Thursday, November 20, 2014

Fall weather no more

Winter conditions are here. It has been snowing and below zero for a few days now. I got my winter tires on the car just in time. The lovely fall weather could not last forever.

The biggest news is that we are poised for the arrival of a new baby in the next few days. It could happen any time now! I am trying to clear my work schedule for a few days so I can be home with the family. It's an exciting time! Everything at home seems to be ready...

I just realized that it's been a while since I made a regular post, so here are a few updates on other things:

Jules went trick-or-treating on Halloween dressed as a giraffe:

After a few houses, he realized that the amount of candy he would get was proportionate to the number of houses we visited.

When we got home, he started to play with his "approved" candy. Of course, Alex and I had to eat the "unapproved" candy (and, later, a good portion of the approved candy too). Also, Jules likes to remove his pants as soon as he gets home.

I also baked an apple pie from scratch. It came our pretty good, although I realized I could have packed in even more apples:

Our neighbours made this awesome Yoda pumpkin:

A couple of days ago, the plastic roof on Jules' toy Mini finally broke for good. The car is now a convertible. He loves it.

Our friends Franck and Valérie came over the other day and gave Jules these neat Christmas-themed pajamas. He loves them too.

I saw this new Camaro the other day. Over all, I quite like the look of it. I was surprised to see this adjustable flap on the rear. Does it come with this?

The new S-Class is nice. The AMG version, even nicer!

It's funny how I did not used to like the 1-series. Now, I realize that I like it, even with steel wheels.

Other comments: I saw the new Honda Fit. I don't love the look, as there is a bit too much plastic and it seems the designers were trying a bit too hard....

I have seen the new Mercedes C-class... I think I like it, but I have to see one close up to be sure. I like the headlight pattern on the E-class, and I wonder if the C-class has a similar one.

As for winter driving: respect to the guy I saw this morning with the Porsche 993 with the busted headlight. Even more respect to the driver of the early 911 Targa I saw earlier in the week!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Re-post from 2003: A Rally Story II: Getting it Right

This is the story of the second rally that Will and I entered: the Rally Sprint de Cheneville, a new event in the Petite Nation region of Quebec. After our next-to-last-place finish at Lachute, we changed our strategy from “just finishing” to “if we’re gonna get stuck in snowbanks, it might as well be because we were going fast”.

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The little 323 ready for action
I arrived at the event on Saturday to sign us up and tech the car. We were starting at the back of the field again, which is depressing. I shared a hotel room with Craig Seko and Jim Morrow, two racers from the Ottawa area who were campaigning a Porsche 944 S2 in the event, much to the surprise and delight of many competitors and fans. The car got a lot of attention, although an icy rally unfortunately wasn’t the best place to show off its capabilities.

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Thr surprising Porsche 944 S2 rally car
We were given the route book the day before the rally, but were forbidden from actually going out and looking at the stages in advance. I was a bit worried because my co-driver Will was only arriving the morning of the rally and would not get to look for potential problem areas in the route book in advance. These worries turned out to be unfounded.

On Sunday morning, Will showed up 45 minutes before the drivers’ meeting and we went through the book together. The competitors were divided into two groups so that the rally could run more efficiently. We were last in our group.

On the way to the first special stage, we began to argue about the directions. I turned right on highway 315 and Will said that the instructions never mentioned a right turn. I pointed out that the instructions did say to take 315 North and that I had looked at a map before the event and knew where the stages would be. It turns out I was right and the route book was wrong (one advantage of looking at a map before the event). When we got there (car 34), cars 27, 32 and 33 were missing. They eventually showed up quite late but were not penalized because of the mistake.

The first stage went quite well. I was not pushing too hard because the road was extremely icy. A dusting of snow the previous night was not enough to cover up the ice, especially when you are running after everyone else. Our only mistake was slowing down for the yellow chequered board instead of pushing to the red one, a mistake you only make once. At the other event we’d done, there was a board that said “100m” so that there could be no confusion.

The other three special stages of the first leg were uneventful. The event was running a bit late, so our lunch was cut very short (down to 20 minutes).

