Saturday, May 26th, 2018
Words by: Dean Campbell, Photos by: Jason Nugent
INVERMERE, BC – Antoine L’Estage and Alan Ockwell have charged into the lead on the first day of the Rocky Mountain Rally, opening up a margin of more than three minutes thanks to a trouble-free first day of competition. Competing for Rocket Rally, the duo are well positioned for their first victory of the season.
“The day went really well for us,” said L’Estage. “We were comfortable in the car and the Pirelli tires worked really well. There were a few big rocks, and we bent a wheel but otherwise, a really good day.”
At the end of 2017, Subaru Canada announced that while they would continue to support the Canadian Rally Championship as the presenting sponsor, and through a contingency fund, they would no longer operate a factory team, leaving L’Estage and Ockwell without support for this season. The pair worked closely with Pat Richard at Rocket Rally to put together plans for this event, but for the moment have said they will be taking the season one event at a time.
Finishing the day in second place, Brandon Semenuk and John Hall struggled to maintain their best pace. Power steering problems cost substantial time over five of the seven stages.
“The steering wheel just kept blowing out of my hands, especially in the rough stuff,” said Semenuk. “In some places, I was using my knees and my hands just to get enough grip. I know the car will be fixed for tomorrow, so we can really push on the Hawke stage.”
Just over a minute further back, Boris Djordjevic and Martin Burnley have a firm grip on third place, overcoming electrical and mechanical problems. The pair are competing in a freshly built car, and are experiencing teething problems that often crop up in a new rally car. Still, the pace the team managed today is proof that the car has a lot of potential.
“We’re hoping for a clean run tomorrow to really see what this car can do,” said Djordjevic.
Dave Nickel and Alex Gelsomino are holding onto fourth place, with a focus on finishing the event through a more restrained driving style. The approach seems to have worked on the first day of the rally, with no damage to the car, and a good position overall.
Simon Vincent and Hubert Gaudreau are new to the Rocky Mountain Rally, and end the first day in fifth place, just 15 seconds back from Nickel and Gelsomino. The team from Quebec are pleased with how their day went, though noted that thick dust blocked their view on the later stages.
“Overall, I am happy with how we did today,” said Vincent. “Our notes are working really well, and we are close to Nickel. Tomorrow will be the battle.”
The Production Class fight was headed up for most of the day by Nicolas Laverdiere and Vincent Trudel, but after losing visibility to thick dust, the pair went off the road and had a soft roll. Both the team and the car appear to be ok, and the hope is that minor repairs can be made to enable the team to restart.
The difficulty for Laverdiere handed the class lead to Nicholas Spencer and David Ma, who faced trouble of their own on the rough Forster complex stage roads.
“We broke a rear toe arm halfway through the fourth stage and had to drive back out on the fifth with it broken,” said Spencer. “We decided to skip the refuel and went to work on the car, splinting the break with two wrenches and some hose clamps. It actually held all the way through the next two stages and got us to the end of the day.”
Eric Pehota and Jennifer Daly are running second in Production Class, a little over 25 seconds back, while Brandon Liang and Michael Szewczyk hold third in class.
Wim van der Poel and Bryan Lord lead the 2WD standings at the end of the day. The team had been in second place for much of the day, until leaders Jason Bailey and Shayne Peterson hit a rock, breaking a steering rod, going off the road.
“There was a lot of dust in some places, and once we saw Jason off, we just slowed down,” said van der Poel, who rounds out the top ten overall.
The second and final day of competition at Rocky Mountain Rally is made up of four stages, totalling 70km of distance. Teams will race on the Hawke stage, first climbing up the mountain road before returning downhill on the same route. After a refuel, the teams will repeat the uphill and downhill runs before driving to the final time control. The Hawke road is in good condition, smooth, with room to push the limits.
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