Photo: Scott RainsWilliston, VT (January 28, 2013) -- Rockstar Energy Drink Team’s Antoine L’Estage from St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec and co-driver Nathalie Richard from Halifax, Nova Scotia completed a stunning come–from-behind victory at the Sno*Drift Rally held January 25-26th in Lewiston, Michigan.

Snow and ice often create large gaps between rally cars at Sno*Drift, however, L’Estage and Richard were locked in a fierce battle with Subaru Rally Team USA’s David Higgins from Trefeglwys, Wales and Craig Drew from Forest of Dean, England, which turned into a classic battle between Mitsubishi and Subaru. Higgins and L’Estage swapped the lead twice on Friday with Higgins leading the first four stages, then L’Estage took the lead through stage 7, and Higgins gained an overnight lead of .5 seconds on the final stage of the first day. Higgins retained that lead all through the second day of Sno*Drift leading by as little as .4 seconds after stage 12 and as much as 21.3 seconds after stage 18. L’Estage took back 19.9 seconds on the penultimate stage setting up an epic finale! With 6 miles of slippery roads to go, both drivers gave it all they had. L’Estage won the stage by 7.6 seconds for a final margin of victory of 6.2 seconds over Higgins.

“Those stages were maximum attack,” said L’Estage, “After we saw the time we gained on the (previous) 15 mile long stage we decided to go for it. Everything connected and we ended up winning.”

It was great start for the Rockstar Mitsubishi Team and a heart breaking miss for Subaru Rally Team USA who wanted to begin the season defending last year’s Rally America National Championship title with a win.

Can-Jam Motorsports’ Leonid Urlichich from Thornhill, Ontario and Carl Williamson from Amnanford, United Kingdom completed the overall podium in third place. It is a great start to the team’s second season of rally on American soil.

Notably, Gymkhana video star Ken Block from Park City, UT and co-driver Alex Gelsomino returned to contend the full Rally America National Championship after several seasons honing their skills in the WRC as well has hooning it up worldwide! Block was considered by many to be the man to beat after winning two Rally America appearances in 2012. However, early electrical problem sidelined the team after the second stage. Block was the first to benefit from new for 2013 “Super Rally” rules and resumed competition at the beginning of the second day hamstrung with penalty times for the six stages he missed on Friday. The Hoonigan Racing team mounted a furious attack to climb from 11th overall to finish in 6th place winning six of the second day’s twelve stages and, thereby, salvaging valuable championship points towards a long rally season.

Photo: Scott Rains"I'm really stoked on the addition of Super Rally to the rulebook here in Rally America," said Block. "That new rule gave me the chance to come back into the race on Saturday, drive really hard and make up some of 20-minute penalty I incurred from going out prior to stage 3 on day one. We managed to walk away from Sno*Drift with points towards the championship instead of nothing, which is awesome."

In the Super Production (SP) Class, Exedy Racing Clutches’ Evan Cline from Brighton, MI and co-driver Jake Blattner from Salem, OR drove a very smooth race to take their very first class win. The pair led SP from the start and finished ahead of Mason Moyle from Houghton, MI and John Hall from Sherwood Park, Alberta. Cline and Blattner also won Friday’s Sno Regional Rally in the process.

“This was the drive of my life and everything came together perfectly,” said Cline, “Adam Yeoman (a fellow competitor) did pull us out of a ditch, which saved our first place finish. Now we can go into the 100 Acre Wood Rally with some momentum.”

Moyle and Hall were also locked in a serious battle with Rally America newcomers Nick Roberts from White Bear Lake, MN and Nick Judkins from Bayport, MN. Roberts built up a day one lead over Moyle of 1:29.1, but Moyle dogged Roberts all day Saturday until he overtook Roberts on stage 17 and held onto second place to the end. This is Roberts and Judkins first Rally America podium as well as their first National Championship event.

The Scion Racing Rally xD team of Andrew Comrie-Picard from Hermosa Beach, CA and Jeremy Wimpey from State College, PA began their season strong with a Two-Wheel Drive Class win over Ford Fiesta driver Dillon Van Way from Carencro, LA and Andrew Edwards from Powls, Wales. The Scion Racing team was last year’s 2WD Class runners up and appears to be the team to beat this year.

Photo: Scott RainsThe event went perfectly for us,” exclaimed Comrie-Picard, “The amazing thing is we won 19 of 20 stages on a newly built car and crushed it! Now we’ll go back to California to put a turbo on the car for the rest of the season.”

The Sno*Drift Rally has been very good to Dillon Van Way. This year’s second place finish now marks five consecutive Sno*Drift Rally podium finishes, which includes a 2WD Class win in 2011.

2011 Rally America Rookie of year Ed McNelly from Oxford, ME and Ole Holter from Long Beach, CA driving the Team O’Neil Rally School Ford Fiesta took third place for his first Sno*Drift podium.

James Robinson from Delaware, OH and Jordan Guitar from Marysville, OH piloted their 2009 Honda Fit to a B-Spec Championship victory for Honda Performance Development when their rival Edward Stiefvater in a 2013 Ford Fiesta did not finish due to a mechanical issue on stage 11.

Jon Kramer from Pittsburgh, PA and co-driver Adam Kimmett from Leesburg, VA narrowly beat Evan Cline and Jake Blattner for Saturday’s Drift Regional Rally top honors.

Rally America introduced a Manufacturers’ National Championship where Rally America’s makes will vie for rally supremacy. With L’Estages’ overall victory Mitsubishi drew first blood in the Overall category. Subaru nets the first manufacturers points in the Super Production Class , Scion is on the map in the 2WD category and Honda gained points for the B-Spec Class.

Sno*Drift Rally national results: http://www.rally-america.com/events/2013/SNODRIFT/results

Sno*Drift Rally photos: http://www.rally-america.com/events/2013/SNODRIFT/photos

About Rally America:

Based in Williston, VT, Rally America, Inc. sanctions the Rally America National Championship which consists of seven national-level events located at a variety of venues across the country, from Portland, Oregon to Newry, Maine. Top competitors can reach speeds of well over 100 mph in modified street cars such as Mitsubishi Evolutions, Subaru WRX STI’s, Ford Fiestas and Scion xD’s on natural-terrain courses consisting of gravel, dirt, ice or snow. For more information regarding Rally America’s National Championship or the sport of performance rally, visit www.rally-america.com

PHOTOS: SCOTT RAINS