The need for speed 

A burgeoning rally car race culture takes hold in the Sea to Sky corridor


There is a certain type of person for whom the very thought of driving 150 kilometres per hour around a blind turn is terribly exciting. These same folks wouldn't bat an eye if they grazed a startled cow while doing it, though coming in second place because of bovine intervention might rankle their competitive spirit.

That's what happened to Subaru-sponsored Pat Richard of Squamish at the Pacific Forest Rally race in Merritt on Oct. 2. The cow survived but Richards got a flat and lost his neck-and-neck race to his main rival, Antoine L'Estage.

"I've hit moose, deer. I've hit people but that is in Argentina where they try to touch the car. But I've never hit a cow before. That was the first," said the 37 year old after the race. "We went into the event in first place and were competing against major rivals. We have to win the next race to win the championships."

Richard is a Subaru-sponsored rally car racer with eight national championships and five North American titles under his belt. He is also part of the original software team that brought the Internet and online booking services to Whistler, but he eschews that topic in favour of his passion - driving.

The Nova Scotia native has been living in and around Whistler since the early '90s when he and a handful of friends left the east coast in search of big mountains. Though he admits to always being a daring driver, he hadn't heard of rally racing until seeing it on TV one night at a now-defunct Whistler pub.

"I said to my friends... 'Hey, that's what we do but it's organized and legal.' So I went to my first rally event in 1999 in my street car, and six months later Subaru offered me to drive one of their factory cars," said Richard. "I was obviously pretty excited, it was like my dream when I was 16 to go and drive sideways and get paid for it."

Rally racers like the rush of speed and tend to be aggressive skiers, climbers and bikers too, which is why Richard thinks there is a distinct possibility that an abundance of talented, untried rally car racers live in the Sea to Sky corridor. His company - Rocket Rally Racing - just built cars for Crankworx bike star Brandon Semenuk and legendary ski king Eric Pehota of Pemberton, who says he has had an eye on the sport for years.

"How'd I get started? The need for speed - there's no moss on these feet. From flying airplanes and driving jet boats and climbing peaks and skiing steep lines I just wanted something to feed the ride I guess," said Pehota, who recently competed in his first race, placing second in his class.

"At my age it's a natural progression to go into four wheels, strap into a six point harness and just worry about a steering wheel and clutch and pedals and shifters rather than beating your body up on a motor bike or on a downhill mountain bike."

Richard is trying to bolster the sport's popularity in the region, which he says has more than enough suitable public and private roads on which to hold a race. Rally races take place on real roads, mostly unpaved, which the drivers don't get a chance to see beforehand. A detailed map book read out loud by the driver's co-pilot is what keeps the wheels on the route. Though popular in Europe, South America and Quebec, rally car racing is still relatively new to the west coast of Canada. To help promote the sport, Richard is an anchor in the Sea to Sky Rally Club and builds a number of active race cars through Rocket Rally Racing.

"At any given event in the B.C. Championships I'd say over half the field is using cars built here in Squamish," he said. "There has actually been quite a bit of interest in organizing a pro level event around here in the area. ...We have been talking to a number of land owners to see if we can use their roads and we do have permission for some roads, we just don't have enough yet though there is a possibility that we might start with a regional, local event and if it works then go for the full thing."

Obtaining permission from land owners to race on their roads tends to be a multi-faceted operation involving the private sector and all levels of government.



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