October 15, 2014 Features & Images » Feature Story

Rally car champions find success behind the wheel in Whistler 

Martin Rowe and Clare Samuel not your typical B&B owners

click to flip through (6) PHOTO BY PHILIP ERICKSEN - Pacific Forest Rally Martin driving the 2015 WRX STI
  • Photo by Philip Ericksen
  • Pacific Forest Rally Martin driving the 2015 WRX STI

Little do Chalet Luise Bed and Breakfast guests know that when they jump into the B&B airport shuttle on the way to Whistler, more often than not they're getting whisked up the highway by champion rally car racers.

Nothing would give that away — no off-road detour, no big air out of the ditches, squealing tires through the city, no 200 km/hour pace.

But make no mistake — B&B owners Martin Rowe and Clare Samuel know their way around behind the wheel of a car.

Typical Whistler... where your realtor can be a former freestyle skiing champion, your ski coach a former Olympian, the guy beside you at the grocery store a business tycoon. And now your B&B hosts — world-class rally racers. Rowe is a former world champion, Samuel former British National and Ladies Champion.

When they bought the B&B business in 2009 and moved to Whistler from England, Rowe and Samuel thought they were trading in their race gear for the most part.

As fate would have it, however, both are back behind the wheel again.

Rowe was recently selected to drive for the Subaru Rally Team Canada, based out of Squamish. Last weekend, Oct. 3 and 4, on the fourth leg of the Canadian Rally Championship in Merritt, B.C. he placed second.

"I'm really lucky to have this opportunity. I've been up to the world level... and it's not often you get two chances at doing this," said Rowe with a sheepish grin.

It's his second rally on Canadian soil, both times winning second place.

There's a sense that Rowe is just getting warmed up on this side of the Atlantic.

He wants to win.

Samuel, too, has been test-driving for Whistler-based Sidorov Advanced Driver Training. Just last month she was showcasing the new Lexus models at the Mission Raceway.

This wasn't part of their plan when they moved to Whistler.

When Rowe came to Whistler for a mountain biking trip in 2007, he saw a niche market he wanted to develop more. Their plan was to turn Chalet Luise into a "bike-friendly adventure home." A long-standing contract for the entire business would take care of the winter months, while Rowe and Samuel took off with a goal to return back to the business in the summer.

But things don't always turn out as planned.

When that long-standing winter contract fell through in their first month as owners, the two racers soon found themselves cooking and cleaning from morning to night, including evening meals.

Those were 17-hour days for five long months over the winter.

They well remember that their Whistler dream was not panning out as planned in those early years.

They've since honed their hosting skills, and their summer dream is becoming more and more of a reality with mountain bikers flocking to their door. Rowe and Samuel organize gear and guides and shuttles and park passes in tailor-made holidays.

They've just posted their busiest summer to date — mountain bikers and everyday road-tripping guests choosing to spend the night, or more, with them as they pass through town.

 Porsche 911 s on ice

The winter months, however, are still up in the air.

Last year Rowe taught ice driving for eight weeks in the winter at Below Zero Ice Driving in Sweden. But it's getting more challenging leaving home, particularly with two small children.

The carrot is... rally-ready Porsche 911s. On a frozen lake.

"They're amazing cars," said Rowe. "And the idea of drifting sideways in a Porsche 911 on a frozen lake... it appeals to everybody."

That's everybody from 14-year-old boys with an eye to becoming champion rally drivers, to rich businessmen flying in via private jet with champagne, to world champions themselves.

They may be historic cars but they're full of state-of-the-art gadgets that can tell you the secrets of the drivers.

With the cars drifting and sliding at 160 km/hr, there's no better environment to develop driving skills.

"Basically, it's amazing fun," said Rowe, former Production Car World Rally Champion. "It's really cool to do big skids in a Porsche."

Rowe and Samuel would love to bring that model, or something like it, to Whistler — a course on a frozen lake that could not only be fun, but could help improve the "really bad" winter driving standards often seen on the highway.

The concept has been met with some resistance initially. But they think they're on to something.

Rallying may not be intuitive to Whistler like skiing or mountain biking but that doesn't mean it should shut out opportunities.

"People see rallying as a really destructive sport and it's not at all," explained Samuel.

"On the frozen lakes you don't do any damage."

Subaru WRX STI

In the meantime, Rowe is focusing on the last two legs of the Canadian Rally Championship.

He's showcasing Subaru's new car the WRX STI.

The car was developed and built in Squamish by driver Patrick "Rocket" Richard and the team Rocket Rally Racing.

Richard was forced to retire, announcing on Facebook in August: "I have a serious neurological illness believed to have been caused by a series of head injuries."

Rowe was chosen as his replacement.

His onboard camera from the Merritt rally this past weekend shows the kind of intensity and quick-thinking needed behind the wheel as the car flies over a dirt road reaching speeds of more than 200 km/hr as the co-driver calls out commands.

At one point, Rowe slows to avoid killing some black cows that have meandered across the road.

"It's a whole team effort," said Rowe of rally racing, his thrill of the race obvious.

In Merrit, the team had to change an engine overnight and two gearboxes during the day. That's not something you would find at your local dealership. "the Rocket Rally guys are amazing. That's the whole point of the rally," he added.

There are two races this year to round out the six-leg Canadian Rally Championship — in Invermere, B.C. later this month and Bancroft, ON at the end of November.

For Samuel, holding down the fort at home and yet keeping her fingers on the wheel too, is rewarding.

Still, she said: "I really miss rallying."

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