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…

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