“Winning is a great feeling,” said L’Estage. “We had some challenges over the weekend, but I have the experience to know when to push and take control.”
The deal to have the champions drive for Swap Shop at the season opener was a fairly recent development, with everything coming together in the last four weeks. The pair drove Maxime Labrie’s former car, after a significant rebuild process. The event was not without a few technical issues. A problem with the handbrake developed on the first leg of stages, and power steering failure struck on the first long forest loop.
“The car was good, but there were a few small things that weren’t perfect,” said L’Estage “The Swap Shop team did an amazing job just to get the car here, and they worked hard in service to make sure we could keep going.”
Running the event with Swap Shop was meant to be a test to see how well L’Estage and Ockwell worked with the rest of the Swap Shop team before any decisions are made for the rest of the season. No doubt a victory will give everyone involved something to consider as they look ahead to the rest of the year.
“I think we learned a few things today,” said Carré. “Now I know it is better not to be first on the road going to Kitigan, and if I am, to choose a different tire.”
Still, it’s a strong performance from rising talent, and a keen lesson learned about road position and tire choice. The pair can be proud of a strong result to kick off their 2019 season and their championship defense.
“We wanted to see how we could compare against Antoine, and I think now we know,” said Carré. “We will do a similar program to what we did last year, so our next event will be Baie des Chaleurs.”
“The car was amazing, the roads were amazing, we had a great time,” said Crazy Leo. “You could see the fast guys were that much faster this year, and in our production car, we can’t match that pace, so to be on the podium is an amazing result.”
“You know, we had some trouble early in the rally, but we were able to get that time back,” said Benoit. “I just love these roads, and it is such a tough challenge, especially in two-wheel-drive. To win here feels amazing.”
“By the end of the rally, I think I finally started to figure out front wheel drive,” joked Swann. “The points here are important for the championship, and at the next event, I’ll be back in rear-wheel-drive. I’m excited.”
Finishing third on the podium were Americans Chris Greehouse and Ryan Dunham. On arriving at the finish, Greenhouse was unaware of the reversal of Benoit’s lost time and thought he had won the class. It was a crushing realization that dulled any shine from having finally finished what has been a difficult event in past years for the American driver.
Fourth overall went to André and René Leblanc, from New Richmond, Quebec. The pair are happy to have had a decent finish, having really struggled on the Kitigan stages in earlier editions. Last year, they had to stop to change two flat tires.
Kudos to Sylvain Erickson and Aaron Crescenti who brought Erickson’s custom-built open class Hyundai Accent to a sixth-place result. The team did stuff the car into a snowbank, and had to restart, but clawed their way back up the order.
Rallye Perce Neige is a testament to the spirit of rally. At 240 km of competitive stages, it is one of the longest events in the championship, and yet it is one of only two rallies that is run in a single day. With daylight fading early, teams must fight fatigue while racing in the dark, deep in the woods north of Ottawa. Survival here is, for many, success. Victory is a feat.
Source: Words by Dean Campbell, photos by Jason Nugent.