Antoine L'Estage began his 2012 Canadian Rally Championship season in style by taking victory in the opening round of the series at Rallye Perce Neige, which also happened to mark the 100th career rally of his longtime co-driver, Nathalie Richard.
The 2011 champions led the rally right from the first stage, opening what would eventually become a five-minute gap to his closest challenger.
That nearest competitor was Crazy Leo Urlichich, who stormed onto the podium after getting his event off to a rough start. He was given a six-minute penalty for checking into the very first time control of the event too early. And things would only get more dramatic from there.
Around the midway point of the rally, he and co-driver Carl Williamson escaped injury after Leo spun the car at high speed and struck a telephone pole. Despite suffering serious body damage, the car miraculously ended up with no mechanical issues at all, and Leo drove away after the incident. In fact, unbelievably, the crew went on to set the third fastest time of that stage. When asked how he could possibly drive away from such a wreck, the fan favourite nonchalantly replied "easy, we put it in gear and drove away!"
Bruno Carré benefited from Urlichich's troubles, moving into second place and putting a significant buffer between himself and third place. He and Yvan Joyal looked set for a podium position, but a roll on the final stages of the rally cost them nearly eight minutes and six places. They ended up eighth overall in the rally.
Pat Richard's CRC season got off to a rough start, when a blown motor ended his rally prematurely. Fellow Rocket Rally competitor Max Riddle also retired with mechanical issues, making it a disappointing weekend for the team.
The father-son team of Sylvain and Simon Vincent rounded out the podium in third position. The pair ran a consistent event and stayed out of trouble in conditions that caught many other competitors out, and were rewarded as a result.
The regional class was won by André and René Leblanc, both hailing from New Richmond, Quebec. The brothers look to be enjoying their 2004 Subaru WRX, which they debuted at the end of last season after spending much of the year behind the wheel of an Eagle Talon.
Warren Haywood got his 2012 campaign off to a great start, finishing second in the regional category and first in Production GT with John Hall calling the notes. Warren will be looking to reclaim the PGT championship, which he won in 2010, in addition to competing in the Ontario Performance Rally Championship.
Martin Donnelly and James Drake rounded out the regional podium, getting a great start to their championship after a tough 2011 season. Look for them to grace the regional podium much more often in 2012.
The next round of the Canadian Championship does not come until late May. However, that round will be the treacherous Rocky Mountain Rally in western Alberta. Known for its changeable weather conditions and unpredictable stages, it will definitely be another challenging event for crews and an entertaining experience for spectators.