We went out to stages 5 and 6. There was a caution in 5 about a hydro pole right on the edge of the road in a tight right-hander. When we arrived at that turn, Will said “This is the one, be careful”. I was in the turn, thinking it wasn’t that bad or dangerous looking. Then the turn tightened like crazy to my surprise. I was headed straight for the stupid hydro pole. At the last second, I pulled the handbrake to go off the road sideways instead of head on. The idea sort of paid off, since the small snowbank held us and a bunch of enthusisatic fans was thus able to lift the back of the car back onto the road so we could back out and continue. I was a bit pissed off that Will didn’t mention that the turn tightened, but I sort of wondered whether we would have made the turn even if I had known, as it was off camber and basically a sheet of ice. At least five other cars went off in the same spot.

In stage 5, the organizers had added some chicanes in the straightaways made from tires. They were ridiculously tight, considering how icy the road was. You’re not allowed to run any type of studded tires in this series, yet they want you to place the car between the tire barriers at an angle with only inches to spare. We pretty much plowed right through two of the piles of tires on the second chicane after somehow making it through the first one. I also wondered if those replacing the tires were putting them back in the exact same spot as they had been. We headed back to service area and I cleaned snow out of the left front wheel, as it was making noise, having become unbalanced. I popped into the scoring building to use the bathroom and noticed the results of the first leg were up. We had somehow been in 4th place out of 14 after the first four stages. This made me angry that we had done so poorly on stages 5 and 6.

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323 in action
We went out to run stages 7 and 8, which were basically 5 and 6 run the other way, and we took it easy, figuring we might get a decent overall result. We had no road penalties so far. Indeed, these final stages went smoothly as I wasn’t pushing too hard and I slowed to a ridiculous pace to make the two chicanes. We were glad to finish and were hoping to be near the top half out of 28 cars.

Imagine our surprise when we were listed as 9th overall (it had been 8th, but a protest moved someone up).  Not bad for a 1200$ beater with stock suspension and 280 000 km! I didn’t feel so bad about the snow bank as we were more than a minute behind 8th place anyways. We were one of few teams to not have a single road penalty, and I had Will to thank for that (remarkable if you consider we don’t even have a rally odometer or computer)! This result made me feel much better than the 30th place at Lachute. Our P3 class did extremely well, so we didn’t even get a class podium. We’re still very happy as this was a sort of make it or break it event for us, to see if rallying was for us. So far, the answer is yes.

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Back home in the city

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Re-post from 2002: A Rally Story

I first posted this story on various forums in 2002. Since it dates from before I started this blog, I thought it would be fun to re-post it, so here it is!

A rally story

Three weeks after having completed the CASLL rally school, Will and I were all set to run our first ever stage rally with my beat up Mazda 323 rally car. We’ve done a couple of TSD rallies before, but never anything like this. We both have many events under our belt, but most of them are linked to road racing and time trials.

Saturday was the tech inspection. I was a bit intimidated when I noticed that my car was the most rusted and the most unkempt-looking. These other people actually washed their cars before coming here! I was also starting to doubt whether my tires would cut it in the severe snowy conditions. I was also worried I had forgotten some important element of car preparation. When my turn came, the inspector and I started talking about Solo 1, and when he found out I was president, that truly broke the ice. The car passed inspection with no problem. I just have to add our names to the car and our helmets, and add a safety blanket to the 1st aid kit. I talked with a few other competitors, and they seemed like a cool bunch. On the way home, I lost a windshield wiper, luckily on a road just before coming to a Canadian Tire (and arriving there 15 minutes before closing).

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Ready for tech inspection
Sunday we left my place at 5:15 to drive one hour to the rally. We dropped off Will’s Audi at the service area and went back to the Subaru dealership where the drivers had to start the parade into town. This “parade” was supposed to be done in an orderly fashion to the Parc Exposé 3 km away. This did not happen. There were 33 cars in the event. Most left late and in random order. Surprisingly, there were very few fans at Parc Exposé. I went there as a spectator last year and there were many people. Of course, last year at the same date there was no snow and it was a lot warmer.

We were told in the driver’s meeting to have fun in the first special stage and to watch out in the second one. In the first stage, I drove conservatively and was satisfied with the result, as was Will. When we later saw the times, we weren’t last or close to it. The second stage was not really even a road. More of a trail. It also had a clear Yump in it. We took it really easy. We were 30th on the road and the ruts were deep. The car was almost steering itself. The jump was on a bumpy downhill stretch. I took it easy and we never actually jumped. Still, we were satisfied that the car was doing ok and we were staying on the road.

