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

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