Perce-Neige: Series round one preview

Rallye Perce Neige Maniwaki is the snowy season opener for the Canadian Rally Championship STOUFFVILLE, Ontario (CARS Media) -- The Canadian Rally Championship is set to start this weekend on the snowy roads of the Rallye Perce...

Rallye Perce Neige Maniwaki is the snowy season opener for the Canadian Rally Championship

STOUFFVILLE, Ontario (CARS Media) -- The Canadian Rally Championship is set to start this weekend on the snowy roads of the Rallye Perce Neige Maniwaki, presented by Subaru and supported by Yokohama and takes place in Maniwaki, Que., north of Ottawa. The event has run for over 40 years and has been on the national calendar for close to 35 years.

Canadian Rally Champions Patrick Richard of Squamish, B.C. and co-driver Alan Ockwell from Toronto finished third at Rallye Perce Neige last year in the debut event for the Subaru Rally Team Canada.

"This year we have a developed car, a year of working as a team and are the Canadian Rally Champions," said Richard. "We're in a great position to start the year with a win."

This will be no Sunday drive for Richard and Ockwell who face a strong field of experienced competitors. Antoine L'Estage and Nathalie Richard - both of St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que. - are defending North American Rally Champions, and are set to debut a brand new Mitsubishi EVO X. The pair won this event last year.

"There will be a lot of unknowns with the new car," said L'Estage. "We'll hope to battle for the win, and are confident we can do well."

Sylvain Erickson of Gatineau, Que., is a legend at Perce Neige and will be paired with his brother Philip Erickson, also from Gatineau, Que., for the event. Erickson has won this event twice, both times with Philip as co-driver. Sylvain has a legendary ability to bend the rules of physics on ice and snow and will be a serious threat this weekend.

The top of the order will be filled out by Andrew Comrie-Picard from Toronto, fresh from a podium finish at the Sno*Drift rally -- the season opener in the Rally America series. Multiple Canadian and North American rally champion Frank Sprongl of Georgetown, Ont. will be on hand in a Mitsubishi EVO 6. Sprongl is known to be a star talent in ice and snow and could challenge for the win.

Nick Mathew of Calgary and sister Kelly Mathew from Caledon, Ont., will be competing in their 2005 Subaru STI and are a team to watch in 2009. Peter Kocandrle from Acton, Ont., and Jimmy Brant of Lake Odessa, Mich., will be out in Kocandrle's Suzuki Swift after surprising many people with their performance at the 2008 season finale.

Eric Grochowski and Leanne Junnila are making the drive East from Calgary, to compete in their Group Two Volkswagen Golf. The pair will be up against tough competition from Jan and Jody Zedril from Winnipeg, who have moved into Group Two from the Production classes with their Mitsubishi Lancer.

This year, the Canadian Rally Championship is introducing a new two-wheel drive championship. Rewarding the fastest team in any two-wheel drive entry, the championship requires teams to participate in events from coast to coast.

The Rallye Perce Neige is the only winter rally in the Canadian Rally Championship and is home to some of the longest stages on the continent. The event, held Feb. 6-7, 2009, includes 195 kilometers of competitive stages.

Rally car racing is often described simply as "real cars, real roads, real fast." The all-season motorsport sees drivers and their co-drivers take modified road cars to the limit as they achieve blistering speeds over closed-road courses that typically cover more than 150 kilometres of gravel, dirt or snow-covered roads. Fans can get up close to the cars in the service areas and catch all the action from specially designated spectator points located at the best spots on the route.

The Canadian Rally Championship is comprised of six events held nationwide in a season that extends from February to November. The series is presented by Subaru Canada, supported by Yokohama Tire Canada and features contingency programs from Subaru Canada and Mitsubishi Canada. The Canadian Association of Rallysport (CARS) is the official sanctioning body for rallying in Canada.

Full coverage of the championship will air on RDS and TSN. Check local listings.

-credit carsrally.ca

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