The 2011 Canadian Rally Championship kicked off at the Rallye Perce Neige in much the same way as it wrapped up in 2010 – a lot of action, a bit of drama and some great driving.
Starting off under grey skies, teams left parc expose and headed for the morning stages of Marie Anne and Des Eaux. Greeted by slippery conditions, some teams were caught out quickly in the morning, stuck in soft, low snowbanks that pulled cars off the road, rather than keeping them on.
Pat Richard, with stand in co-driver Leanne Junnila, was keen not to repeat the mistakes of last year, when he slid off the road on the very first stage. Instead, he drove cleanly, immediately starting a battle with Antoine L’Estage. That battle would continue well into the afternoon, at least on stage times.
Pat was first on the road, and although some snow had to be swept from the surface of the road, Richard was continually able to find the grip he needed to stay on pace. Further down the order, conditions changed dramatically.
Fifth on the road, “Crazy” Leo Urlichich was struggling with slippery, very icy conditions.
“I took the AO34s, and they are absolutely the wrong tire for these conditions,” said Leo. He would eventually retire after driving off the road on the second last stage.
Most teams were opting for tractionized ice tires to find grip on what was very quickly becoming a polished smooth surface. Bruno Carre and Yvan Joyal opened up a small margin through the morning, while teammate Craig Henderson and stand in codriver Peter Watt struggled to find their rhythm. Moving into the mix was Ugo Desgreniers, who finished fifth at Tall Pines.
Peter Thomson and Rod Hendrickson retired after getting a flat tire. The pair were unable to replace it after their jack broke and were forced out of the event.
Meanwhile, in two wheel drive, teams were struggling to stay on the road and out of trouble. Icy conditions saw a few teams get stuck in snow banks, eventually being counted out as max late. Only the two teams, the Mitsubishis of the Zedrils and the Dowell/Klostranic pair, made it to the finish.
“It was really hard to find any grip, and we just tried to stay on the road. Once we knew everyone was out, we just slowed down and drove to the finish,” said Jan. “Also, our rally suspension wasn’t ready so we did the event on stock Mitsubishi suspension!”
Potential rivals Simon Dube and Pat Lavigne retired after getting three flats early in one leg, and not having enough spares to continue.
Pat Richard and Leanne Junnila took a one minute penalty checking in early to the second service of the event, taking away their tight battle for first overall (less than one second separating L’Estage and Richard). On the second pass of Kitigan Zibi, Richard and Junnila broke a rim, losing seven minutes in a complicated tire change.
“It’s basically over,” said a dejected Richard at third service. “I’m just going to try to get as high up into the points as I can.”
The issues for Richard opened opportunity for L’Estage who would simply need to drive to the finish. Wrapping up the rally with more than a six minute margin ahead of Carre in second, L’Estage was very satisfied with the result.
“After last year, when we didn’t finish here, I really wanted to just remember the championship and focus on a good result here. To win is of course the best possible result.”
Carre had stuck to the same strategy that earned him a win at this very event last season. Calm and collected, he stayed on the road and drove to the finish. Third went to a hard charging Ugo Desgreniers and Erik Kirby. Starting 15th, the pair earned their best career result and first national podium just one year after finishing his first rally.
Also of note was Max Riddle. At just 20 years old, Riddle has already won his first rally, the Big White rally, a regional in Kelowna, BC. Perce Neige was Riddle’s first national event, and he put in an impressive drive to finish 14th overall. Having committed to the entire Canadian Rally Championship, Riddle will likely continue to post improved results through the year – absolutely one to watch.
Richard and Junnila managed to claw their way back to fourth, narrowly missing out on third place, but scoring vital points towards the title.
“Of course, not at all what we wanted here,” said Richard. “We had a lot of problems, but at the same time, there’s no excuses.”
Sylvain and Simon Vincent have switched from their rear wheel drive Corolla to an open class Subaru. Though quick, Sylvain was equally quick to point out how much he has to learn about driving and all wheel drive car.
The regional portion of the event was won by Nicola and Massimo Narini, who finished eighth overall. Second in the regional were Warren Haywood and Jodie Shay. Third place went to John Cassidy and Dave Getchell, who are returning to Canada to contest all of the eastern national events.
Teams now have the longest break in the Canadian Rally Championship schedule to the Rocky Mountain Rally, in Calgary, taking place in late May. Many teams will take the break to give cars a much needed refresh. We’ll be back with more news from the Canadian Rally Championship. Thanks for joining us!