Club Rally National Championships

Trespassers Wil Rally and 100 Acre Wood Rally

February, 2004

 

Ok, so I didn't get to update the web page before we left. We were simply too busy. I was lucky to get the car in the trailer (and it was mostly ready too!) and my gear bag loaded. Wendi packed my clothes and other stuff we would need and tried to stay on top of all the lists we had floating around. The previous few days we had swapped the fuel pump as the carb starved out (and the empty fuel filter was a pretty good indicator) and Todd built a killer 12ga front skid plate.

 Pic of the (now used) skidplate

Wednesday, Feb 18th. I took the day off from work because I had so much to do. Picked up Todd's dually and went and rented a camper shell for it. The sups had stated that no trailers would be allowed at the service areas and with a possibility of rain in the forecast we would need coverage for the parts crates. I worked all day organizing spares and the trailer and Gary took off about noon and started helping. Wendi got there about 1600 and Wade was shortly behind her. After loading and grabbing a quick bite to eat we were off in the Texas night at about 1900. Our appointment with Tech was at 1200 on Thursday, 750 miles away.

Thursday, Feb 19th. With a quick rest-area nap we were back on the road early. We rolled into Salem about 1300 and called tech. They said to bring it over when we were ready. We unloaded and did the last few things on the car to pass tech (wipers, horn). Tech was not fun. I am not going to even go over much that happened suffice to say that I was much much more than extremely UNimpressed and displeased with the tech people. A few hours later, we are back at the hotel and we wire up the speed sensors and SHAZAM the expensive box in front of Gary's seat lights up with life. Wahoo. Then, a quick trip to Wal-Mart for supplies (both car and personnel) and then to the novice meeting. We were the ONLY ones at the meeting who had completed a previous rally. The class was immensely better than the one at Paris and Gary and I actually learned something. Wade and Wendi went also and learned about crew responsibilities and the penalties for the team if the crew makes a mistake. Thursday was absolutely beautiful with few clouds and a high near 70. I was hoping it would stay like this. All over town there were “100AW RALLY” signs and posters. Places of business had their signs saying ‘WELCOME RALLY RACERS’ and such. There was even a program in the newspaper that had a rundown on all the teams and had a bio on us with a copy of our victory photograph from the Paris rally.

   

 

Friday, Feb 20th. At about 0400 Todd and Mike roll in and go to their beds. They drove straight through from Ft.Worth and could not leave until Thursday night, and although they were haggard and tired, I was happy to see them. My crew was now complete. Their arrival also brought the generator and welder and the skills that we might need (foreshadowing).

Later that morning we loaded up and headed out from Salem to Ellington. The first rally, Trespassers Wil, would start in Ellington and end in Salem with a service in the middle. During the trip we frantically tried to calibrate our computer. With Todd trying to maintain a steady speed in the hills, we would try to even the speed and swap calibration factors to get the MPH readout correct. We got close enough, but would tweak the calibration for the whole two days. The car ran very well all the way to Ellington and we put our car in the Parc Expose and waited till the start. The driver's meeting went well and our starting order was posted and after much waiting in the cold and slight drizzle, away we went. The weather I was hoping for moved on to Florida I guess, because it was now cold and gray. Sunlight would not make an appearance at all.

 

First, some quick terminology:

Transit Stage: A route you follow to get the car to the next special stage or service or to the ending spot of the rally. On public roads, speed limits obeyed. They give you a time to arrive at the end of the stage that allows for plenty of time if you get a flat or delayed or whatever. You can stop and work on your car if you want to/need to but you don't have a lot of time. If you don't arrive during your assigned minute, you get time penalties that get added to your total score. If you are caught speeding or your crew is caught speeding you get BIG time penalties added to your score.

Special Stage: Why we are here. The parts where you get to go as fast as you can go. Your time in these “special stages” is added together to give you a total stage time score and the lowest score wins.

Service: in between stages we get to service in various locations, some nice, some cramped. Usually 30-45 minutes for the crew to gas up the car, fix anything broken and send you out again.

