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Pat Richard proves he can still get it done, taking his third national title


Pat Richard has been crowned as the 2008 Canadian national rally champion. It is the third time he has captured the title, but what makes this year’s accomplishment special is the fact that this is his comeback season after a long absence.
200809110005_Subaru_FR_opt“I have been away from the Canadian scene since 2004 and so to come back and win the title is just awesome,” said the 35-year-old, who clinched the crown with a come-from-behind drive to third place in the Pacific Forest Rally in his home province of British Columbia. “It’s great to have the championship. We are thrilled and it’s awesome for Subaru too.”

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 positive427004198_dsc_7368_opt 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 so430049278_dsc_7268_394_opt 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.

429533544_dsc_7260_386_optSo 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.
One notable absentee from PFR was regular Canadian frontrunner Andrew Comrie-Picard, who chose instead to contest that weekend’s ninth and final round of the Rally America series, the Lake Superior event in Michigan. Pastrana had already sewn up that championship, but ACP - who has done most of the U.S. events this year - was in a tight three-way battle for the runner-up spot along with Block and Kyle Sarasin.
It turned out to be a bad weekend for the Toronto driver. He had a misfire early on and then, trying to make up lost time, he rolled his Mitsubishi Lancer EVO-9. It was the second time he had rolled this car in just over two months, following a spectacular exit from the X-Games in August. Block won the Lake Superior event, with Sarasin second, while ACP fell to fourth overall in the final American standings.
The previous month, the Rallye Defi in the Laurentian mountains produced the closest battle yet between Richard and L’Estage - until the latter’s motor broke with seven stages to go. They swapped fastest times and were rarely more than couple of seconds apart, on any given stage or in cumulative times.
Antoine’s demise elevated his brother Mathieu L’Estage to second place, but his Lancer EVO-5 suffered a transmission failure on the very last stage. Attrition was high, especially in the late stages of this arduous event. Comrie-Picard’s EVO-9 overheated as he was running second with three stages to go, while Jon Nichols damaged his fifth-placed EVO-6 coming off a jump on the final stage.
In the end, Richard won comfortably by almost seven minutes over U.S. visitor Bill Bacon (Lancer EVO-9),. while Craig Henderson completed the podium in an Impreza WRX, the best-ever result for the Gaspé area driver. Local favorite David Legault was fourth in an EVO-4, ahead of Alberta’s Olsen and 2007 Quebec provincial champion Simon Losier in an EVO-8.
Losier did not defend his Quebec title this year in order to focus on his first full national campaign. Maxime Labrie has succeeded him as Quebec champion. He went to the fifth and final round of the provincial series, the Rallye Lac-aux-Sables, trailing in points behind Simon Dubé, a two-time winner this season. But for a third straight year, Dubé lost the title at the final event, as his VW Golf GTI failed to finish.
The rally was won by Maxime Losier, Simon’s younger brother, in an EVO-8, but that car is ineligible for the Quebec championship, which consists of two classes - Group 2 (modified 2WD cars) and Production. So Labrie, who finished second in his Honda Civic, took maximum points to snatch the title from Dubé by a margin of 71-62. Daniel Gauthier, winner of the Maniwaki season-opener in a VW, was third with 37 points.
Meanwhile, the big news out of Quebec for 2009 is the return of the Rallye de Charlevoix, once Canada’s official candidate for World Rally Championship status. Rallye Sport Quebec has announced that the Charlevoix event - based in La Malbaie, about 120 kms. northeast of Quebec City - will be the sixth and final round of the 2009 provincial championship on Oct. 24.
For several years in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Charlevoix was run to international standards under surveillance by observers from the FIA. But the event failed to attract the corporate support needed to further its WRC bid and was dropped completely after the 2002 edition amid reports of financial problems.
The Canadian Association of Rallysport has also unveiled its national calendar for 2009. It is essentially the same as this past season’s schedule, except that the Pacific Forest has been brought forward by two weeks, to Oct. 2-3, to avoid conflict with Lake Superior.

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