Wednesday, January 24, 2018

TSD Rally - Back to Basics

A few weeks ago, I came across a Facebook post about a TSD winter rally to be held on January 20th in the Bromont area and asked Will if he was up for it. It had been 15 years since I’d participated in any type of rally, but I figured that now that we have a proper winter car, it would be fun to give it a shot. Will was up for it, but in the days before the event, everyone in his family got the stomach flu, so he had to bow out. Since I had already pre-registered and made arrangements at home to be gone all evening, I decided to try to find a last-minute replacement. The night before the event, I posted on the rally club’s website that I was in need of a co-driver and I was pleasantly surprised when after only a short time, Josée, a woman I know from road racing circles, volunteered her services.

Josée and I met at the rally HQ and completed our registration. We chatted and took a quick look at the route book while I ate dinner before the rally’s start. Josée went to the rookie orientation meeting (she was not a true rookie, but hadn’t participated in a rally as a competitor in 10 years). The event was about 240 km long and would take about 5 hours.

We headed out at our scheduled time (7:17 pm) and did the odometer check using an app Josée had downloaded. We weren’t using all the features of this navigation rally app, really just the odometer. I was driving conservatively, as the roads were mostly gravel covered in snow with some ice patches. The temperature hovered near the freezing point.

By the time we finished the odometer check, which was stage 1 of 10, we were already slightly behind schedule. I guess I was driving a bit too slowly. Car 16, which was in fact a huge pickup (a Ford Raptor), was far enough ahead of us that we never saw it again.

We got going on the first real stage and it was really fun. The roads were often straight, with many elevation changes. I had been worried that the stock headlights would not be enough, but they were fine.

We weren’t trying to be perfect on time, but rather just try to hit the average speeds by feeling. Josée rightly pointed out that just going 90% of the posted speed limit put us right on the average speeds specified in the route book. The directions were very clear and even included street names. We had a slight surprise when a deer ran across the road right in front of us, but we managed to brake and weave around it. We noticed that both car 15 and car 16 were no longer ahead of us. They must have taken a wrong turn.

Over the course of the rally, we only made two small errors which we caught really quickly (300 and 400 meters before turning around, if I recall correctly). Josée was very patient, repeating the coming directions very often until I could not help but get them right. We often came across other competitors and it gave us an idea of what speed other cars were going. Sometimes, it was quite confusing, as there were at least three other dark-coloured Subaru wagons in the cars around us. It’s much easier to maintain speed when following another car, although you can’t use your high beams in those situations. Sadly, one car rolled into a ditch at one point, but no one was injured in the accident.

The event was long… we finished after midnight. The last stage ended at a Tim Horton’s and when I parked and went inside, I was asked by the time keeper what time I wanted them to register for our arrival. I stupidly didn’t make any type of calculation or even look at the official rally clock, so we ended up taking a huge 5-minute penalty on that stage. Our total penalty was 11 minutes and we finished 10th out of 25 cars (the winner had 2 minutes of penalties). I should have been satisfied with this, but without my mistake, we would have finished several places higher.

Josée and I after the event, pretty satisfied with our experience
Still, the event was great fun. It’s so rare that driving on public roads at legal speeds is really enjoyable, but this was the exception. Our little Saabaru was the ideal car for this type of event and it performed flawlessly. The car easily soaked up the bumps and traction was never a problem. It was really satisfying to come out of a corner, see the road open up onto a straight, and put the power down efficiently, even on snow and gravel.

Car 17, back to school-daycare-run duty
I realized that I am not yet an advanced driver when it comes to AWD cars like this one, as I was never using the throttle to tighten our line in a curve, but rather choosing an entry speed where I knew the car could hold my chosen line all the way through the corner. I will try to work on this in a safer environment than public roads.

I recommend this type of event to anyone who is a driving enthusiast, because it’s really great, inexpensive fun (the entry fee is only 60$ per team). I hope to try another TSD rally in the future and see if we can’t finish a bit higher up in the standings.