Control Zone: Once you 'check in' to an area on your minute, you are in a control zone and are NOT allowed to work on the car. Can't take off headlight covers or even raise the hood. You wait. Mull about and talk to other teams, eat chocolate, wait, look at your cell phone and see that you only have ONE bar of reception, and wait.

Cell Phones: We are in the woods here. William Tell National Forest to be exact. We took six cell phones and only 3 worked. And the three that worked usually only had 1-2 bars of service. Sometimes they did not work at all. Coverage was spotty at best. Near the tops of the hills it was better than near the bottoms. 

At a little before 1400 we launched from the start on a transit stage to Special Stage 1. The car went a few hundred yards and sputtered and died. Out of fuel. Popped the hood and the fuel filter was Sahara desert dry. Nothing in it. Nada. Zip. Zilch. I was just so heartbroken it wasn't funny. The only thing between the fuel pump (which I could hear running) and the fuel filter/carb is the fuel pressure regulator. So I whapped it. Fuel shot through the filter and re-filled the carb. I dropped the hood, pinned it, and climbed in. It fired right up. Put on all my straps and away we went.

We got to SS1, checked in and almost immediately launched on a very short 1.33-mile stage that started off going down to a low water crossing of cement. We crept through the cement and hit dirt road and took off. The car was not running right. It was doing ok, but felt like I had lost a good bit of power and it wasn’t very smooth. The engine would pull to 4800 and then I would shift. The stage was short and our time wasn’t too great. I was unhappy that we were rushed, but happy the car ran and we had completed that first SS. When the car died I had been mortified, and hoped that the regulator would not give us any more fits.

The transit stage from SS1 to SS2 went fine and we showed up on our minute. Gary was getting the hang of the computer and being on time was nice. We were there for a short while and our turn to launch came up pretty quick. I was mad I didn't have time to start the camcorder for SS1, so I made sure I had it running for SS2.

SS2. We launch last on the 5.78-mile stage due to our being passed in the first transit stage. No biggie, it has been drizzling and so there should be no dust or anything. Gary gets in the groove on making calls quickly and we are doing well. The car is still not really running right, but it is making ok power and so we go as fast as we can. About 2.3 miles into the stage we come into a long right hand blind sweeper and there is a car ahead and the co-driver is out and holding the red medical cross sign. That is bad. The stage will be stopped and something is wrong. I shut the car down and we go ahead on foot around the corner to find two cars into the trees on the outboard side. The first car, a Talon, took a tree stump (about 2' around) in the front at a good rate of speed (best guess is 45+). The co-driver is out and laying on the ground and the driver is still in the car with another driver holding a compress to his head above his right eye. A good bit of blood around but it looks ok. The second car saw the first car blocking the one-lane dirt road and locked up the brakes and went ballistic into a tree stump (also about 2' in diameter) about 20' up-road than the Talon. They had slowed down a ton and were both fine, but the bumper was pushed back and some broken bits were about. Very soon the sweep car comes upon the gaggle and radios in for help. Medics arrive and start first aid. I pull out Wade's cell phone and call the crew and let them know what is up and about how long the delay will be. Fast forward an hour or more and we have helped clean up the mess, loaned car #2 tools to fix his car, helped load the injured onto back-boards, helped put the driver over the fence after the life-flight helicopter arrives to take him to St. Louis. 

 

We transited directly to the beginning of SS4 as they were already done with SS3 when we were still helping at the crash site. Four of us eased into the end of the line as night was falling and we waited to start the stage. More cell phone calls and more chocolate. The water in the camelback helped too.

SS4. Didn’t happen. I have heard conflicting reports, but the most consistent is that the up-front teams whined that it was getting dark and they had not mounted their big lights as this stage was supposed to happen in daylight. Since the big delay, it was getting dark fast (and cold.... I know I have not mentioned any cold yet, but it was cold and with darkness falling, it was getting much colder) and the longer we sat, the worse it was. Finally the decision was made to transit the special stage and go to service. I was chapped. WE were prepared. WE had our lights with us. But oh well, we transited and went to service.

Service was in the dark and didn’t take long. The car was fueled, the windshield cleaned, and everything glanced at. The engine was running smooth at idle and smooth when you revved it, but under load it seemed like it was losing power. With little time, we made sure everything else was ok and we shot off into the dark to find more trees to dodge.

