L’Estage is a six time ROTP winner for a very good reason.
Every November, Bancroft, Ontario plays host to the Rally of the Tall Pines. One of the most significant events in the Canadian Rally Championship calendar. This year featured particularly rough conditions for the November 26th race. Melting snow and repeated freeze-thaw cycles turned the roads into a slushy, muddy disaster. This allowed the Subaru Canada team of French Canadian driver Antoine L’Estage and Welsh co-driver Darren Garrod to beat out the competition including Subaru USA’s team of Travis Pastrana and British co-driver Robbie Durant by only about 4 seconds with a time of 2:06:45:3.
The entire race weekend however is a blast, in a town that loves hosting the race. If you go up to the race you will notice a few things that make this race pretty awesome
- Rally fans have the coolest cars. Like the racers themselves, a huge chunk of the fans drive Subarus. But during the race I saw fans driving innumerable Ford Fiesta STs, modified VWs and Focuses, one legendary guy in an Audi UR-S6, and one awesome, super clean Saab 900S. The highlight however may have been watching a guy in a lifted Duramax diesel pull a tour bus that was stuck in the slush.
- The modified Subarus are putting down ludicrous power, even with restrictors installed. I got taken for a ride during pacing, in an E85 powered Subaru that was turned down from the over 400hp it makes at the crank. It was still absurdly quick, and requires an exceptional talent to keep the car balanced between grip and slip.
- The front-wheel drive competitors are taking this quite seriously. These are teams that are either made up of people in cars like Fiestas trying to win the national 2WD championship title, or extremely serious local competitors in who have spent months of their lives honing their machines into little beasts that grip incredibly well. The second option tends to drive older cars that have blueprinted engines. The RWD teams however seem to know how to have the most fun however. This race featured a 1985 Mitsubishi Starion, a 1982 Porsche 911, and a new Subaru BRZ. But more than a few of these cars did not finish because of going off the road.
- This is a spectacular example of functional bilingualism in Canada. This country has two official languages and nowhere is it more necessary than in rallying. A huge percentage of teams come from French Canada. Everything is in French and English and many of the competitors are comfortable with either language as they need to be able to speak with media in either language, and sometimes ask other teams for help.
- The fans are incredibly diverse. At this particular race, I met fans from Greece, Hungary, India, and Russia. Fans included kids, adults, professionals, locals, and even some soldiers on leave from the nearest base. Toronto is less than a three hour drive away which makes the ROTP a great way for dads who grew up watching WRC before they came to North America, to share rallying with their kids. My own dad raced Volvos in Europe back in the day before he came over, so it was amazing to see all these parents sharing their love of motorsport with a new generation.
- BONUS POINT! DSMs are still super cool as shown by one team racing an first generation, turbo Eagle Talon. More stylish than a Subaru, with just the right amount of nostalgia balanced with AWD grip. How much more cool can you get?