We got onto the podium! Take that, DSM haters. (We assume there are some, although that indicates enough interest in extinct badge engineering exercises that someone would be able to generate actual hatred, which is probably unlikely). Uh, we mean…Yeah, go us!
As usual we rented a cottage and took a couple of days off work for Tall Pines, but unlike some past years we rented a GOOD cottage that had actual beds and hadn’t been used as a stand in for Camp Crystal Lake. We drove up Thursday from Schomberg in the recce WRX (aka Princess) while Ryan from Rally Race Developments hauled the Talon (aka The Manchurian) up behind his converted fire rescue vehicle (aka The Tank).
(Pictured above is Safety Jim, in his official rally coat. This is clearly serious business).
Our other support team members came up via their VW Golfs, which don’t really have nicknames (unless you count ‘the bunny’), and we all had a few drinks Thursday night. Given at least 2 people including the driver had been on 20+ days of antibiotics and the the navigator had a secret flu the drinking was pretty light. Plus 5AM recce comes early.
Friday and 5AM came early, as promised. There was a 6:30AM recce meeting and then we headed out in Princess to drive the stages. It was misty or raining the entire day and there were times when we almost high centered making our way through Egan Creek. The roads were, in general, a muddy mess, which caused Princess to get all dirty. Oh the life of a recce car. (The roads also got a little bit jiggy with the exhaust, which now rattles and seems to leak a bit, so will have to look at that, but at least unlike 3 or 4 other non-competition vehicles there were no brake problems to fix, or thermostat problems, or…)
Had we still been campaigning the Lada we might have given up there, as one year the Lada got stuck on the Iron Bridge stage in very similar conditions. And, like, stuck while driving in the middle of the road, not ‘stuck’ like we went off. The road was like chocolate icing that year, just not as tasty. However, now we had AWD, 3x the horsepower, and 15″ wheels instead of 13″, so we were much more confident that brute force and ignorance would succeed.
We had decided to make our own notes and they seemed to go pretty well so after 10 hours of driving around doing recce and writing those notes we were back at the cottage, where the navigator transcribed the notes and the service crew and driver drank beer and played pool.
Oh, and our video guy showed up, who was also sick. That’s him, paying attention to the navigator. Not pictured: pool and beer. However, we didn’t drink a lot of beer that night either.
Overnight Friday the temperatures went from +9 to -9 so Saturday morning the ground was pretty hard, although the ruts that we saw at the cottage weren’t as frozen as we had feared. Our biggest worry was that the ruts would freeze solid and pull us all over the show until we hit ice, when we would leave the road and spend the day watching rally cars go by. So we were aiming to avoid that by starting with winter tires and then switching to gravels at the first service, which happened after three stages.
This was the first time we’ve run the ‘steely’ rims so Ryan had to get out his spare grinder to do a little last minute fabrication so they fit around the scrapers that we have mounted to the calipers to remove dirt and etc but that’s pretty normal. Isn’t it?
Turns out most people had the same idea on tires so we figured if it went bad we’d have company in the ditch. We also had only one recce pass through the first stage – A1, Lower Turiff was also the third stage, so it was both A1 and A3 – so we decided to take it a bit easy on A1. After the ceremonial start – where we were reminded of our fuel pump issues last year, which is always nice – we were on our way.
Once we made it through that with not much drama and one exciting jump that we hadn’t planned on we felt better about things.
Stage A2 was Upper Old Hastings which is also a fun stage that involves weaving between cottages and mailboxes and rocks. However when we got to the end we saw and smelled one of those unique car smells that generally implies bad things happening. We hopped out after the stage control to check it out and who interrupted their interview to run over to help but Antoine and Alan! They identified the smell and smoke was our brakes (and thankfully not our motor, which was their issue), suggested we not stop and spend as little time as possible at the controls when the brakes were that hot so they don’t seize, and we got on our way. We figured out that the steel wheels the snow tires are mounted on don’t allow much air flow to get to the brakes, hence the smoking, but our other rims are much more open so the air flows. That said we still need to get the wheels off and check the state of our EBC Red pads…
After another run though Lower Turiff as A3 we returned to service. We have a video of this one!
That’s when Ryan and Tashko swapped in the cut gravel tires. These did a really good job in the deep sand / mud and also stayed attached to the rims on the rough stuff in Peanut and Egan Creek, so we were pretty happy with this choice.
Also the weather was warming up and the sun was out, so we figured there could be some ice in shady corners for the first guys but it would be gone for us.