SS5. Dark. Very dark. The crew had adjusted the KCs (BIG lights) and they seemed to be where we needed them. In the staging lane the car dies. Since I knew what was going on I had it going in less than a minute and we received no penalty. With the computer working well and Gary making very good calls we put a nice number on the board for this stage. I am driving at nearly the visual limits of the lights but the car has developed a LOT of rear end side-to-side motion.

We transited to SS6 in the cold darkness. We need seat heaters! I left my gloves and helmet on for the warmth. We again arrive on time and check in with no issues.

SS6. Still quite dark and the engine is running a little off and the rear is still wandering a bit. About 90% through the stage I catch sight of taillights up ahead and really began to push hard. We catch the jeep on a straight and they kindly move over a bit as we scoot on by. We finish the stage with another decent time and we transit back to the hotel. I call on the cell phone during the transit and the crew tells me they are ready for us.

Yes they were ready for us! The trailer is open and the spot next to the trailer is lit up like daylight. The generator is up and going and the big lights are all setup and we pull in. The car was already in the air as we exited and went and changed clothes. In July at TWS that racing suit feels very hot, but in February in the woods of Missouri the suit doesn’t seem to help at all! After changing and coming back outside we find the crew working hard on the car. They have found the rear panhard rod mount bracket (to underbody) has cracked and is allowing a 2" side-to-side movement of the rear diff. Not good. Additionally, the #5 spark plug wire exited its loom and touched the exhaust manifold and burned it. The motor still ran smooth at idle and light load, but it missed under acceleration and now we (thought) we knew why. Out comes the welder and the bracket is welded (only caught the hotel room on fire once, and it was small…hahahaha) and re-installed. Todd and Mike reinforced the bracket with some big washers welded to it, Wade and Wendi got the car re-fueled, checked brakes and tires and fluids. The parts stores were closed, so plug wires and fuel pressure regulators would have to wait. Sleep was good that night!

               

RESULTS: We ended up 4th in Group 5 for the Trespassers Wil rally. I was driving as hard as I could and Gary made no mistakes, we just need more power. The long uphill runs are killing us as we wait for the car to climb.

 

Saturday dawns brightly, but still cold. We will see sunlight today, but not enough to overcome the chill. The Monztr only has partial windows (Wade made full size lexan ones, but they are only to be used in the heavy rain) and at transit speeds over 50 it gets pretty cold. Wendi and I take the Monztr across to a BP station and fill her with premium. Then across the street to a parts store and buy a plug wire. They have some that have 45-degree boots and upon test fitting, it works very well. He has 3 total with the 45-degree boots so I buy all three. Also, he has a fuel pressure regulator that I also buy. Back at the motel, the crew is up and stirring. They install the new fuel pressure regulator (no problems after the new one was installed!!) and the plug wire. We wipe the car down with motel towels and head out to the Salem Town Square area for the Parc Expose (car show) and start.

 

Parc Expose and start: Awesome. Bright sunlight that gives some warmth (we avoided the shade) and the locals came out in force. I answered tons of questions about the car and its setup. The Parc Expose was an hour and there was a constant stream of people traffic coming by. It was very nice and we thanked the people for letting us race in ‘their forest’. When it was our turn, we went up to the big ‘START’ stage, spoke with Miss Salem, got a quick interview, and launched when the big Tag Heuer clock hit ‘0’ and scooted off to SS7 (of the weekend, SS1 of the 100AW rally).

 

Transit: The transit went fine and the car felt better. Having the rear end NOT move laterally 2” was a nice thing but the 16.4-mile transit was chilly.

SS7: This stage went much better. The rear end was planted and the engine was making more power. Still didn’t seem up to full song, but it would easily pull past 5k now and that was encouraging. We put in a decent time for the 8.89-mile stage.

Transit: Short 5.41 transit to the next stage was nice. Didn’t even take the helmet and gloves off!

