L'Estage Wins Shortened Rocky Mountain Rally

Antoine L'Estage made the most of incredibly challenging conditions at this year's Rocky Mountain Rally, earning his second CRC win in as many weeks. The victory allowed L'Estage to clinch his 8th national championship, with codriver Alan Ockwell earning his 4th series title. L'Estage's success also gives Subaru its first CRC Manufacturer's title since 2010.

But it wasn't easy for the series veterans. The first day of the rally featured a manageable mix of mud and gravel, with only a small amount of rain. But on the second day, conditions deteriorated significantly on the stages. Climbing up and down the mountains surrounding Invermere, stage conditions were changing from mud at the bottom to snow and ice at the top.

L'Estage set the pace from the very beginning, using experience to compensate for early mechanical problems. He and Ockwell were forced to run in FWD only for most of the first three stages, but the Subaru service crew fixed the problem at the first service.

Other competitors weren't so lucky. Championship newcomer Nick Roberts and his codriver Niall Burns crashed out early on day one, coming to grips with using their own pacenotes for the first time. After making repairs overnight, they were able to restart the following morning, but fell victim to the worsening conditions, crashing out near the end of the rally. The pair had shown good pace throughout the event - finishing the first stage in second - before their day 1 crash on the following stage.

With the weather conditions getting worse as the rally's second day progressed, L'Estage was focused on managing his lead. And as a blizzard moved in over the entire rally route, the organizers made the decision to end the event with three stages remaining, with L'Estage well in front. The Quebec driver's 8th championship victory moves him further ahead of Frank Sprongl and Tom McGeer for the most Canadian titles in history.

"Very tough conditions at the Rocky Mountain Rally today but we made it, and at the end it's another win!" L'Estage wrote on social media. "...Really happy to win with this team, great group of passionate guys!"

After Roberts crashed out of second place, Hardy Schmidtke and John Hall took up second place. Working hard to keep the trailing competitors at bay, Schmidtke held onto second, despite a serious challenge from David Nickel.

For Nickel, just getting to Rocky was a race against time. After crashing out of the Pacific Forest Rally the previous weekend, his Rocket Rally crew had to repair Nickel's car while simultaneously preparing Antoine L'Estage's for the following event.

Despite a lack of paint on several panels, Nickel's Subaru arrived in Invermere ready to go. Nickel and Aled Edwards picked up right where they left off before their crash at PFR, putting down excellent stage times as they challenged Schmidtke for second. But unfortunately, a roll on the second last stage of the rally cost them third position.

Nickel's crash left third position in the hands of Boris Djordjevic and Chris Kremer, who had pushed hard throughout the rally - despite a brake failure on day 1 - to try and overtake Nickel. In fact, in the stages leading up to Nickel's off, the gap between the Rocket Rally driver and Djordjevic had been hovering around the ten second mark. Moving up to third with only the final stage remaining, the Mitsubishi driver was able to solidify his first national podium.

Eric Grochowski followed his success at PFR a week earlier by claiming victory in the 2WD category. His victory came despite suffering through brake problems for the first day that had carried over from PFR. With codriver Bill Dubreuil calling his notes for the second straight event, his victory at Rocky was the first for Grochowski since he won the category championship in 2012.

Voytek Stywryszko and Spencer Armstrong finished second in 2WD. The pair had been trailing Jason Bailey and Steven Stevenson for most of the event, but a problem for Bailey on the penultimate stage pushed Stywrszko up to second.

Rounding out the category podium were Tanveer Deen and Michael Szewczyk, who actually led the class up until the final stage, when they went off the road in the messy conditions, dropping them down to third. Despite the mishap, Deen and Szewczyk earned their first ever national podium.

The Canadian Rally Championship now heads back to Ontario for the season ending Rally of the Tall Pines. Like the Rocky Mountain Rally that precedes it, competitors at Tall Pines are often faced with a mix of both gravel and snow/ice. Conditions in Ontario at the end of November are notoriously unpredictable, and the series finale could prove to be the toughest test of the entire year.