Antoine L’Estage and Nathalie Richard won the 2011 Rallye Defi in decisive fashion after chief rivals Pat Richard and Leanne Junnila were excluded from the event at the end of the first day of action.
L’Estage was relaxed and perhaps a bit matter of fact at the end of the final stage of the rally, but by the time he had reached the final time control, the meaning of the result had set in.
“The puts us in a very comfortable position in the championship,” said L’Estage, who now leads Richard and Junnila by 41 points in the Canadian Rally Championship. “It’s also my sixth win here at Defi, and my seventh straight win in Canada.”
L’Estage has also clinched his fourth North American Rally Cup, while for co-driver Nathalie Richard, it’s a seventh career NARC title, matching the all time record set by Jeff Becker.
At Subaru Rally Team Canada, the mood was entirely different. A mistake on the transit to the first stage on Friday morning meant the team took a detour on the first transit, enough to cause them to run out of gas, requiring a tow, ultimately leading to their exclusion. All they could do on Saturday was watch as L’Estage and Richard cemented another victory.
Crazy Leo Urlichich and Martin Brady struggled on Friday with driveline problems, and suffered a puncture on Saturday morning, which cost some time and some damaged bodywork. The two were able to secure a solid second place finish, notching a few stage wins in the process.
“Even today, we had some problems, first with the flat, and also with our notes. They don’t seem to work as well when we’re going faster,” said Leo, who has made some notable upgrades to his car, including new suspension and a sequential gearbox.
“This is probably the closest Leo has ever been to me in terms of pace,” said L’Estage. “But that’s on the more open, faster roads, we’ll see how he can do in the tight and twisty stuff.”
Craig Henderson and Lyne Murphy drove with almost no issues today, finishing a secure third place, after problems on Friday morning cost nearly a minute.
“It’s a good result for sure,” said Henderson. “I’m happy for the podium, especially after all the problems yesterday. Today was good though, and clean.”
Steeve Hobbs, who has finished third here in the past, was on his way to another podium when he lost control and crashed off the road. The crew were unharmed, but were forced to retire from the event.
The Zedril brothers were the fastest two wheel drive team to escape unscathed this weekend. The two were able to stay out of trouble which rivals Eric Grochowski and co-driver Keith Morison scored a DNF and Simon Dube and Pat Lavigne had suspension issues that knocked them well down the order.
“You know, we wanted to have a good battle here, but that didn’t happen this time,” said Jan Zedril. “Still, the result is good, and I think it will help keep Mitsubishi happy.”
Rallye Defi is also part of the Ontario Performance Rally Championship. Nick and Kelly Mathew finished first in the OPRC with an 8th place overall.
In second were brothers Nicola and Massimo Narini, after numerous problems on day one, and a flat on day two. The pair had electrical problems on day one that hampered their pace and took time penalties as well. In their charge back up the leaderboard, the team set a third fastest stage time late on Saturday.
Third place went to Michelle Laframboise and Elise Racette, their first podium result together. The two had once nearly had a podium, only to have it taken away through time penalties.
“We really needed to win here to keep a shot at the OPRC title,” said Nick Mathew. “It’s also the first year Kelly was able to make it out for Defi. Having her here made me realize that one of the stages I hated the most is now one of my favourites!”
The Mathews will be up against the Narinis and Chris Martin and Brian Johnson at Tall Pines for the final chance to earn the regional title.
The Canadian Rally Championship continues in just three weeks, across the country in Merritt, B.C. for the Pacific Forest Rally. Join us there!