With the 2012 Canadian Rally Championship already in the bag, Antoine L’Estage could be excused if he had chosen to take a more laid back approach to the season ending Rally of the Tall Pines this past Saturday. L’Estage isn’t a “laid back approach” type of guy though, especially when his nemesis is still on the road! Subaru driver Patrick Richard, is a fierce competitor who has suffered an oddball season of mechanical failures that had prevented him from finishing all but one event so far in 2012. Richard was not about to let the Mitsubishi driver run away with the final event of the year, or so we all thought.
While there was all manner of bent tin further back in the field, things were going really well for the Rockstar Mitsubishi as L’Estage and co-driver Nathalie Richard were the fastest car on every stage leading up to the stage before the final service. That was when a rear suspension failure on the Mitsu cut their lead over Richard’s Subaru from 48 seconds to just 19. Add in an overheating problem (the result of damaging the radiator on a jump) and things were looking interesting. Meanwhile, the Subaru of Richard and Alan Ockwell was ticking along quite nicely, with no problems, even though a few fans told me the car was beginning to sound sick. They were wrong!
While the Rockstar crew hustled to repair the Evo IX, word came in to service that third place Alexandre Beland had hit a bridge, which moved Ugo Desgreniers up to third and the brother & sister team of Nick & Kelly Mathew into fourth. As if that wasn’t enough, the Mathew’s @ Brits Racing Subaru limped in to service on three flat tires. Tall Pines was taking its toll on the field.
“I counted no less than 193 jumps in my Tall Pines notes. 100 of them in the 2 Lower and Middle Hastings night stages alone.” Nathalie Richard via Twitter.
Over the final two hours of competition, the drama continued. Going into the next to last stage, L’Estage’s lead was down to just one second. A seven minute stop to change a flat tire seemed like it might be the end of the battle, except that the Subaru Canada entry was having challenges of its own.
Also suffering a flat, Richard gambled and continued to drive on the damaged front tire. As the tire disintegrated, it damaged a brake line, meaning that the Sube had no front brakes. After the flying finish, Pat got under the car and crimped the brake line in order to continue. On the final stage, the B.C. driver was going as hard as he dared without front brakes. A rough landing from a jump caused the right rear brake caliper to seize on. By the time the Subaru crossed the flying finish, it really was flying as it had no brakes and the right rear was on fire. After extinguishing the flames, Richard had a bit of a job to convince some local constabulary that the car was safe to drive back to the podium.
Until the numbers were crunched, the winner was still unclear, even to the competitors, although Pat Richard was convinced that they had won.
In the end, the Subaru duo were awarded the top spot on the podium. Having only finished one other event this year, Richard and Ockwell felt vindicated by finally breaking their streak of bad luck and pulling out a win at The Rally of the Tall Pines.
I won’t have my video footage edited for a couple of days, but the folks at TV 2 Go have already put together a quick recap of the rally. These guys are quick!