Antoine L’Estage and Nathalie Richard won the 2010 Rally of the Tall Pines, clinching the Canadian Rally Championship, completing the triple crown of North American rally. Taking a lead on the very first stage, the team kept command of the rally all the way to the finish line.
“We’ve done it, I’m so happy,” exclaimed L’Estage at the end of the final stage. “To be a private team and to beat the big factory team is fantastic. It has been a great season. We have won everything that is possible to win in North American rally.”
The success has come after years of competition in Canada, including two national titles in 2006 and 2007, but 2010 was their first complete season in the Rally America series. The team also went to X Games and earned a bronze medal in Rally Car Racing.
Though minor problems struck the team through the day – losing rear brakes on the final stage – nothing could slow their pace enough to threaten their lead.
Second place went to Craig Henderson, who has DNF’d at Pines in the previous two years after getting sick on the Mayo Lake stage. Though the same issue struck again, Henderson willed himself to finish the rally, earning second place. The result also secured a tie with Pat Richard for second place in the championship, and as top Subaru, Henderson locked up the manufacturer’s title for the brand.
“We made it,” said a tired Henderson.
Swap Shop teammate Bruno Carre finished third. The driver surprised fans across the country by taking command of the championship at the opening round of the series and holding his points lead through the first half of the series.
“Tall Pines has been a tough rally, with a lot of little problems,” said Carre. “The Swap Shop team did a great job to fix the car at each service to keep us going.”
The rally was especially hard on Subaru Rally Team Canada. Pat Richard and Alan Ockwell had mechanical problems after a jump early in the day and took heavy penalties checking out of service late. From there, there was little else to do but try to cut back into L’Estage’s lead.
Though the team won stages later in the rally, making up the time was impossible and the flat out pace took it’s toll on the car, breaking the rear suspension and causing the car to swerve off the road, crashing over a rock and forcing the team to retire.
“We started the last stage and the car just went squirrely,” said Richard after the rally. “I think the rear wishbone may have been cracked from a jump earlier and basically sheared right through on the last stage. I did my best to hand onto the car, but it was all over the place.”
Martin Rowe, 2003 Production WRC Champion was brought in to drive a second Subaru Canada car, but also had mechancial problems, which prevented him from ever really finding his pace.
“It’s been a struggle, not a good day,” said Rowe at the end of the last stage. “We’ve lost third and fourth gear.”
Despite the issues, Rowe finished fourth, not far back from third place.
Nicola and Massimo Narini finished fifth overall, clinching the Ontario Performance Rally Championship in the process and winning the regional of the event.
Simon Losier took sixth place after problems mid day threatened to knock him out of the rally. Broken suspension, intermittent driving lights and ECU problems all hit the team at the same time, but the crew was able to make repairs and keep Losier going. Just behind in seventh place, Ugo Desgreniers beat out Steeve Hobbs for the Novice title. The two had been in a tight battle, as close as one second after seven stages, but Desgreniers found some extra speed and put more than a minute on Hobbs, who finished eighth.
Peter Kocandrle, in his first outing in an open class car, put the HotBits VW Golf into a secure ninth place.
“We had a plan about where to push, and we stuck to it,” said Kocandrle. “I’ve got a lot to learn in this sort of car, so I wanted to be smart and make sure I got the best possible finish for the team.”
The top ten was rounded out by Marc Bourassa and Daniel Paquette.
The top 2wd car was that of Martin Walter and Ferdinand Trauttmansdorf in a Nissan 240SX. The team had stayed steady all event, often a challenge at Pines, and put the group 5 car ahead of a struggling Simon Dube.
Some teams were forced out of the event later in the day with mechanical problems, including Peter Thomson, who was forced out on the second last stage after ongoing brake issues.
Just before the end of the regional portion of the event, Ryan Huber and John Vanos retired after clipping a rock at 160km/h and damaging a strut. Chris Martin and Brian Johnson, who had been in the running for the OPRC title dropped out with a blown turbo.
Teams now have just a few short months to prepare for the start of the 2011 Canadian Rally Championship, the Rallye Perce Neige. With a bolstered organizing committee, the event looks to have a secure future, and some interesting additions to the event promise to improve upon Canada’s dedicated winter rally.