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

It didn't take long for Antoine L'Estage and Nathalie Richard to clinch their fifth Canadian Rally Championship title - their third in as many years. The Rockstar team had yet another clean, consistent run, encountering only minor trouble from a broken wheel on the final stage of day 1.

L'Estage's championship was confirmed after Crazy Leo Urlichich crashed out on the very first stage of the rally. Co-driver Carl Williamson said that they noticed the car was down on power during transit, and Leo was immediately off rhythm once the stage began. They rolled at the top of an uphill section after understeering off the road and hitting the bank. While they had originally hoped to restart in the second day's regional event, this proved impossible after the Can-Jam Motorsports crew was able to assess the full extent of the damage.

Things did not go any better for Pat Richard, who suffered so badly from overheating during Friday night's stages that the crew elected to swap their engine for a stock motor from a vehicle belonging to a member of the team. They were back on pace Saturday, albeit still losing time to L'Estage, but were forced to retired after their replacement motor caught fire at the end of SS14. Richard's retirement allowed Crazy Leo to secure second place in the championship standings for the second consecutive year.

Two key competitors out of contention opened up a great battle for second between Hardy Schmidtke and Max Riddle. Riddle had said coming into the weekend that he was feeling confident about his pace, and it certainly showed. There were no signs of the hesitancy that had characterized his performances since he crashed at the Rocky Mountain Rally earlier this year.

Both Schmidtke and Riddle put in solid performances, and continued trading places throughout the second day. On the first of three passes through the Helmer Lake stage, Schmidtke and co-driver John Hall dragged the skid plate the entire way through the stage, allowing Riddle to gain a two second advantage. They were able to fix it before the next run, and subsequently opened up an eleven second lead on the Rocket Rally driver.

After departing the service park before the final run of Helmer, Schmidtke and Hall were limping badly, with no oil and no turbo by the end of the stage. Even after crossing the finish line they were still unsure if they would survive the trip to Merritt for the final check in. In the end, they made it to Merritt and claimed second place by 7.1 seconds over Riddle and co-driver Aaron Neumann. Both teams had reason to celebrate however, as it was the first national podium for each of them.

Swap Shop's Alexandre Béland trailed Riddle by nearly a minute for most of the weekend. A strong push from the novice driver and veteran co-driver Lyne Murphy was nearly enough to capture the final podium spot, however the pair crossed the finish just 3.4 seconds behind the Rocket Rally team.

Also of note was Red Bull-backed mountain biking star Brandon Semenuk finishing an extremely solid 5th place in the event, with Jennifer Daly in the right seat. The pair set an impressive pace throughout the weekend, culminating with the second fastest time through the final stage.

The 2wd class had its share of drama as well, with Eric Grochowski and Leanne Junnila in need of a strong result to have any hope of taking the championship from Ed McNelly and Ole Holter. But things failed to turn out as they hoped when as Eric put it, they "flew off a cliff sideways" on SS2. The crew had hoped to get the car back on the road for the Saturday regional and worked almost all night to fix it. However, the more work they did on the car, the more damage they found, eventually deciding to retire completely.

With Grochowski out of the picture, McNelly looked poised to clinch both the win and the championship. Except, he ended up crashing out on SS14, ensuring that the 2wd title will come down to the season finale at the Rally of the Tall Pines in November.

The class win ended up going to the "Polish Rally Mafia" team of Krystian Ostrowski and Chris Galecki, who won by virtue of being the only national 2wd entry to make it to the finish!

The aforementioned Canadian Rally Championship season finale, the Rally of the Tall Pines, comes in a little over a month's time, taking place in Bancroft, Ontario on the 23rd and 24th of November.