On the third stage is where the problems began. First there was a hill I could barely get up because of the snow and ice. I had to back down the hill (safe because in Rally-sprint, there’s never more than one car on the stage) a bit to take another run at it. About a kilometer later, I went a bit wide on the exit of one turn, and the car grazed the snowbank on the side of the road and quickly got sucked into it. The problem with these snowbanks is that they weren’t high enough or hard enough to bounce us back onto the road. Also, they weren’t low enough to simply back out of. The car was well and truly beached on the snow. We were very fortunate that there were about 10 fans who showed up to help us out. I foolishly had left my shovel at home, but no amount of shoveling was going to get us out of this snow. The spectators resorted to the extreme measure: lifting the car out. The car was parallel to the road, but half on it and half in the snowbank (we hadn’t spun or anything, simply been driving too near the snow bank and been sucked off the road). They managed to lift first the back out, then the front and we were off, having lost around 8 or 9 minutes. Did I mention the whole rally lasts less than 20 minutes? By then, we knew we were out of the running. We compounded this with a 2 minute penalty due to miscalculation of our ideal time, but it was not 2 minutes that would make the difference now.

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By the 4th stage, the rally was running ridiculously late. The first few cars were showing up to do their 9th stage (same location as the 4th) and the last few cars had not even run the fourth one. The stage was uneventful for us. We went on to the 5th stage and it went pretty well. We had a little scare when Will called a medium right which was in fact a hairpin right (the route book had 2 rights then a hairpin right, we counted the 2 rights as one double apex right and were surprised by the hairpin) and I managed to pitch the car sideways with the brakes and power it out. Basically, it was the only turn of the rally where I think I used proper rally technique. It turned out to be our best time, 22nd out of 33.

After stage 5 came the only service of the day. Many teams were already finished the whole rally! I decided to change the two front tires for some really aggressive hand-modified winter tires (instead of my normal winter tires). I hadn’t used these since the beginning because I only had two of them and because they were 185’s and my other set were 155’s. However, I wanted traction to get up hills, so I put them on.

The 6th stage was uneventful. The rally stewards had allowed cars that got there early to run right away to speed up the event. This resulted in us running absolute last, since we had taken the full 70 minutes for the service (and our lunch, at 3:30!). The tires were indeed much better. I kicked myself for not using them earlier. The 7th (same road as the 2nd) stage was cancelled and we drove through it on the way to the 8th. It was getting dark so we had to use the bigger lights. These rallies are supposed to finish in daylight, but we were told by some experts that this isn’t always the case. Given that the 9th stage was cancelled on account of darkness, the 8th stage would be our last.

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The illusion of speed... I don't think we ever drove as fast as this photo makes us look!
We were out of contention, so we decided to take a leisurely drive through the last stage. Everything was going fine until I found myself stuck in another frikkin’ snow bank. I don’t even know what happened. We didn’t spin or anything. I was just using too much road I guess and got sucked in again. We were not beached nearly as badly as the other time, but there was only one spectator available to help us. We couldn’t do much between us and the spectator went to get his car to pull us out with the tow strap (nice guy as you can tell). A few pulls might have done it, but after only beginning to try, the tow truck showed up. It had been waiting at the beginning of the stage because we were the last car in the whole rally. He pulled us out in about two seconds with his duallie. I was so pissed off at screwing up in the last stage. I was driving so slow after that that the tow truck was pulling away from us. However, when we got to the control, the guy congratulated us on finishing the rally. The expected DNF did not come and we were given the maximum lateness instead. I don’t really know the rule on this, but I am very thankful they let us finish the rally.

We arrived at the service area long after anyone else. The others were already drinking and the results were already being printed. We finished dead last (I think we took double the time of the winners!) and on top of that, one of the other rookie teams finished 3rd with their home-made rally computer. We technically weren't last as a few teams DNF'd. I didn’t feel any kind of joy, simply relief. I clearly don’t have gobs of natural talent for low-traction driving. I definitely can’t blame the car for my poor showing as the previous owner won his class with this car at this very event in the past (as well as many others).

I don’t know if this is the beginning of something or just an experiment, we’ll see… There’s another event in four weeks… I would need tires, a pile of traction aids, a shovel…