Thursday, September 14th, 2023
Photos: Clement Tavernier
Based in Montpellier, QC, and tracing it’s roots all the way back to the Criterium Rally, Rallye Défi Petite Nation is one of the oldest events in the Canadian Rally Championship. Featuring a revised stage schedule heavy on spectator access, the 2023 edition provided the full range of conditions, from fast and wide to tight and technical. The challenge attracted 33 teams from across the country and the United States.
Fresh off a win at Rallye Baie-Des-Chaleurs, Joel Levac and Laurence-Fanny L’Estage dominated the first loop of the rally. The proven duo in the ex-WRC Mini won the first six stages, building a lead of over a minute in just the first 50km of racing. Confident at the first service, it all came apart in front of the fans at the Montpellier Spectator Stages, when an engine problem forced their retirement after SS08.
Defending Champions Jerome Mailloux and Philippe Poirier were not able to capitalize on Levac’s misfortune. A flat tire and subsequent suspension damage took them out on SS04. Rally-Restart rules allowed them to re-join the field after the first leg, but the missed stages and penalties saw them re-start in 26th place. They would eventually fight all the way back up into the points, winning eight stages and finishing 9th overall, but their championship defense took a hit.
Similarly, championship points leaders Alexandre Moreau and Ian Guité struggled early on to keep pace with the fast cars, but just as they had found their rhythm, a roll on SS07 cost them, pushing them down to 19th place. By the end of the rally, a heroic push would see them climb all the way back up to fourth, but the incredible drive wouldn’t be enough to maintain their lead in the championship.
Masters of risk management, Jean-Sebastien Besner and Yvan Joyal knew where to push and where to play it safe. They leveraged the speed and reliability of their new Fiesta to good effect, running a completely drama-free event from start to finish. Out of 19 stages, they won four outright and posted the second or third fastest time in all but one of the remaining stages. Consistency matched with pace earned the veterans their first win in their new car, and the lead of the championship.
Marc-Andre Brisebois and Marie-France Desmarais-Trepanier have been battling bad luck for over a year now. There is no question that the 2021 Championship Runners-Up have the speed for top finishes, and it finally all came together for them on the stages of Rallye Défi. Running smooth and fast from start to finish resulted in a well-earned second place, with Brisebois entertaining the fans at the podium celebration with his skills as a professional Stunt Person.
In only their second rally in Canada, a smooth and steady drive resulted in Americans Arek Bialobrzeski and Aris Mantopolous bringing their custom six-cylinder Subaru WRX to the finish in third place.
Vincent Trudel and Michael Szewczyk dominated the Production All-Wheel-Drive class through most of the event, moving all the way up to fourth overall, until mechanical failure took them out on the second pass of the 42km-long Duhamel stage. This handed the class win to Trevor Pougnet and Ryan Rouleau, the duo in the dark gray Subaru increasing their consistency with every rally they enter.
A similar situation developed in Two-Wheel-Drive. Americans Chris Greenhouse and Ryan Scott set an incredible pace from the first stage. The duo in the Dodge SRT4 dominated most of the stages and opened up a big lead in the class, but a failed alternator belt caused them to limp through the last few kilometers of the rally, costing them time. Their main rivals, 2021 class winners Francis Belley and Danny Mallette, couldn’t capitalize on Greenhouse’s misfortune, crashing on SS19 after a smooth and fast run through most of the rally. In the end, the tremendous lead Greenhouse had built through the event meant that he still took home second place, increasing his lead in the championship. Defending Two-Wheel-Drive Champion Kurt Duddy took the class win, with Danny Hudon calling the notes. Mark Toufanov and David Bell finished third in class.
With the Pacific Forest Rally cancelled due to wildfire risk, there are still three rounds left in the 2023 Canadian Rally Championship. Next, the teams will face the legendary Rallye Charlevoix, October 20-22, with a unique mix of in-town and deep forest stages.