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L’Estage and Richard Extend Winning Streak to Seven

Antoine L'Estage's hot streak continued at Rallye DEFI. Photo by Andrew Harvey Photography

Antoine L’Estage and Nathalie Richard knew that the 2011 Rallye DEFI would be won on the first two stages of the event.

“That’s what happened last year,” said L’Estage. “We took maybe 45 seconds lead there last year and managed that to the end.”

This year, the team opened up a lead over the first two stages, though only 3.9 seconds over Pat Richard and Leanne Junnila. However an error forced Richard and Junnila to cover extra distance prior to the first stage, and the team ran out of fuel after the first stage. They were towed to the refueling location – against the rules – and continued in the rally.

Nathalie Richard and Antoine L'Estage Photo by Andrew Harvey Photography“We broke the suspension on the second stage, and fixed it in service,” said Richard, who was able to get back on pace over the afternoon stages. However, at the end of the first day, L’Estage had opened up a 10 second lead on Richard, but that would become moot, as Richard and Junnila were excluded from the event for getting the tow.

“Everyone on the team worked really hard to get here, and to be excluded is really frustrating,” said Richard after the event. The DNF puts Richard at a huge disadvantage in the Canadian Rally Championship points.

Richard’s exclusion meant L’Estage’s lead opened up to two minutes, 20 seconds over “Crazy” Leo Urlichich, who had problems of his own.

“I broke an axle on the first stage, as is becoming tradition,” joked Urlichich. “Then we had problems with the differentials and so I was going pretty slowly.”

Urlichich and co-driver Martin Brady regained their pace during the second day stages winning multiple stages, but still struggling with pacenote issues and a bad flat tire on the fourth stage of the day.

'Crazy' Leo Urlichich Photo by Andrew Harvey Photography“We have been trying a new system, and initially it was good, but now that I’m getting faster, it doesn’t seem as consistent.”

Leo and Brady eventually finished second, matching his career best finish.

L’Estage and Nathalie Richard spent most of the second day managing their lead to a winning margin of 3:39.2 minutes, marking L’Estage’s sixth career win at DEFI, and the team’s seventh consecutive win in Canada.

“We’ve clinched the North American Rally Cup here as well,” said L’Estage. “That makes it my fourth, and for Nathalie, her seventh.”

Steeven Hobbs, who finished on the podium at DEFI in 2009, after starting 29th, appeared to be on a similar run, moving up to third by midday Saturday, party through his own speed and attrition in the field. Hobbs crashed out on the Montepellier stage, retiring from the rally.

Rounding out the podium were Craig Henderson and Lyne Murphy. The pair had struggled early in the event, with the car being down on power, but once they had it fixed, they worked up through the order to finish a comfortable third place.

Craig Henderson Photo by Andrew Harvey Photography“We had problems on the first two stages, the car was only on three cylinders,” said Henderson. “Once that was solved, then we were able to drive much better.”

The 2011 edition of Rallye DEFI saw an incredible two-wheel drive battle that finished with just two seconds separating the first and second place teams. This year, no such battle emerged. Jan and Jody Zedril won the two wheel drive class after their strongest competitors had problems.

“We really were looking forward to a great battle,” said Jan Zedril. “When we knew that Eric Grochowski was out and Simon Dube was so far back after damaging his car, it took some of the fun out of it. Instead, we just have to see how we can do against the all wheel drive cars.”

The Zedrils suffered a flat tire on the second stage, and intermittent intercom problems, but with no threat to their position, stayed smooth and calm to finish 14th overall, nearly nine minutes ahead of Simon Dube and co-driver Pat Lavigne.

“After we knew Dube was off the pace, it was ok,” said Jan Zedril. “We had a few problems, but didn’t have to push, and just tried to match last year’s times, which we did.”

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