Antoine L'Estage Wins Pacific Forest Rally, Clinches 7th Canadian Championship

Antoine L'Estage is now the most successful rally driver in Canadian history. With his historic win at a largely revamped Pacific Forest Rally, he clinched the 2014 Canadian Rally Championship, and passes both Frank Sprongl and Tom McGeer for most championships in CRC history.

And no one else even came close to challenging the Quebec driver. After Alex Beland suffered an engine failure on Friday night (and then another the following day), L'Estage simply needed to finish fourth or above to clinch the championship. However, simply finishing was no easy task, with only four of the rally's ten stages having been run before, previous event experience was not a factor. In fact, one veteran codriver called the Comstock-Kane stage the "toughest stage in North America".

While L'Estage and Alan Ockwell were cruising to the finish, new Subaru Rally Team Canada driver Martin Rowe and codriver Nathalie Richard were holding a steady pace in the runner-up spot. While failing to challenge the leader, the new Subaru had far fewer gremlins than at the previous event, Rallye Défi. Apart from damaging some bodywork and suffering potential exhaust damage on the longest of Saturday's stages, Rowe had a clean rally as he continued to acclimatize to his new car and another new event.

After Alex Beland's engine failure, Hardy Schmidtke and John Hall took over third position. With Schmidtke making a return to the sport after almost a full year off, and making that return with a reworked car, there were obviously some cobwebs to shake out. But the Alberta-based driver held the final podium spot up until the penultimate stage, when his Mitsubishi Evo IX died on stage.

Boris Djordjevic and Leanne Junnila held fourth position all through Saturday and were poised to benefit from Schmidtke's misfortune. But as was the case last year, Derik Nelson and Adam Newell were absolutely flying in their Dirtfish Rally School-branded BMW M3. The pair leapfrogged both Djordjevic and the broken down Schmidtke in the final few stages of the rally, riding their aggressive pace to lock up third position overall.

With Newell and Nelson finishing first in 2WD, Matt and Dan Bobyn finished second in class in their VW Golf, a car in which they are improving dramatically. Dave Clark and Jennifer Daly rounded out the podium in third place.

Usual 2WD challengers Chris Greenhouse and Billy Irvin suffered a big crash on the very first stage of the rally. The Dodge Neon crew spun backwards into a bucket loader, heavily damaging the rear of the car. They attempted to continue on, despite the fact that Irvin suffered broken ribs, but dropped out soon after the accident. It remains unclear whether or not they will be able to continue with the final two events of the CRC season.

Regional competitor Stu Ford also suffered a big crash, his coming on the third last stage of the rally. After going off heavily into a ravine, his 1999 Subaru Impreza caught fire, cancelling the remainder of that stage. Ford suffered a broken vertebrae in his neck, and is lucky to have emerged from the incident in one piece.

The Canadian Rally Championship remains on its western swing, with the Rocky Mountain Rally taking place at the end of October. Rocky was a completely new rally last year, moving to BC from it's traditional home in Alberta. Wildly successful in it's first year in Invermere, RMR should remain a season highlight as the 2014 season inches closer to its conclusion.