Merritt (British Columbia), October 16, 2005.- After having won the Baie-des-Chaleurs and the Defi Ste-Agathe/Duhamel rallies earlier this season, Quebec rally driver Antoine L'Estage clinched a third consecutive victory this weekend, finishing first in Round 5 of the Canadian Rally Championship, the Pacific Forest Rally held in British Columbia.
L'Estage and his co-driver Yanick Napert, both from St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec, set the fastest time in 15 of the 16 special stages of the event. Their main challenge came from American Matthew Iorio who finished the event in second place, six minutes down to the winning team. In only his first full season in the Canadian Rally Championship, Iorio drove a stunning race on this extremely challenging and muddy roads. However, L'Estage and Napert were simply too strong in their Hyundai Tiburon 4WD and were never seriously challenged for the lead.
Norm LeBlanc of British Columbia finished third and beat Peter Thomson of Toronto, the current leader in the points' chase. Thomson, who finished fourth this weekend, is now seriously challenged by L'Estage in the race for the 2005 Canadian rally title.
Many fans and experts expected to witness an extraordinary battle for victory between L'Estage and Patrick Richard, the reigning Canadian and North American rally Champion. However, their battle was short lived, as Richard's Subaru Impreza Sti was the victim of electrical woes before the Richard was forced into a retirement when the turbo blew up Friday night during the sixth stage of the event.
Americans Nat Stow and Ben Bradley (Impreza RS) completed the top five finishers and ranked first in the Production class. Quebec's Jon Nichols drove his VW Golf GTi to victory in the Group 2 category and claimed seventh place overall. His main rival Gord Olsen retired after an off-road excursion and a mechanical problem.
The final and decisive round of the 2005 Canadian Rally Championship -- the Tall Pines Rally -- will be held in Bancroft, Ontario, November 26. Peter Thomson and Antoine L'Estage now share the lead on top of the standings and will battle fiercely for the title in Ontario next month.
The Canadian Rally Championship is now in its 49th year of running and information about the series and other rallies in Canada can be found at www.carsrally.ca.