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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

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Manx rally co-driver Rob Fagg is en route to Canada this week after a call from the blue landed him a chance to compete with leading driver Patrick Richard on the opening round of the Canadian Rally Championship, the snow-bound Rallye Perce-Neige in Maniwaki.

Rob’s name was suggested to Patrick by former British Champion Martin Rowe, who is now resident in Canada and has previously competed as a team-mate in the Subaru Canada team. Martin and Rob competed for two seasons in the Chinese Rally Championship in 2005 and 06.

That suggestion only happened late last week and kicked off a hurried series of phone calls and emails from last Friday night. As a result Rob is all set to fly out this Wednesday.

That’ll be a rare chance to take in the surroundings, as the pressure is on almost immediately. “The recce starts at 6.45am on Friday morning through to 5pm, then it’s straight into the pre-event media parc and shakedown which is the first chance I’ll have to sit in the car!”

“It’s all been a real rush,” confirms an excited Rob. “Martin called me on Friday night and Pat and I had a series of emails back and forth and by Sunday the flights were booked!”

Richard is a four-time Canadian champion (2002, 04, 08 & 09) and twice Rally America titleholder, and widely considered to be the most talented drivers the country has produced in a generation, having also tackled several WRC events in recent years.

The pair will meet for the first time when Rob lands in Ottawa on Thursday, before heading 150km’s north to the events base at Maniwaki in Quebec.

The rally itself is a gruelling single day covering 450km’s, over 200 on 15 snow, ice and gravel stages starting at 9am and finishing at almost 10pm after mammoth 33 and 50km stages in the dark!

Calling the pace-notes in such circumstances will be a new challenge for the much travelled co-driver. “I’ve never done a snow rally before and never visited Canada, so it’s a slightly nervous excitement!” says Rob. “All the more so since I looked up the forecast for next weekend and it says it could be as low as -23C and snowing still more, and all the reports are they’ve had heavy snow this last month!”
Perhaps the recent snow in the UK and on the Isle of Man won’t do a great deal to help acclimatise Rob after all then!

The pair will start at no. 3, behind Antoine L’Estage’s Rockstar Mitsubishi, the Canadian reigning champion, and the Subaru of ‘Crazy’ Leo Urlichich. Canadian rally legend Frank Sprongl starts behind them.

L’Estage, co-driven by Patrick’s sister Nathalie,  will undoubtedly enter the rally as a hot favourite even in the cold, having last weekend beaten reigning Rally America champion David Higgins, another Manxman, in a last-stage shoot-out after a two-day battle of the Sno*Drift Rally in similar conditions to those the crews will face this weekend. He is a five-time winner of this event too, and aiming for a hat-trick of consecutive wins.

Richard himself however tasted victory on the event in 2002 and 2004, so knows what it takes.

The unscheduled but hugely welcome trip to Canada kicks of a busy year for Rob, who is also going to partner one of the rising stars of British rallying, 18 year-old Arron Newby, on the Manx Rally Championship for one of Britain’s top teams, TEG Sport. That starts in only two weeks time, and he’s also set to re-unite with regular driver John Cope for another tilt at an elusive Mull Rally win.

“It is all and nothing these days; we’ve had a quiet couple of years despite always having irons in the fire, but now I’m delighted that a few have struck at the same time. I’m very humbled by the faith teams and drivers put in me.”

Rob is supported in 2013 by Robert Graham & Co Quantity Surveyors, Nicky Grist Motorsport (www.nickygrist.com) and Fastime Stopwatches (www.astopwatch.com)