The World of Rally Cars: Interview with Champion Antoine L’Estage

Rally car racing is a high-stakes, fast-paced sport. Drivers and co-drivers must navigate through some of the most difficult obstacles and terrains imaginable. Sometimes in the freezing cold and snow, other times in the blistering heat. DTK had a chance to speak with Antoine L’Estage, a seven time Canadian Rally champion and driver for the Subaru Rally Team, to find out more about this exciting motorsport.

First off, I would like to congratulate you on 50 national wins this year! How does it feel to reach such an incredible milestone in your career?

It’s something special. I’ve been doing rallies for a long time because my dad was doing them. I was just a kid, but back then, winning a national event was something special, let alone winning a championship. When I look back and I think about what I’ve done so far it’s pretty cool! Maybe it’s something I’ll look back at when I’m old and in my rocking chair, but for now I’m just trying to keep winning and keep going.

You started the season with a big win at the Rally Perce-Neige in February where you raced in very cold and snowy weather. What was it like to compete in those conditions?

It’s always fun! We do this rally every year because it’s the first round of the Canadian Rally Championships. We expect these conditions. It gets very snowy, icy, and cold, but it’s a rally that I really like. I’ve won it seven times now. I’ve always been very comfortable on snow and ice, maybe it’s because I’m from Quebec. Five months a year, we have to drive on snow and ice, and that’s where I first learned to drive a car side-ways and to manage the balance and the breaking. It was a great win because it was my first event with the Subaru Rally Team Canada. It was a bit of a last minute thing for everybody involved because they needed to prep a new car after what happened to it at the end of the previous season. I had very little testing in it, but it was great to drive the car, get the feel for it right away, and win the rally. It was a very good start to the season.

To add to that great start, you pushed the Subaru WRX to the limit at the Rally Baie Des Chaleurs and won your second race this season. Tell me about that victory.

It felt great. It was the first time I was really competing at the rally on gravel with the new car. It was still a big learning process. We had some testing prior to the event, so I was better prepared than I was for Perce-Neige. We pushed really hard and had a very good event. There was some tough competition, but we managed to pull it off. It was a great win but very tough, hot, and with tricky rally conditions. The car performed amazingly and it was amazing to take the lead in a championship.

Do you have any pre-race rituals?

Yes, I do. People don’t often see it but there is a lot of preparation before an event. Once we know where the course and the stages will be, we look at previous years’ schedules because a good percentage of the roads that they’ll be using this year would have been used in previous ones. We then look at the in-car footage from those events, and I’ll spend a lot of time in front of the computer watching these videos to familiarize myself with the roads and each of the rallies. When I get to the rally, I have a sense of where I’m going. It’s like I’m already in it, and it pays off.

What are some of your favourite performance features of the WRX, and how do they helpyou stay focused during a race?

It’s just such a great car, very well balanced. The 4-wheel drive system works really well so you
don't have to worry about certain things, and it has great traction. I can really concentrate on driving as hard as I can without the worry. It’s also a very reliable car; since I’ve joined the team we never had any problems during an event. The whole car is a very good package, and even though the car is modified to compete in rallies, we start with such a good base model. Japanese engineers designed the STI with racing in mind, and it really shows in the performance. There are a bunch of standard parts on the car that are all really solid; they take a beating and they just don't give up.

Your last Rally at Défi was cut short due to some difficulties, but both you and your co-driver
Alan Ockwell have been incredible so far. What are you looking forward to next?

Yes, Défi was a bit of a disappointment for sure. We had a very good push and we were in the lead with 1 minute and 18 seconds, until we started having some fuel pressure problems. You know, these things do happen. It’s a motorsport, and we’re playing with a lot of mechanical parts. It’s just disappointing because it’s out of my control, and I really felt that a big part of the job was done. We just needed to cruise to the finish, but hey, we’ll regroup. We look forward to the next two events out west in BC, not too far from where the team is based with Rocket Rally. These are two rallies that I really like and that I have won many times before, so we’re looking forward to those and trying to win them. The Subaru Rally Team is still leading the
championships in multiple divisions: the drivers, co-drivers, and manufactures championship. So, we’re still in a very good position.

As a seven time CRC champion, what do you believe has been vital to your success and victories?

That’s a tough question; maybe you should ask someone else! I’m fortunate enough to have good talent to start with, and I understand the sport really well. I have a lot of experience now, but I also work hard. I’m not the kind of guy that just sits on his skill. I think it’s a combination of hard work, skill, and a good team around me. I really like the team I’m working with. They’re a good group of guys, and Subaru’s cars are just fantastic. I’m really looking forward to some great years in the near future. My motivation is still very high. I like to win because there’s no other option for me. When I go to a rally, I’m there to win championships, and that’s what I’ll try to do for Subaru.