Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Keep it up

The fifth round of the Detroit SCCA Rallycross Championship, presented by Team Illuminata Motorsport, took place at Bob’s Family Raceway in Clarksville. Having taken the PA class win at round four the Alba Rallysport team aimed to keep up the pace and build on championship points. Recently returning from a successful stage rally debut in Canada the team’s co-driving star Tammy Allan was unable to attend the event due to work commitments overseas. Driver, David Allan, was let off the leash (a dangerous prospect) and as this was the season halfway mark the final standings were far from decided. Anything could happen.
It was a sunny but cool day, which made a change from the heat wave of recent weeks. Dust was going to be an issue without a doubt. PA class was looking desperately sparse as I stood on the start line awaiting the M4 class cars to finish tearing up the twisty track. There were only four cars entered, Jennifer Glass (#64) and I were the regulars. Mark Bates (#4) moved up from SA class in his WRX wagon and returning competitor Rob Backis (#7) in the Subaru Sti had driven all the way from Illinois. True dedication.
I like the track at Bob’s. Not just because we’ve won there in the past, which undoubtedly gives a psychological edge that should not be underestimated, but it’s very close to Alba Rallysport HQ! It’s the only event where we don’t have to get up before 8am to make registration and I like that. There was a new format to this event and one that turned out to work very well; 3 runs, 5 laps each. Run 1 was clean and it was nice to be back behind the wheel of the AWD Subaru WRX. There wasn’t much of a gap between runs to compare times but I had to step it up, as dark horse Backis (#7) in the Sti was only 0.005min off the pace and snapping at my heels. I rolled up to the start line for run 2 with only one goal in mind; forge a large enough gap that couldn’t be recoverable. This is why I like the 3 run format. It’s all or nothing from the start. You can’t afford to spend time warming up; the pressure is there immediately. I made the choice to take the corners wider and faster staying in 2nd gear rather than slowing down to shift. It paid off and resulted in FTD. We went into the lunch break knowing that there was only one run left that could make or break it but I would have rather been chasing than leading. There was everything to lose in the championship point race. The final run was somewhat sloppy. The dusty conditions had called for the watering truck although there was a little more water dumped on the course than we bargained for. With a marginal lead over 2nd place contender Rob Backis (#7) I took off from the start line hoping the gravel tyres would give me the advantage I needed.
The first lap was slippery and I took out a cone on a left hairpin as I tried to keep to the driest, tightest line. We fought it out over the remaining 5 laps and incredibly finished with exactly the same time, 2.856min. and 1 cone penalty each! A mere 11.8sec. separated 1st and 2nd place overall after 15 laps, remarkable considering the Sti is shod with wide 17” snow tyres. Jennifer (#64) achieved a well deserved 3rd place having struggled with less than ideal gear ratios on the tight track and Mark (#4) finished with a respectable time in 4th place on his first outing in PA class. With luck we’ll see more of the regular PA competitors at the next event in September. See you on the gravel! Photo by Team Illuminata Motorsport.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Special Stage Success

August 11th was an unforgettable day for the Alba Rallysport team. On the build up to their stage rally debut a great amount of effort was focused on simply finishing the Galway-Cavendish Forest Rally organized by the Peterborough Motor Sports Club, in Ontario, Canada. Little did the team know, they would do more than just finish the event. We had been recommended this event by many long time rallyists and it made good sense. Round four of the Ontario rally championship consisted of a single 5 mile road, 6 stages during the day and a 2 pass recce. It was the perfect first rally. Our three goals for this event were simple; Learn, have fun and FINISH!
Tammy (co-driver, team CFO, DJ and my beloved soul mate), Mark (rally car owner and crew chief) and I set out early Friday morning for the 500+ mile tow over to Peterborough, Ontario. Upon arrival we met up with Jeff and Deb Secor who were also crewing for us. Saturday morning was an early start as we headed up to rally
HQ in Catchacoma. We had prepared all we could. The car had been tested, broken and the axle rebuilt by Brian Burroughs a week earlier. Tammy had learnt all the stage rally co-driving skills she could in a classroom environment and I had been brushing up on keeping the car on the road at local rallycross events. We just needed (read, wanted!) to race...right NOW!
