalie Richard took the lead by midday on Saturday and went on to win the 2009 Rallye Defi.

“We're very happy, the car was perfect the entire rally, and we now have the lead in the championship,” said L'Estage.

L'Estage and Richard have been campaigning the Mitsubishi Rockstar Energy Drink Concerto EVO X since the start of 2009, but as with any car in development, the Evolution suffered teething problems. With the rough roads of Defi behind them, it appears that the troubles may be in the past.

“The car is exactly where we want it now, which is perfect. We're stoked about the future, and also to have tied the record for most wins at Defi,” said L'Estage of a record he now jointly holds with John Buffum.

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The rally would end early for L'Estage's closest competition, Pat Richard and Alan Ockwell of the Subaru Rally Team Canada.

“Near the end of one stage, we got some air over a rock section and the transmission jammed in fifth gear,” said Richard. “We could barely get going again, and after a hairpin, the clutch gave out. We just couldn't get the car going up the hill in fifth.”

For Richard, the retirement means he drops into second place in the points standings, 11 points behind L'Estage.

“We broke the record on Mulgrave by 15 seconds,” said Ockwell, indicating the pace the two had run up to the failure.

Andrew Comrie-Picard and Robbie Durant also suffered mechanical problems, putting them out of the event.

“We clipped something on stage nine,” said Durant. “We think maybe a rock got pulled into the front wheel well and rattled around inside. It seems to have broken the line to the oil cooler. We tried to make repairs at the side of the road, but couldn't keep going without risking blowing the engine.”

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With Richard and Comrie-Picard both out, Craig Henderson and Lyne Murphy moved into second place. The pair were driving Sylvain Erickson's Subaru STI for the event. A few big impacts on the rough morning stages broke a wheel and bent a lateral link, but were not enough to stop Henderson.

“We were trying very hard to learn the car,” said Henderson. “It's very different than my usual car, with more power and anti-lag as well, so you have to drive differently.”

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Third place was the surprise of the event. Jean Sebastien Besner appeared to have third locked up until he blew a turbo late Saturday. His retirement handed the final podium position to newcomer Steeve Hobbs and Jean-Mathieu Tremblay, who were running just their second national event.

“We started the rally in 29th place, and we've finished third,” said Hobbs. “It's amazing!”

"Crazy" Leo Urlichich and Martin Headland suffered problems early Saturday, causing the rear brakes to catch fire. The two were able to continue, but lost a lot of time. Once repairs were made, they climbed back up the order, eventually finishing fourth.

Simon Losier also had a great deal of trouble through the day.

"I've never broken so much stuff in a rally but still be able to fix it and keep going," grinned Losier. "We broke two front shocks, brake lines. It's amazing."

On the top step of the regional podium was Martin Donnelly and Dave Shindle.

“After ten years of running rallies, I have finally won a regional event,” said Donnelly. Despite numerous podium finishes, a top result had until now eluded the Irish driver. “All we were looking for was a top ten finish, so this is amazing!”

Second in the regional was Nick Mathew and Keith Morrison. Trouble had dogged the team all day, with throttle issues, and brake issues and a loss of power on Saturday.

“We needed this to stay in it for the Ontario championship,” said Mathew. “We had so many problems, that we were able to podium is fantastic. Amazing work by the Planet Motorsport crew to keep us in it all the way to the end.”

Third place went to the rear wheel drive Mazda RX-7 of Neil and Lorna Wright. Recent transplants from Calgary, the pair were able to keep the Mazda reliable despite the rough conditions.

“We blew a strut but we were able to finish on a mix of Hot Bits and Koni suspension,” said Neil Wright. “Six years of running this car, and never has a Mazda suspension component failed, only aftermarket parts.”

“This also lets us clinch the Production Sport National Championship,” said Wright. “Now I can build this into the Group2 car it should be, with that title under it!”

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The Zedrils were the fastest two wheel drive car overall, pulling away from their competition through the entire event.

“It was tough. We had to be really careful not to make mistakes and get a puncture, because the competition was really tight, we couldn't risk them catching us,” said Jody Zedril. “Still, you can't go too slow either.”

The competition mentioned came from Eric Grochowski and Leanne Junnila in their VW Golf, and Peter Kocandrle and Jimmy Brandt in a Suzuki Swift.

“We were struggling to find our pace at the start,” said Grochowski. He and Junnila haven't run an event since the Rocky Mountain Rally in May, where they tore a rear corner off the car. “We were starting to get back into the groove, but really, we wanted to break our Defi curse of not finishing.”

The two wrapped up the event third in Gr2, placing 16th overall.

For Kocandrle, the event tested the endurance of the car and the creativity of the crew.

“The car just took a beating, and I broke the suspension in ways that we've never seen before,” said Kocandrle. “It was a real lesson in bringing spares, because if we hadn't, we never would have finished.”

Though known for fast, at the limit driving, Kocandrle kept his pace steady and his lines clean to try to minimize the damage the rough roads would do to the car.

Others would not be so lucky. Twenty cars – nearly half the entry – were forced out of the event either due to a crash or mechanical problems.

2 Responses to “Antoine L’Estage and Nathalie Richard win Defi, lead championship”

  1. Max

    12. Sep, 2009

    Those are some really sick photos! What does it take to take photos at a rally event?

  2. BoostGear.com

    17. Sep, 2009

    “I’ve never broken so much stuff in a rally but still be able to fix it and keep going,” grinned Losier. “We broke two front shocks, brake lines. It’s amazing.”
    ****
    Rally Spirit +1 !!!

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