10 Reasons to Follow Canadian Rally

Choice moments from the last year that show why you should pay attention to this wild and rugged sport

Antoine L

Photography by Brian Graham

1. The Return of the King

In spite of being in sixth place with only three rallies to go, Antoine L’Estage and co-driver Darren Garrod brought home the overall championship for Subaru Rally Team Canada at the Big White Winter Rally in December at Big White Ski Resort near Kelowna, B.C. It was L’Estage’s ninth Canadian Rally Championship (CRC) title and was a tight race the whole way—L’Estage even lost his rear brakes at one point.

Porsche in rally race

Photography by Brian Graham

2. Tough Classics in Action

Some noteworthy vintage Porsche 911s competed. Graham Bruce from Calgary ran his orange 1968 at four CRC events in 2016 and finished first in the two-wheel drive category at Rallye Perce Neige in Maniwaki, Que. At Rally of the Tall Pines in Bancroft, Ont., Picton-based Ian Crerar campaigned his 1984 classic, but ran out of time to finish after losing a tire on a rough stage.

3. The Unexpected Vehicles

Ian Douglas of Belleville, Ont., campaigned a Crown Victoria (former police cruiser) at the Polar Bear Rally in Bancroft last February. While the giant, rear-wheel-drive sedan is hardly the typical light and quick rally car, Douglas finished the event—passing many cars that ditched—without benefit of all-wheel drive, traction control or a properly functioning transmission.

Rally car on slushy road

Photography by Brian Graham

4. Family Ties  

In his first season at the wheel, Simon Vincent from Quebec proved that hard work and practice pay off, cementing the Ontario Performance Rally Championship title with a third-place finish at Rally of the Tall Pines. He learned the ropes as his dad, Sylvain Vincent’s, co-driver for years, including the win of last year’s Tall Pines—his father’s retirement event.

5. Unpredictable Results

Mechanical failures and crashes took their toll at Rallye Défi, which was contested on the roads around Montpellier, Que., in September. Reigning champ L’Estage was out early on, as was championship points leader Maxime Labrie. When the dust settled, it was an easy win—and their first-ever CRC podium finish—for Marc Bourassa and co-driver Daniel Paquette.

Car in wintry conditions

Photography by Brian Graham

6. Dealing with Mother Nature    

Conditions at Rally of the Tall Pines were the worst in memory, according to many drivers and volunteers. More than 30 centimetres of snow fell on unfrozen gravel, followed by above-freezing temperatures. With severe ruts, rocks and long stretches of standing water, the rough roads took their toll, resulting in a nearly 50 per cent attrition rate and a record number of flat tires.

Car driving through snow

Photography by Brian Graham

7. Unexpected (and Slightly Comical) Obstacles

In the high-grazing grounds around Merritt, B.C., at the Pacific Forest Rally, L’Estage and Garrod encountered a series of obstacles that weren’t in their pace notes. Coming around a blind corner, L’Estage had to navigate at max speed through a mooing chicane as several cows meandered across the road. He made it through without even slowing down or harming any animals—a testament to his skill and reflexes.

8. Overcoming Technical Difficulties

Verbal communication between co-driver and driver is essential at performance rallies. If it breaks down, the driver must slow down. At Rallye Défi, the inventive Leblanc brothers managed to continue racing with a broken intercom system by having co-driver René point the direction of the next corner and hold up a number of fingers to indicate its severity.

9. The Amazing Passion

Rally in Canada is kept going through the generous devotion of a thousand or so volunteers. Each event relies on the support of dozens to hundreds of dedicated people who subject themselves to freezing cold, torrential rain, dust and blackflies without compensation, all for the love of the sport.

Rally car at the Tour de Corse

Photography by Nick Boucher

10. Canadian Success Overseas

Ian Crerar and co-driver Pat Lévesque landed a class podium finish at the gruelling World Rally Championship Tour de Corse (Corsica) last October. A total of 77 teams entered in the event—they were the sole Canadians—and only 51 teams finished. Likewise showing Canadian mettle, brothers Piotr and Lukasz Nytko finished in third place in the hybrid class at the FIA Alternative Energies Cup in their 2013 Toyota Yaris hybrid. They were also the only Canadian team in the competition.

Want some advice from a pro? Get key driving tips from Antoine L’Estage.
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