Last Saturday, I went to the Canadian Rally Championship awards luncheon at the Delta Toronto Airport West Hotel (Subaru Canada, Yokohama Tire Canada and Mitsubishi Motor Sales of Canada all announced their continuing support for the national championship) and I took the opportunity to put some questions to two of the top rallyists in the country, Pat Richard and his sister, Nathalie.
While they started out rallying together 10 years ago, Pat Richard now competes for Subaru with co-driver Alan Ockwell of Toronto while Nathalie Richard co-drives for her life partner, Antoine L’Estage, in a Mitsubishi
Pat Richard won his fourth Canadian championship in 2009. Nathalie Richard missed out on several titles in heartbreaking fashion but during her career has won more than a dozen national and international championships.
I just turned on the tape recorder and let them
both talk. Here is some of what they said.
Nathalie, how did you get started?
I have to credit my brother for getting me involved. We don’t come from a rallying family or anything. He was just a fan and one day he saw it on TV and realized we had rallying in Canada and he said, ‘I’m going to do that,’ and that was 10 years ago.
I went to his first couple of rallies and I got hooked and between the two of us we got hooked right away and we just went from there.
Our parents support us to death, they love us and they love the rallies. At first, they were a little hesitant because we were in the same car together and they thought, “Oh, my God.” You know, my mother, Josie, in particular was freaking out all the time. But now, they find it hard because when they come to a rally it’s almost always Pat who wins or Antoine and I who win.
She said, "I can never go to another rally. You can never be fully
happy for the one who wins because of the other one who lost." That was after Tall Pines.
You didn’t win this year. . .
“No, I won the North American (co-driver) championship but I didn’t win the Canadian championship. It was a big heartbreak for us. We (she and her partner L’Estage) had just about everything wrapped up – the Tall Pines rally (the season-ender at Bancroft in November), the Canadian championship, the North American championship, the Canadian open class. We had everything in our hands. All we had to do was finish.
“And then, on the last stage of the Tall Pines, we had a clutch problem. We were going uphill and we just couldn’t get to the top. I mean, I get goose bumps just talking about it now.
Could you push?
Although I’m allowed, as co-driver, to get out of the car and push, there was no way I was going to be able to push the car up a hill. I mean, we discussed it. But then the other thing we worried about was that if I pushed and we got it started, then we would have to stop for me to get in and we’d stall again. It was very hard for us; it was very emotional.
Were you screaming at each other?
Not all all. There was silence in our car. All we could hope for was that the car would start. It took us 12 minutes to go about 120 metres. It was heartbreaking. Once we got to the other side of the control zone, the spectators there pushed us because they were allowed to at that point and we got started.
You’ve had success in the past and you know you’ll have success in the future. So although this was disappointing, was it really all that crushing?
It was devastating. We rallied all year and, in the end, we didn’t come away with what we were after and we were so close to having. It was really, really hard to get over that.
Pat, your sister says you got the idea to go rallying from watching television.
I used to drive around the back roads of British Columbia with my buddies near Whistler, where I live. We knew rallying existed but we didn’t know it existed in Canada. Then I saw it on TSN and I said, “Wow, I’m going to try that.”
In 10 years, you’ve gone from an armchair to win four national championships. That has to be some kind of a record.
Well, I wish I’d started when I was 18 instead of 26. But it’s been a great 10 years. I’ve won the Canadian championship four times and the North American championship three times so it’s been fantastic.
Have you ever thought of going overseas and competing in the World Rally Championship?
Sure, but I’ll tell you what the problem is. Rallying in the world is a lot bigger than it is here in Canada so for North Americans to put a package together to do that sort of thing is very difficult.
I did some WRC events in 2002 with Subaru Canada and did okay but to keep doing it you need a big international effort and that just didn’t happen. I get great support here in Canada but it takes a lot more support to take on the world.
You live in Whistler. Is there anything in your contract that forbids you from skiing, or snowboarding?
No, but there probably should be. I had an accident last winter. I broke three ribs and was laid up a month. I nearly didn’t make it to a rally.