SS8: A very long 17.31-mile stage. It went pretty well but I made a mistake and overshot a slow corner and put the nose into some soft dirt. With a little rocking of the car in reverse we got out, but it cost us an easy 15-20 seconds that upset me. Also on this stage we hit a rock. A rock, as my co-driver said ‘was big enough for it’s own zip code’. We were going through a gentle left and then right turn that were connected. We went through the left just fine, and I setup for a late-ish apex on the right and got back in the gas hard. About halfway through the corner (once I am pretty committed to my line) I can see a rock in the road. Big rock. Probably easily the size of a football and it was going straight for the skid plate. Within those microseconds I thought about Todd and his skid plate. It had taken a few good whacks yesterday and Todd said that the 1” square tube that spaced it off the cross-member had been squashed flat. The oil pan had taken a slight ding, but would be fine. I decided it would be easier to change a wheel/tire than an oil-pan so with a gentle flick of the wrist I opened up the line and took the rock down the right hand side. WHAM. First off, it was a LOT louder than that. Second off, the tire didn’t blow. We were amazed. We were doing an easy 60mph and the impact threw the car off line and I had to correct and keep it out of the ditch, then a quick downshift to 3rd and away we went. Amazed. Kumho Rally tires are more durable BY FAR than I had imagined. In the middle of the stage the rear end felt like it was loose again, but we went just as fast as we could. Engine ran the same the whole time. We finish the stage ok, I’m still mad at the shunt into the soft ditch, and we head to service.

Transit: The 15.21 mile transit goes smooth and we show up to service with a list.

Service: Again, our AWESOME crew has the car in the air before we can even get out. The first thing they check is the diff and yet again the panhard rod bracket is broken. In minutes the bracket is out and being welded by Mike and Todd. Wendi and Wade get the wheels off, check brakes, top off the gas tank and clean the windshield. I grab a timing light and bump the timing from 32 to 35 and hope that gives me the power I know the engine has but isn’t producing. I double-check the previously burned plug wire and it is fine. The others look fine too, but I touch (with gloves!) each one of them. # 6 falls apart as I touch it. AAAAARGH! I grab one of the spares and put it on. Wendi feeds us some cold pizza and cookies. The crew wraps up repairs and we are getting back in as the car is coming down. We just BARELY make our exit minute this time, but the engine feels tons better.

 

Transit: The 9.24 mile transit tells me that the engine is up to full song and the rear-end is staying where it should. I am excited for this next stage.

SS9: This stage was THE stage of the rally. Had the car run like this the whole time we would have finished much better. I don’t blame anyone or anything, because this is only our second rally and our first with this engine combination. We are still learning how to do everything correctly and this type of car prep is a bit different than road racing. Regardless, SS9 was awesome. We launched and I had to modulate the throttle all the way to the top of third to put power down. The rear end stayed planted and the car was a dream. Gary’s calls were great and I was just ecstatic. We came upon a straight crest and as we hit the other side down a long downhill it was like the Falcon (Star Wars) hitting lightspeed. It was INSANE. The corners were coming up much, much faster and the power to go up the hills was so much more than enough. The 7.85 mile stage was over far to quickly and we headed to transit still trying to catch our breath.

 

Transit: The 13.58 mile transit was spent hoping the car would run the next stage like it did SS9. I grinned the whole way.

SS10: We got to the control area and were greeted by a long line of cars. There had been some delay and we waited for a while. The rumor among the drivers was that with the delays there would be a cancellation of the last stage. That meant that we would only have 2 stages to run after this one. It was getting late in the afternoon and we would need lights for the next stage for sure. We sat around a while and dug through the pouches (that Wendi made that attach to the door-bars and hold cell phones, chocolate, route-books, etc) for food and drank more water from the camelback attached to the harness bar behind the seats. Cleaned glasses and helmet screens and waited some more. I hate waiting. Finally cars start to launch and we get in and get ready. Harness, helmets, intercom, and gloves all have to be done and the camera has to be turned on. Then we ease on up to the line and get ready to launch when the launch clock slowly drops to zero. Off we go on the 13.17-mile stage with rocks flying from behind our tires. The first half goes well and then we come upon a driver holding the OK sign but waving us to slow down. The route curves to the right as it drops down to cross a creek, and then goes up the other side while turning back to the left. I slow the car down and turn in to the right to cross the one-lane concrete bridge. The bridge is only a few feet off the mostly-dry creek bed, and as I angle in towards it at what feels a very slow speed, the car drifts off to the left. There is all-of-a-sudden real possibility that we will slide clean off the bridge into the rocks and trees. I crab and dance on the brakes and we get almost all the was across the bridge when the driver’s side rear tire drops off the bridge about two feet before the bank on the other side. We pop back on the path to find a small boulder on the left and an upside down car a little further down the path on the right. I weave the car through and off we go up the hill. The rear-end is for SURE loose again but we press on. A few more miles and the brakes begin fading very badly. Soon thereafter I am pumping the brakes before I really need them and then find myself pushing the pedal to the floor. I hate to do it, but we back off a bit in the interest of safety and finish the stage. The last mile or so was painful, as I had to slow down so early and lose huge chunks of time.

