2010 Rally America Champions Active In The Off-Season
Think about it! That is 12 rally events in two countries without a single crash while beating better funded teams such as the Subaru Rally Team USA, Subaru Rally Team Canada and the Monster World Rally Team. Perhaps the cherry on top of a delicious season was the bronze medal the team won at X Games 16. No North American rally team has ever had this kind of success in a single season.
The secret weapon for L'Estage and Richard could have been rally legend John Buffum, an eleven time American champion and arguably the best rally driver in North American history. Buffum built their 2009 Mitsubishi EVO X and did some mentoring to help put L'Estage and Richard on another level in an already accomplished career.
So, in a SportsCenter hyperbolic world, what's next?
"It's nice to get away from the rush of packing, flying, and preparing for the next race," L'Estage said. "We are still going full speed wrapping up sponsorship and car preparations for next season.
"I am able to spend more time with my children and family for now. I still have a business (Energie Cardio fitness centers in Montreal, Canada) to run with my two partners and I can keep up with my current fitness routine."
And fitness is genuinely a part of Antoine's life but that brought some irony to his off-season. He plays competitively in a hockey league during the winter months and, while celebrating a crash-free rally season, L'Estage shredded his collarbone chasing the puck during a mid-December hockey encounter. L'Estage had a metal plate installed during surgery.
Still, L'Estage was amazed with the pace of his recovery five days after the surgery. He expects to be ready to defend his Rally America championship when the season opens at the Sno*Drift Rally the last weekend in January.
"Winning the Rally America Championship was a real big deal for us considering that we are a team of just five people with a single car," L'Estage continued. "We never expected to be in contention the whole year. We were just going to run a limited selection of Rally America events, but we found ourselves at the top of the standings and fortunately found the funding to continue our Championship run.
"We have our sponsors for next year but the money isn't enough to run both Championships again. We'll be at the first two American events, at least."
Winning the 2010 Canadian Rally Championship was particularly sweet for L'Estage. On the last stage of the last event in 2009, he narrowly lost the overall lead to his nemesis and defending Canadian champion Patrick Richard when the car broke leaving Antoine and Nathalie heartbroken by the side of the road.
In 2010, however, it was a different story as the team kept the pressure on Patrick all season through the end of that final stage and the ultimate title.
L'Estage expects next year's Championship is going to be more difficult with the entrance of David Higgins, who recently joined the Subaru Rally Team USA alongside BMX legend, Dave Mirra.
"Higgins has an impressive rally resume and experience," said L'Estage. "Subaru continues to raise the bar with their car development and drivers and we are going to try to keep up. Higgins will definitely be the man to beat."
Antoine L'Estage and co-driver Nathalie Richard will have targets on their Evo X as the defending Rally America Champions. They'll be out to prove that the disciplined style that earned them the 2010 Triple Crown was no fluke.
The Rockstar Energy Drink Royal Group rally team is a success story of perseverance and commitment. It embodies the press-on-regardless rally spirit. They're proof you don't need a big factory budget to be Champions.