By Dan Walton
A defending champ and a racer coming out of retirement emerged as the two big winners of Invermeres Rocky Mountain Rally last weekend, in a race that returned to the valley after a 40-year absence.
Claiming the title of the two-wheel drive racers was Taisto Heinonen and co-driver Leanne Junnila. The duo completed the course in 2 hours, 12 minutes and 37 seconds in their 1986 Toyota Corolla.
Taisto last raced in the Rocky Mountain Rally in 1982, when he declared his retirement after being named the Canadian Rally Champion of that year.
It was a last minute deal that was put together to bring Taisto out of retirement; I convinced him to do it, so its really nice to see him take the win, said event organizer John Blaber. He enjoyed himself and showed some of the younger guys how its done.
And because of the Rocky Mountain Rallys new location in the Columbia Valley, Mr. Heinonen was happy to get back behind the wheel.
The scenery is breathtaking, he said. Sometimes when youre on the road section, you start to get a little bit of a daydream when you start to look at the scenery. You have to get yourself back into rally-mode, if you will, and just focus on what youre doing.
Mr. Heinonens co-driver, Leanne Junnila, has been racing for years, but she wasnt even born when the two-wheel drive champ claimed his previous title.
Shes very good, Mr. Heinonen said, referring to both his co-driver and the Corolla.
Originally from Finland, Mr. Heinonen is currently living in Hope. He said that he and his partner both really enjoyed whipping around the valley all weekend.
The four-wheel drive title was awarded to Antoine LEstage and co-driver Craig Parry in their Mitsubishi
Lancer vo 10.
Mr. LEstage returned to the Rocky Mountain Rally as the defending champion of the past three years. Their success was no easy feat with Saturdays snowfall, Mr. Parry explained.
The weather conditions have changed everything completely this weekend, but the roads you guys have are fantastic, he said. Its just that the weather [Saturday] has been really tricky we didnt expect so much ice. It was just sheets of ice from start to finish, which made the day really difficult for us.
Difficulties aside, the team posted the fastest race time of four-wheel drive vehicle at 1 hour, 42 minutes and 39 seconds. Between Friday and Saturday, the team was faced with completely different experiences, as the mild weather on Friday turned to snow on Saturday.
We stuck to the same game plan; tried to keep our noses clean and just get to the end of every stage and concentrate on the end result, rather than the stages, Mr. Parry said. Sensible is the word Id use.
As with winning any official Canadian rally event, Mr. LEstages success adds to his Canadian Performance Rally Lifetime Standings; a list which has been ruled by Mr. Heinonen before he entered retirement. With his 41st career win, Mr. Heinonen will be adding to his 5,580 lifetime point total for the first time in 31 years.
And while it took a special occasion to attract Mr. Heinonen out of retirement, the Columbia Valley will again host Canadian Rocky Mountain Rally next year, Mr. Blaber said.
Everybody in the valley has been welcoming and really enjoyed it. There have been a few people introduced to the life of bush rally, and understanding what
rallyings all about.