New Car, Same Result For L'Estage

Heading into the 2015 season opener as a newly minted Subaru Rally Team Canada, Antoine L'Estage looked set to mirror, and even improve upon, the successes of last year.

But Rallye Perce Neige is always a wildcard on the Canadian Rally Championship calendar, with the icy stages acting as a great equalizer. And with the news that two Canadian rally legends in Sylvain Erickson and Frank Sprongl (replacing John Kemp) were entered in the event, things got even more complicated for the seven-time series champion.

As the morning stages got underway, L'Estage set a steady pace, but was still trying to get to grips with his new mount. But Perce Neige's challenging stages were wreaking havoc behind him, with second place changing hands six times over the course of the first six stages of the rally.

Erickson and codriver Chloé Erickson, also trying to get a handle on their brand new 2000 Hyundai Accent, held second position after stage 1. However, as can be the case with a new car, mechanical issues and a series of punctures ruined their day. The Erickson duo dropped back to ninth position before being forced to retire on stage 6.

The Can-Jam Motorsports crew of Alex Beland and Lyne Murphy were also pushing hard through the morning loop. While their 2007 Subaru was running well, a couple of off-road excursions cost them valuable time early on, and caused damage to the car. They continued to push into the afternoon, but ripped the left-rear wheel completely off the car on stage 9. Beland was forced to drive through the following stages and back to service on three wheels, exacerbating the damage already done to "The Beast". Yet despite their difficulties, and aided by the hard work of the Can-Jam crew, Beland and Murphy recovered to finish 10th overall.

Frank Sprongl and Brian Maxwell were also keen to challenge L'Estage's dominance early on. The pair were competing in and around the top five throughout the morning and early afternoon, but were pushing hard to improve their position. And on stage 10, a mistake sent Sprongl and Maxwell off the road, with their Mitsubishi striking a tree in the process. Thankfully, neither Sprongl or Maxwell was hurt in the incident, but the damage to the car was too extensive to continue on.

Photo courtesy of Justin Cohen

With challengers dropping like flies behind him, L'Estage pressed on in front. Despite a flat early in the day, as well as a few brushes with the tall snow banks that line Perce Neige's stages, L'Estage and Alan Ockwell ended their rally in the same way it began - with them in front.

"The car was perfect!" L'Estage exclaimed, "I'm really happy with (the win) and it's a great way to start the new season."

Despite the chaos surrounding second position early on, Sylvain and Vincent and Dominique Cyr claimed the runner up spot on stage 6 and never let go. The Canadian Grandmaster used his extensive knowledge of the roads surrounding Maniwaki to his advantage, holding off vigorous challenges from Frank Sprongl and Karel Carré.

Carré and codriver Phillippe Poirier were also rewarded for their efforts. After running a consistent rally and posting solid times throughout the day, Carré clinched the final podium spot. For Carré, it was his first time on a Canadian Rally Championship podium in his first official Canadian Rally Championship event. The podium finish was without a doubt even more special given the fact that Perce Neige is an event his father, Bruno Carré, dominated many times throughout its history.

In the 2WD category, Simon Dubé and Eric Lachance guided their 1990 VW Golf to a class win. Dubé admitted that the lack of power compared to the 4WD cars made things difficult, but he muscled his way to a sixth overall, in addition to his category victory.

Nicolas Laverdière and Arianne Laverdière finished second in 2WD in their 1998 Honda Civic. The Laval-based crew took a cautious approach to the treacherous stages, reaching the end of the event largely unscathed.

Mirroring their success in the OPRC category, Kurt Thiel and Russell Norton rounded out the category podium in third position. The American crew kept themselves out of trouble and rode their steady approach to their second podium of the weekend.

"We had a good event" Thiel acknowledged, "I'm very happy with the outcome!"

The Canadian Rally Championship now enters a long break until Rallye Baie des Chaleurs in late June. A season highlight for crews and fans alike, Baie kicks off a busy summer and fall for the CRC that sees most of the season's events take place within the second half of the calendar year.