L’Estage and Richard Set to Defend Rally in the 100 Acre Wood Title
By Sean Moriarty
Photo: Scott Rains
Antoine L’Estage has set himself an impressive target for the year ahead.
The Quebec-based Mitsubishi Lancer X driver wants to become the first driver to win the elusive triple crown of North American rallying for the second time. He has previously won the Rally America National Championship, Canadian Rally Championship and The North America Rally Cup in 2010.
His first goal is to wrestle the Rally America crown from defending champion and works Subaru driver David Higgins.
His second task is to retain the Canadian title and become the first driver since Frank Sprongl to achieve three in row (and fifth in total) in his domestic title race.
If he manages these two feats, a fifth North American Rally Cup is a near certainty.
“That is the target,” he said. ”Nobody has ever done it twice. I have a good team around me and I have been pushing them to think like this. I missed out by very little last year. It is a difficult but feasible plan.”
Just five points separated L’Estage and eventual champion Higgins at the end of last season’s six-round Rally America National Championship campaign. Both drivers failed to score at the season-opening Sno*Drift Rally last year so the title-race began in earnest at the Rally in the 100 Acre Wood in Missouri.
L’Estage won that encounter by a mere 17 seconds over Higgins. This year, L’Estage is looking to capitalize on his familiarity of the extremely fast roads in the hilly Ozarks territory and to repeat his success at the Rally in the 100 Acre Wood.
Add in the arrival of five-time winner of the Rally in the 100 Acre Wood and World Rally Championship regular Ken Block and triple Polish and 1997 European champion Krzysztoz Holwczyc, who is making his debut in the series, and L’Estage’s ambitions take on a deeper significance.
“I love having these guys on events,” he added. “They raise the profile of the series. I am a very competitive guy but often in Canada you are racing on your own and you have no one to compare your own speed with. Beating David at last year’s 100 Acre Wood was great and having him here is a really good benchmark for me.”
It should be noted that L’Estage is essentially a privateer driver taking on the professionals, but this is a challenge he relishes. His Mitsubishi Lancer X is prepared by American rallying legend John Buffum’s Libra Racing team in Colchester, VT, and despite the lack of comparable funding they are more than up for the fight.
“It is really hard to stay with the big teams,” he explained. “John builds a good car and finds little improvements here and there every time. Meanwhile these other guys are finding big improvements. They have a lot more resources, can afford test sessions between events and have an engineer available. It is not easy but I will do my best to keep them honest.“
Although the Canadian driver lacks test mileage like his more prolific rivals, he does have the advantage of more seat time and a win two weeks ago at his home event, Rally Perce Niege. He will benefit from those extra 130 miles of high-speed competition as Higgins has not contested an event since Sno*Drift last January, and Block’s last outing in a competitive environment was last November’s Rally Great Britain.
Block finished ninth in Britain but three months lack of heated competition is sure to take its toll. Also, it will be the first time that his multi-purpose Ford Fiesta H.F.H.V runs on a stage rally and it will take him a stage or two to reacquaint himself with the high-tech machine.
Holowczyc could be a dark horse given his 14-day Dakar run at the start of January where he placed tenth on one of the world’s toughest and longest rallies.
It is all to play for as the Rally America National Championship travelling circus rolls into Salem, MO this weekend. Be sure to catch as much of it as you can on Rally America’s website, http://www.rally-america.com.