Transit. I called on the cell phone during the 15.6-mile transit and advised the crew of the car. We had virtually no brakes and I KNOW I killed the rear-end bracket. We made it to service without any hitches, just slowing down very early for everything. With a few miles to go, the computer stopped counting. The unit still worked but the power wire to the front wheel speed sensors was not feeding power. This was bad.

Service: The car went up and the bracket came off. Every place Todd welded the bracket still held, but the bracket would crack in a new spot and come off again. We dug through the fabrication box and got out some more metal and the welding began again. The front brakes were toast and one of the backing plates had actually bent. With a few minutes left in service it did not look good. Todd and Mike were finishing up the bracket, but the brakes would take time and the computer was out. With daylight disappearing quickly I spoke briefly with Gary and it was decided to withdraw from the event. My Father had many good sayings, with two being ‘Live to fight another day’ and ‘It is never the first emergency that kills you’. I did not feel safe trying to run the last stages with no computer, an problematic rear diff and with limited brakes. It just did not make sense.

We advised the officials of our decision and headed back to the hotel. Hot showers and a nice sit-down dinner did wonders for the morale then we came back and loaded the car and trailer. Looking back, I am happy with the decision.

We have TONS of video footage to wade through and are now putting together a CRNC rally video to add to our Paris video. When we finish it, we will post it.

Random musings:

This is a dangerous sport. Much more so than instructing at High Performance Driving Events, and more so than road racing. Even when I ran the Dallas Grand Prix in the Lola I didn’t feel this exposed. I don’t want to use the word scared because I was not scared. In the Lola at the DGP it was canyon racing. My head was a good 15” below the concrete barriers and when I went into a turn, I slowed down, downshifted, and got on the gas as I turned the wheel. I could not SEE the middle and the exit of the corner, but here I go into the unknown at high rates of speed. I felt somewhat exposed, but I was still on asphalt with 8” wide slicks and I was only endangering myself and possibly other drivers. With rallying, I have a co-driver. Before you ask, yes we have had THE talk. I have told him that I could screw up and ball this car up and he and I could possibly never walk again. His response? “Make it spectacular and get it on tape”. Seriously. After the Talon incident in SS2 I again made sure we talked and made sure he was OK with all the possible repercussions. Our previous rally in Paris had us going down roads with some buffer zone of 10-30’ on each side before the trees. Here, we were within INCHES of trees at some very serious speeds. Several cars got balled up at both events. A small lapse in judgment at TWS and your lap times suffer, maybe you get the car dirty. A small lapse here and you get a helicopter ride to the nearest trauma unit.

       

Crew. Without our AWESOME crew we would not have made it to the event at all, much less did as well as we did. Wendi, Wade and Todd put in hours upon hours on the car the weeks before we left, helping Gary and I get it ready. Mike brought a generator and welder and helped with the fast turnarounds also. I said it many times over the weekend and I’ll say it again, “We have a decent car, a really good co-driver and a good driver, but we have the BEST crew of anybody at the rally”. And it’s true.

 

Future: We compete in the Open class, subcategory of Group 5. We have not even scratched the surface of what we are allowed to do. With very little money and some fabrication time we can make some changes and go much faster. Our current plan is to do that and make the next rally in Paris at the end of May. More updates as they come available.