We headed back out from service to the start of Old Detlor Southbound (A4), which means Iron Bridge. This was a really fun stage as it has spectators and is pretty fast in parts. In other parts it was a mud bog on Friday so we were a bit concerned but when we got there the road was in great shape.These are all from the stage; copyright the respective photographers.
That was followed by the Peanut (A5), some of which was really fast and fun and some of which was the usual bouncing and banging that the Peanut always is. It was kind of a nightmare in the Lada; you didn’t want to slow down because it took too long to speed up again, but it was also so low to the ground and the suspension so stiff that it bounced you everywhere. That said, it was a tough little car! The Talon we can slow down because we can speed up plus the suspension seems better at absorbing the bumps, although we can’t call it plush or anything. Then we tackled Upper Old Hastings south again (A2 and also A6). Then it was another pass up Iron Bridge (A7) and back to service.
Nothing much to be done other than the usual, which is a visual inspection of any fluids that are suspicious, check the tire pressures, check the wheels aren’t full of crud, have the driver and co-driver eat something, and get back out there. We don’t sit in lawn chairs – sadly – but with the Lada it was close. The car was in good shape though so we could talk to people for a bit as well, which is always cool. Then we had to refuel, which is NOT something the Lada required.
First after service was a run up Iron Bridge north (B1), which was fun as it always is. Then we had B2 – Egan Creek. We knew that was going to be rough because poor Princess took a beating there on recce, and sure enough, that’s what happened, albeit for some unexpected reasons. First off we hit the big water splash like champs but never having done that before – like champs that is – we didn’t realize water would completely fog the windshield inside of 30 seconds. That was exciting.
We were so thankful we were still running that we didn’t notice we lost a GoPro here, but the good news is the Sweep team found it and got it back to us! So that was a bit of awesome right there.
Anyhow, after a little bit of playing tank commander we were fine. Until we got to the roughest uphill on the stage where the notes said STAY LEFT, that is. We would have done that but there was a broken car there, and we bounced over Stonehenge on the right.
We immediately had a very alarming noise clearly related to the rotation of the wheels, but we didn’t know what it was that was making it. We also didn’t know where exactly we were on the stage or we would have gone to the end and checked there, but instead we pulled off and checked the car. It was nothing we could see so we got back in, belted up and carried on. That cost us at least 3 minutes, but at least the car felt ok. It didn’t sound good, but what are you gonna do?
We finished the stage, looked around some more, saw nothing, and carried on to Lower and then Middle Hastings stages, which was a very long transit when your car is making a strange noise and you have half a tank of gas. The Manchurian is tuned WAY rich right now, plus it is being driven with either WOT (Wide Open Throttle, for those who haven’t needed to know that) and/or the brake and gas on at the same time as we left foot brake through corners so fuel economy is not the strong suit. Oh, and these stages were run between 4:30 and 6 so it was going to be dark.
Because we didn’t know what the noise was exactly and we really, really wanted to finish we opted to take it easy on B3 and B4, with the thinking that if we had put a hole in the rear diff and it ran out of fluid and seized, throwing us off into the woods, if we weren’t full on pushing we wouldn’t go so far into the woods that a bear could eat us before someone showed up to help. So we got through those stages – two more classic stages really – uneventfully. Then it was back to service, get more gas, and go down the road to Golton for B5 and B6, the Monster Truck mud bog that was the Rallycross stage at night. Between stages we didn’t go anywhere, so time for a photo op using the light from the Juggernaut car as they examined their second broken control arm.
We felt like we were sandbagging it but were actually faster than quite a few people in there, although the driver spent most of the time swearing about it. This is the mud that packed up in the wheels.
After all that we got back and found out that we’d made the podium for Regional 4WD! Pretty stoked about that as it’s the first time we’ve ever placed that high. So we got to sit around in the Tank and drink pop until the awards ceremony.
Then it was back to the cottage to relax before the haul home. Relaxing looked like this.
So in general we ran a pretty clean rally; there were a some issues which could have bitten us quite badly but we were also not on full attack so we were able to recover from those ‘moments’ and finish, which was our main goal, and the car held together really well so that was great also. There are now things to investigate and things to work on for next year, but we’re hoping to be back and faster in 2016. Thanks to everyone who supports us including but not limited to our families, the service crew, the support crew, the volunteers, the fans, media, sweep, other competitors…did we forget anyone? If we did, thanks to you too!
We have some video: it’s at:
PS We got a prize!