Pat Richard proves he can still get it done, taking his third national title
Richard previously won the Canadian title for Subaru in 2002 and 2004, but the manufacturer then began a three-year hiatus from the sport in this country. Driving his own private Subaru, he won the U.S. crown in 2005, but he competed in only two rallies, both in the U.S., in the past two seasons prior to this year.
Reunited with the returning Subaru Rally Team Canada for 2008, he has had two wins, one second and two third-place finishes in the five events to date. He now has an insurmountable 31-point lead, 94-63, over his main rival, two-time champion Antoine L’Estage, with just the Tall Pines Rally in Ontario remaining.
L’Estage won the Pacific Forest Rally (PFR), despite some differential problems on his Hyundai Tiburon, and is in good shape to take a second straight North American Rally Cup, which combines a driver’s best results from Canada and the U.S. (four from one country, two from the other). The PFR was his second Canadian victory of the season and he also has two wins in the U.S. (in Michigan and Pennsylvania).
“This victory puts us in a good position to defend our title in the North American Rally Cup. We’re coming away from this weekend really positive about our chances,” said L’Estage.
The Rally America series in the U.S. has already wrapped up - with Travis Pastrana taking his third straight title ahead of Subaru USA team-mate Ken Block - so Tall Pines is the lone remaining round of the North American Rally Cup too. In the NARC standings, L’Estage leads Block by four points, 92-88. Block is entered at Tall Pines. He won in his only other Canadian outing this year, at the Baie-des-Chaleurs.
Meanwhile, Richard had positioned himself to clinch the Canadian title at PFR by winning the Rallye Defi in Quebec six weeks earlier. There, L’Estage suffered a mechanical failure, his second DNF of the year in Canada. That meant Richard needed only a seventh-place finish at his home rally in order to lock up the title - although on the first evening of the two-day event, it looked as if that might be a difficult task.
On just the second stage of the rally, Richard clipped a rock. That cut a tire on his Subaru Impreza WRX STI. It shredded off the rim and wrapped so tightly around the driveshaft that it took Richard and co-driver Alan Ockwell more than 10 minutes to unwind it. They had to complete this stage and run the next one on three wheels and a rim. Damage extended to the control arm and front differential.
And so, barely 10 kilometres into a 154-km. rally, the team that aspired to be champions found themselves locked solidly in last place and they were still there at the end of Friday evening. Up front, L’Estage and his co-driver Nathalie Richard (Pat’s sister) had a comfortable lead in their Hyundai, more than two minutes ahead of the Subarus of local B.C. favorites Norm LeBlanc, second, and Scott Trinder, third.
Still, most of the longer stages were on Saturday and Richard was able consistently to make up ground from the start of the morning. “While we’re not taking risks, we are making up some time,” he said, as he closed in on the all-important seventh place.
Meanwhile, leader L’Estage was in some trouble as the centre differential of his Tiburon broke and he had to complete three stages with rear drive only. He was happy to reach the next service stop, but repairs took longer than expected. He was 19 minutes late out of service, taking a penalty of three minutes, 10 seconds.
This temporarily gave the lead to LeBlanc, but not for long. A couple of stages later, a transmission failure ended his rally. At about the same time, Trinder also retired with damage to the rear struts on his car.
So L’Estage reassumed the lead, ahead of Alberta drivers Gord Olsen, second in an Impreza WRX, and Zebe Szewczyk, third in a Mitsubishi Lancer. Richard was now up to fourth, two minutes away from a podium finish, but closing in fast. The last two stages, a pair of runs along Helmer Lake, were the longest of the rally at 23 kms. each and Richard easily gained those two minutes - and then some.
“We made up huge time on Helmer, but it was really hard,” said Richard. “There was a lot of dust on the second pass. It would have been nice to have two-minute windows [between cars], but we did what we needed to get to the podium.”
At the end, L’Estage finished three minutes, 23 seconds ahead of runner-up Olsen, while Richard was a further one minute, 44 seconds back. Warren Currie finished fourth in another Impreza WRX, while Szewczyk slipped to fifth place.