There were 18 cars entered on the day and we were Car #15 on the road in the 3 strong Group 2 class. The well built Golf Gti passed tech without problems, the crew meeting was short and sweet and recce was complete. Suddenly we were in the car driving through our first MTC to begin the event. We were both a little nervous. Jeff, Deb and Mark wished us good luck and we were checked out onto the short transit towards the first stage. Due to the nature of this single road stage rally there were two turn around points at either end of the closed road creating two stages. Each stage would be run three times with a service after Stage 4. We checked into the ATC on our calculated minute and were sitting in line for the start behind Car #14, a Mazda 323. It was hot. Temperatures were in the high 80’s but it felt hotter in what Tammy describes as one-piece oven mitts. Due to the huge amount of dust, we were separated by 2 minute intervals and the clock ticked by quickly. We checked harnesses, helmets and intercoms. Everything was as it should be. Car #14 took off, leaving a plume of dust. We slowly rolled up to the start line and presented our time card to the starter. The 1 minute countdown began…30 seconds…10 seconds…5, 4…I had a brief flashback of all the advice I had been given from various seasoned rally drivers. Keep it smooth and steady and don’t drive at 100%...3, 2, 1, GO! We took off up a short hill into our first corner, the 1.8 16v engine pulled magnificently in 3rd and 4th gear into a long straight with 3 consecutive jumps…brilliant! I could hear yelps and giggling through the intercom. The nervousness was gone and we were having fun. The stage was a beautiful winding road with cambered corners and Tammy was calling the notes right on cue. About half way through the stage we came into a Left 3 Uphill corner when we saw frantic waving hands and Car #14 stopped at the side of the road, spoiler hanging off the roof.
The car was damaged. We slowed down and then stopped alongside the car to ensure the crew was ok. We got the thumbs up so took off again on our way to the end of our first rally stage. The exhilaration was incredible and we couldn’t believe we actually made it through without incident. The surface was very loose gravel but after a few passes this would quickly change. For the first two stages we had planned to hold back a little until I was comfortable with the feel of the car at higher speeds. The VW Golf handled wonderfully. Over-steer was extremely predictable and the Quaife diff pulled us out of corners and up hills with ease.
On Stage 3 we pushed a little harder finding a good rhythm that was just comfortably within our skill level. We passed stranded Car #3 of 2006 winners Vanos & Ockwell who sadly went out later in the day with electrical problems. We were half way through the rally heading into Stage 4 and what a stage it was, clocking our fastest time of the day and 11th position, close behind Group 2 Car #11, another Golf Gti. It was going to be all out for the last two stages but first, back to service. We left the stage and headed along the road to Catchacoma, helmets off, suits open and windows down. Unfortunately we later discovered that we miscalculated our arrival time and entered the MTC a minute too early resulting in a 1-minute penalty. It’s a learning process we told ourselves. C’est la vie! Mark and Jeff dusted off the car, checked the tyres and filled it with fuel. Not that we needed it! Off to Stage 5 and anything could happen. We were flat out through the stage, a little too flat out. The problem with running a stage more than once or twice is that you begin to think you know it. We could see the dust from Car #18 and in places visibility was pretty limited. At one point Tammy asked me if I could actually see where I was going. Politely translated, NO was the answer and I relied on her notes to keep us on the road. It was only a matter of time and towards the end we went far too fast into a Right 3 Over Crest, the car over rotated and we barely kept it out of the trees. We backed up and kept going, although noticeably a little slower. To our relief there was no mechanical damage and we looked forward to the final stage of the rally. Stage 6 was a blast. At one point we hit an uncovered rock with the left front wheel and feared a puncture but thankfully it wasn’t so. We weren’t quite as fast as we were on Stage 4 but after passing Car #18, a BMW 2002 that went out with a bent control arm, we took it as a sign and eased off for the last kilometer to ensure we came out of the stage in one piece. We crossed the finish line laughing and yelling our heads off. We had our time card marked and made our way quickly back to service. A rally isn’t over until you are through th
e final MTC and I was going to feel much better once I saw the car on the trailer in the service park! Tammy calculated our final in-time and requested it as she handed our timecard in. We were finished! It was a brilliant feeling. We finished 14th overall and brought home the 2nd place trophy for both Group 2 and the Classic Division. The result was totally unexpected but a perfect finish to a superb day of rallying. Thanks must go to Peter Watt and all the other Peterborough Motor Sport Club organizers and competitors for putting on a great event. We certainly hope to go back to Ontario in the future. All images courtesy of Performance Rally Images.