Antoine L’Estage and Nathalie Richard finished the first day at the 2012 Pacific Forest Rally in the lead overall, but the event was not without challenges.
During the final pre-event shakedown on Friday morning, the team had problems with the brakes, which could have been very detrimental had the issue arisen during competition. By the time the pair reached the end of the first stage, their fortunes had turned for the better.
The pair earned their fifth Canadian Rally Championship titles during the first day of the Pacific Forest Rally, when their closest rival, Crazy Leo Urlichich and co-driver Carl Williamson rolled on the first stage, ending their rally and their championship bid.
“I am now Canadian champion for fifth time and I am really happy,” said L’Estage. “It’s unfortunate that in the first stage, Leo went off.”
After Urlichich crashed out, L’Estage inherited the first position on the road, resulting in a dust free run while other teams had to contend with limited visibility.
However, a broken wheel just two kilometres into the final nine km stage slowed L’Estage. When the team arrived in Service for the end of the day, they were able to confirm that while the wheel was destroyed, it hadn’t caused any damage to the rest of the car.
Pat Richard and Alan Ockwell had their own issues to contend with, as the motor in their car started overheating midway through the day’s stages. Although the two nursed the car into second place at the end of the first day, well within striking distance of the leaders, the team will have to put in a new engine overnight to maintain any hope of being competitive.
“We ran the last stage with reduced boost for the final stage to try to take it easy on the engine, but we’ll have to see what we can do in the morning,” said Richard.
Hardy Schmidtke and John Hall moved into third place by the end of the day, holding off Max Riddle and Aaron Neuman in fourth.
“Hardy’s doing really well. He’s really regained all that confidence after the Cochrane off,” said Hall. “His driving is great, and the notes we’re making are on the nose.”
Ed McNelly and Ole Holter are leading two wheel drive, ahead of Krystian Ostrowski and Chris Galecki.
“Princeton Cutoff is really fun. Tricky, but we maintained the same speed on both passes,” said McNelly. “The car is the toughest car around.”
Eric Grochowski and Leanne Junnila crashed on the final stage of the day, Princeton Cutoff, but despite the long fall off the road, both Grochowski and Junnila are fine.
Grochowski tweeted that it was the biggest crash of his career, but later explained that the car appeared to have sustained minimal damage.
A total of seven cars failed to complete today’s stages, and have the option of repairing the car to run the regional stages tomorrow. Heavy dust reduced visibility on stages and to accommodate adding an extra minute interval between cars, organizers had to eliminate two passes on the Nicola stage.
The Pacific Forest Rally continues on Saturday.