Antoine L’Estage and Nathalie Richard won the 2012 Pacific Forest Rally, the fifth round of the Canadian Rally Championship, held in Merritt, B.C.
“It was a good rally for us,” said L’Estage. “After we won the championship, I just wanted to have fun and drive fast. Everything was perfect, not a scratch on the car.”
“Our main goal was to lock up the championship here,” said Richard. “With Leo crashing out on the first stage, that goal was attained, and so that took the pressure off.”
Overnight rain made the stages damp enough to keep the dust down without adversely affecting the grip on the road surface.
Pat Richard and Alan Ockwell made it halfway through the day after the team swapped in a new engine overnight. The chance to continue was short lived, when the car caught fire on the Active Mountain Stage, forcing the team to retire from the event.
“We had really high expectations for this event,” said Richard. “The last few weeks, we’ve put a lot of effort into the car, and the whole team has been working really hard. I feel really devastated for the guys. They put so much effort and energy into getting us here. We’ve been in this sport a long time, and I’ve had years like this before, and you have to put it behind you.”
Following Richard and Ockwell’s retirement, Hardy Schmidtke and Max Riddle found themselves battling for second place while Alexandre Beland and 2012 Freeride Mountain Bike World Tour Champion Brandon Semenuk rounded out the top five.
The traditional final three stages of the rally, the downhill-run Helmer, gave teams a last chance to make up ground on their competition. L’Estage and Richard were comfortably in first place, and cruised to victory.
“I really liked today’s stages,” said L’Estage. “Conditions were good, and the Yokohama tires worked perfectly.”
Riddle and Schmidtke traded times and positions over the final three stages. Heading into the final stage, Schmidtke’s car was experiencing turbo problems but he was able to hold off Riddle to claim second place, a career-best finish.
“We left for the last stage and the turbo went,” said Schmidtke, of his late-rally drama. “Before the stage, we topped up the oil. The turbo seized, but we just limped along. We’re here, and we’re so excited to have a podium. It’s been the best battle of my career.”
Riddle had struggled earlier in the season in the aftermath of a heavy crash, but proved that he’s back to his fast ways with third place.
“We beat Hardy on the last stage, but not by enough,” said Riddle. “It’s our first national podium. It’s amazing, and it erases all the bad things that happened earlier this year.”
The trend of best ever results continued, with Beland earning fourth place, and Semenuk taking fifth place.
Only one car finished the rally as part of the two-wheel drive class. Both Ford Fiestas retired from the event. Verena Mei reportedly withdrew after feeling ill, and Ed McNelly crashed on the AMR stage. Scott Trinder also withdrew with a mechanical problem.
Krystian Ostrowski and Christopher Galeki finished 14th, the last car in the rally, after every other two-wheel drive car failed to finish the event.
The final rally of the year is the 2012 Rally of the Tall Pines, in Bancroft, Ontario, November 23-24.