Tall Pines 2016 – recap

We got the “winter roads, summer ditches” Pines of lore this year. With more than half the field falling prey to the conditions we were happy to finish, although we also had our issues. What else is new?

If you missed it, you can see most of our prep for Tall Pines 2016 here. And now that we’re all caught up, we bring you…the weather.

Bancroft received close to 30 cm of snow in spots the week before Pines, so there was a real race between the ‘just above zero’ daytime highs and the forests’ ability to hold on to snow. The forest was winning that contest when we went out Friday morning to recce. The roads in the woods looked like this.

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We were driving the ‘was AWD’ Volvo; first time we’d used it in slippery conditions and despite our addition of a cool rally sticker we quickly found out that its Swedish rally ancestors would have set it ablaze rather than admit it was a Volvo.

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The prop shaft was toast so we had removed it in the summer, turning the car from AWD to FWD. This worked just fine until we realized that the front diff was fully open. Presumably because with AWD it didn’t matter, but it sure did without it. We couldn’t make it up the hills into the Peanut or Egan Creek stages because of that and the snow, so we quit before we slowed everyone else down and decided to buy and use the provided notes for those stages instead. Thanks to the competators who offered us their notes, too – rally family yo! We also modified the badges to more accurately reflect the current state of affairs plus get our frustrations out.

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Our service crew – Ryan, Drew and Tashko – arrived while we were on recce and got the car though tech; Ryan also won the bet on what the car weighed by being closest without going over. That is the weight with Ryan and a socket set in it plus a full tank of gas and 6 winter tires, so we’re going with an ‘as weighed’ of 3300 lbs. Stock weight is 3105 so yes, battleship grade sills, skid plate, and roll cage add more than removing the rear seats, stock fronts, all the interior save HVAC and dash, front light motors, AC, and whatever metal the rust on the rear bumper bar took away. Rally tires would add a bit more weight also. But pretty good weight balance, all in all.

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With the car back in service we looked and talked about tires. Anyone who had them was going out on Yokohama A034s, which are an agressive rally / winter tire.

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Pretty neat huh? Well we don’t have any of those. So, our options were 1) street winter tires (Yokohama IG20s) 2) soft gravel tires or 3) medium cut gravel tires. All reasonably well used. Gravel rally tires are much stronger in both sidewalls and tread but are like hockey pucks when cold; being a soft compound would help them heat up a bit but it seemed unlikely to get warm enough for them to get grip unless the snow was cleared by the cars on the road ahead of us. We decided to expect snow and ice and go with the winter tires; Team Juggernaut were kind enough to lend us their tire cutter (basically a really hot blade) and we opened up the treads on the IG20s a bit more to try and make them more agressive.

We also aimed the lights for the night stages and generally tried to get everything ready to go for an early Saturday morning. We decided to use the alloy rims on the front as they were better able to take hits than the steelies. This becomes relevant later…

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After that we retired to the cottage – thanks www.CottageRentals247.com, sponsor of the rally and where we’ve rented all our Pines cottages. There some drank beer while others wrote up notes. The tire options – our our lack thereof – were discussed and then we went to bed.

Saturday we had the usual meetings and Parc Expose, then we headed out on the roads. This is us looking somewhat skeptical, it seems.

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The first stage was slippery; the surface was a combination of light snow, deep snow, mud (where the earlier cars with their A034s had dug through) and spots of ice (where warm tires melted snow which then froze). So there was traction, but it was intermittent. The cut winter tires were the best option we had; they were decent and predicable in the snow and slidy in the dirt, so although we went a bit cautiously for the first stage (and were 21st out of 30 as a result) we were in the top half to top third of the field through after that. You can see the overall and breakdown of stage times here: http://rallyscoring.com/results/2016/TallPines/TallPines2016DetailUS0.htm.

If you want to see what a cautious first stage looks like from the bumper cam, along with telemetry, you can do that here. Unfortunately although the camera is really neat the battery life in the cold was terrible, so we only have one full stage. This is A1, Upper Hastings, going Northbound. The camera is in the center of the car below the front bumper, just under where Ryan’s sticker is in the picture of us above. It does give a pretty good idea of what the roads looked like, too. There’s no sound so just play something of your choice. Not wacky sax though.

After 3 stages (21st, 13th, 19th) we came back in and checked stuff and added gas and went back out. Stage A4 we’d done before (15th) and so far we had all our own notes. Then we got to Stage A5; the second half we had our own notes but the first half (Old Detlor) we used the provided ones. That worked better than we expected – probably due to it being pretty snowy – so we felt pretty good getting onto Iron Bridge Northbound. We soon found out was slippery. Really slippery. It’s normally pretty slippery for Pines but it was more mud than snow and our tires were not loving it…to the point where we slid off the road and had to be extracted by Sweep. Thanks Sweep! A short montage of slippery and sliding is below.

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Not pictured is the actual extract – which was like an F1 pit stop, seriously good job there guys – but here’s one of the fans who shouted encouragement and wanted to help. Good people here.

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Because sweep was so quick we didn’t hit max late and could continue, but it did blow our times. Thanks to our spin we were last and a little dirty coming through the spectator stage, but still in the race.

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However after A5 we had to do The Peanut. If you are familiar with Ontario rally you’ll know this stage is famous for breaking cars; in fact, there are commerative stickers that celebrate just finishing it. We had one on the Lada. Well, after the spin and the excitement we were not in a great mental state to do this one and we had not recced it because the Volvo couldn’t make it in. Despite that and encountering some unexpected additional traffic we made it through – with a terrible time – and collected a sticker for the Talon.

We then went back to service, got more gas and put the lights on, and had some better stages (Lower Hastings – 15th) and worse (Middle Hastings – 18th but felt worse) due to some struggles with notes, but in general we were avoiding the near death/car wrecking experiences. There were still a few, but in general they were avoided.

The night stages are really neat to drive and this is what Derek’s office looks like for them. The camera inside the car doesn’t work so well but there’s a snapshot below.

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Sure enough, we were off notes (and didn’t have our own anyhow) and we hit a giant rock. That dented – ok destroyed – our steel rear wheel and tore open the tire, so we had to stop and change it. Remember what we said about steel wheels?

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15 minutes later that put our times completely in the toilet. However, we got out, under max late again, and were able to continue to do our pass of the Golton spectator stage. There is video of that but there’s so much swearing that probably best we don’t post it…

So we finished! We also had some good stage times – as well as some bad ones – and we got a ton of experience in some conditions we hadn’t seen before, which is great, and the car didn’t break on stage, which was also great. Our next rally isn’t for a while but we should have some updates if/when we work through the winter.

Thanks as always to Ryan at Rally/Race Development, Paul at HKSRallysport plus Clockwork and Baker Heavy Industries for the sponsorship, our family, our friends (and family) who volunteer to work in service and make food and take care of everything else while we race, and the volunteers and organizers who make the rallies happen.