L’Estage and Richard Ready to Move Forward

Posted on 09. May, 2013 by in Rally America, Rally News

Photo: Aaron Kathman

Photo: Aaron Kathman

The Oregon Trail Rally was supposed to usher in new hopes for Antoine L’Estage and Nathalie Richard. After working out a deal to rent a WRC Mitsubishi Lancer from MML motorsport, the team had a legitimate shot at battling with the Subaru of David Higgins, and Ken Block’s Ford.

The goal from the outset wasn’t to try to win Oregon. The plan instead was to learn the new car and to score points. L’Estage had only minimal testing prior to the event, which had gone well.  However, victory would be unintended icing on top.

Instead, the pair crashed out after an exceedingly rare mistake by L’Estage, with devastating results.

In an interview with Flatovercrest.com, both L’Estage and Richard spoke candidly about the off.

“I misheard the note,” said L’Estage, reiterating his first comment on social media following the crash.

The note in question was this:

Care keep R into L3-

“My brain took it in differently,” said L’Estage. “I didn’t hear the ‘keep right.’”

Compounding the mistake, the L3- was a deceptive corner, and the team were well into fourth gear.

“I knew the instant I made the mistake that we were going off,” said L’Estage.

Richard had faith that L’Estage would make the corner until the very last fraction of a second. Then the realization hit.

“I knew where we were supposed to be going and I knew where we were going,” said Richard, acknowledging they weren’t the same place. “It was going to be big.”

The mountain road disappeared from beneath the car, and the pair flew through the air at 120km/h over a slope that had recently been clear-cut by loggers. Precious few trees remained, and the one furthest from the road, the last one before hundreds of feet of open hillside, stopped the car.

Each confirmed the other was ok, and Richard opened her door to get out with the triangle and OK sign. Except she couldn’t get out. The car had come to rest on a slant, and she couldn’t reach the ground.

Filmmaker Warwick Patterson was first to arrive, having been shooting footage of cars along that section of road. Richard handed him the triangle, and Patterson ran up the hill to place them for the coming teams. Another cameraman took the OK sign up the hill.

“It was good to see people we knew – friends,” said Richard. “That it wasn’t in the middle of nowhere.”

At the service prior to their crash, L’Estage had come in with no brakes. The driving style that has taken him to many titles wasn’t compatible with the WRC car. The team worked feverishly to replace calipers, rotors, pads. Following a review of the on-board data, L’Estage was advised he had to be more gentle with the brakes, and adapt his driving style to the car. Even with the brake problems, the team won stages, beating eventual rally winners Higgins and co-driver Craig Drew.

Photo: Aaron Kathman

Photo: Aaron Kathman

“I was breaking earlier, and taking it easy,” said L’Estage. But giving up what came naturally took added concentration.

“He never mishears notes,” said Richard. “Maybe he was concentrating on changes to his driving, and he just couldn’t process everything.”

“I was thinking a lot about my driving,” said L’Estage. “Maybe I should have told the team to make the car better for how I drive, but maybe I need to adapt if I want to drive that kind of car.”

The reasoning and analysis the pair have put into the crash has been draining, and the two have a long road ahead, so it’s understandable that they should want to focus on what comes next.

“I won’t analyze it too much, but instead I want to put it behind me and move on,” said L’Estage.

“I’m very disappointed, this is not how I wanted to start my relationship with MML. People tell me not to worry about that… John Easton at MML said he wants to get me back in the car. They want to come back to the US.”

Photo: Aaron Kathman

Photo: Aaron Kathman

The unfortunate truth is that no matter the outward appearances of large sponsor stickers and a WRC car, L’Estage is a privateer. If Block or Higgins had written off a car, there would likely be another built in time for STPR. For L’Estage and Richard, that isn’t an option.

Once the car returns to MML, a complete tear down and inspection will take place to determine the extent of the damage. An initial inspection after the car was pulled out seems promising.

“The shell is probably a write-off,” said L’Estage, who will have to pay for repairs before he can rent the car for another event. “But some of the mechanicals might be ok. No fluids were leaking, the wheels were all straight… I don’t want to say we were lucky really, but the way we hit was actually pretty good.”

From there, the team can more clearly determine the best next steps for competing in the US. Their pace at Oregon showed the team and the car have great potential, but it will take a few months before that can be tested again. Admittedly, their US championship hopes are dashed, but there’s still every reason to expect that another Canadian title could be won, and that the North American title could again be theirs.

The team is now concentrating efforts on the Rallye Baie Des Chaleurs, in New Richmond, Quebec.

“Me and Nathalie, we’ve done maybe 80 rallies together, and we’ve never rolled or really crashed,” said L’Estage.

The pair will be competing in the EVO X, a car they’ve used to win many rallies, and in which they are supremely comfortable.

Photo: Mike Proulx

Photo: Mike Proulx

In the meantime, the two are shuffling off the aches and pains and looking ahead with the same focus that has seen them crowned champions on both in Canada and the US.

“Never Give Up”

Photo: Aaron Kathman

Photo: Aaron Kathman

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4 Responses to “L’Estage and Richard Ready to Move Forward”

  1. Dave Sharp

    09. May, 2013

    Glad to hear you guys are okay. Cars can be replaced. People cannot.

  2. sly

    10. May, 2013

    we want to see the inboard video !!!

  3. Cargotruckin 

    20. Aug, 2014

    sapsanltd

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