Wednesday, November 7, 2007

LSPR 2007

In 2005, Tammy and I spectated at LSPR. It was her first rally and she was so very bored. On the way home we vowed never to go back to that rally unless we entered. Fast forward to October 26th 2007 and with some help from rally friends we found ourselves sitting in car 525, a yellow G2 Golf GTi about to check out of the first MTC.
We left Grand Rapids early on Thursday morning with a borrowed truck, trailer and rally car. Corey, one of our crew rode with us while Mark and Sharon left later that morning. The ten-hour tow up to Houghton in Michigan’s UP was uneventful (thankfully) and beautiful. The colours of the trees and the wonder of the lakeshore never cease to amaze me and to top it off it was a blue-sky day. We arrived at the motel and set about unloading the rally car and truck then made our way to registration. Rally to me has always been about ‘family’, ever since I was a wee lad when my dad first took me to see Group B cars competing in the Lombard RAC rally (now Rally GB) near our home in Edinburgh. When we walked into registration that evening we were greeted by the familiar, welcoming faces of Mary and Jerry Shiloff, two of the rally family. Registration went smoothly thanks to meticulous preparation by Tammy and we retired to the luxury of the motel for some sleep.
A crisp Friday morning dawned and the crew headed down to tech with the car while we attended rally school. The novice school was taught by Mark Williams, a well-known name in US rallying, and was highly beneficial to us as newcomers. Mark confirmed that we were on the right track and not completely clueless about what we were doing. Back at the motel the crew reported a couple issues with tech. Small oversights on my part but it they were resolved and we headed out to Parc Expose to meet many familiar faces and a few new ones.

We were warned about stage 1, Green Acres. It was as rough as everyone said. About a tenth of a mile in I wished we were in a Land Rover. The rocks looked big enough to disintegrate the wee Volkswagen. We took it easy, we didn’t break anything and we finished the stage. A quick ten-minute service and we were off to Herman.
Stage 2, Herman, was going very well until we hit a water splash just over half way in. We were in fifth gear at the time and the car didn’t like it. It spluttered to the end of the stage in third. We checked into the FTC and the engine died. After we jumped started it out of the control zone I opened the hood and poured water out of the distributor cap. A swab from the first aid kit helped dry up the remaining moisture (remember a shop rag next time!) and we fired it up and took off towards stage 3, Bob Lake; which ended up being cancelled due to safety concerns.
Stage 4, Echo Lake, was a little rough. No, wait. It was ridiculously rough! Never have I spent so much time in the air in a car since racing Land Rovers across the Scottish hills! It was hard on the car so we made sure to slow down for the major jumps and holes remembering that our main goal for the weekend was to finish.
Stage 5, Passmore, was the polar opposite of Echo Lake, smoother and faster. Quite obviously there were some competitors that were pushing the limits as we passed one car submerged in a small pond. On most of the straights we topped out in fifth gear. The higher speeds will take us some time to get used to but what a fun stage. We headed back to service in Kenton where our crew had hot pasties and beverages waiting. Excellent! A quick check over the car, wheel nuts tightened and we were off to Bob Lake again.
The first pass through Bob Lake was a transit (we treated it like a recce!) so having the opportunity to run it a second time, as stage 6, was great. By this time Tammy and I had found our rhythm and the in-car nerves and tension had eased. I should re-phrase that and say, I had relaxed a little, kept my month shut and let Tammy focus on co-driving, which she did an excellent job of. What a fun stage.
We were back to Echo Lake for stage 6 and it was even rougher than the first time through. Made worst by the persistent rain and one of the disadvantages of running at the back! Perhaps we had too much fun on Bob Lake 2 because we started hearing unhealthy knocking noises from the rear suspension. After one large jump followed by a waterhole the wee Golf stopped complaining so we pushed on towards stage 8, Passmore2.
I guess we like running at night. We were exactly 18 seconds faster on Passmore 2, flying by three stranded cars and a limping Neon (with most of the back end missing) co-driven by Tammy’s rally hero, Bob Martin.
Back at service the crew were happy to see us and we them. We loaded up and hit the road for the long drive back to Houghton and well earned sleep.
We were up early on Saturday. The air was clear and fresh. It was going to be a beautiful sunny day. Our crew had already filled the car up with gas and given it the once over but had bad news. Remember that clattering noise on Echo Lake? Well, it turns out the right rear strut had pulled itself clean out the top mount (hence the noise) then punched through the turret sheet metal and lodged itself solid (hence no more noise!). We had driven all 17 miles of Passmore 2 and the 40+ mile transit back to Houghton like this. We were very lucky. Without hesitation we jumped in the car and headed up to Parc Expose in Calumet to avoid late penalties while Corey ‘procured’ top mount rubbers (thanks Chad and Jay!). The next hour was spent on the main street of Calumet hammering and re-locating the rear strut back into its rightful place. Our out time came around and after a few autographs (no joke, kids who know no better!) we took off towards the infamous Gratiot Lake stage.
I was a little nervous at the start of stage 9, Gratiot Lake. I’d heard stories of car destruction. The stage was wet so we avoided waterholes for fear of killing the engine. My nerves were unwarranted however. Gratiot was fantastic and one of my favourite stages of the whole rally. I love tight, twisty tests. Nearing the end of the stage we came around a corner to see Carl and Ben in their Golf who had a brush with the scenery. They allowed us through after almost swapping wing mirrors and followed closely behind for the rest of the stage amused at the way the 525 GTi was hopping and skipping through the woods. Half a mile into stage 10, Delaware, we realized that perhaps we hadn’t avoided all the water on Gratiot. We were stuck at 3500rpm in fifth gear, about 55mph. With the top boys doing well over 100mph this wasn’t the stage to suffer a lack of power. Due to my frustration we came into the infamous Delaware Delta much to fast and over rotated, missing the tight left. We got it together and finished the stage but we weren’t happy with our performance. We would have likely been faster in Tammy’s Forester with a couple bikes on the roof!
While waiting at the start of stage 11, Burma, we dried out the distributor again. Burma is such a great stage and Tammy called out the tulip notes with military precision. It was spot on. Enough said. We headed into Copper Harbor for service where it was announced that there had been an accident on Brockway Mountain so stages 12 & 13 were cancelled. I like tarmac stages but I was quietly relieved, as the GTi is a little skittish on a sealed surface with gravel tyres.
After a long service and a brief five-minute hailstorm we headed out to stage 14, Burma 2. This is a driver’s stage. It’s tight and twisty and has a great rhythm to it. Although the sun had not yet set apparently there were a few full moons along the way. We didn’t see a thing.
Arriving at stage 15, Delaware 2, we saw a few people frantically trying to get the ‘Subaru Guy’s’ car 536 ready. The glass we saw on Burma 2 was a result of their roll and they needed to fit a window net before being allowed to start. They managed in time and we entered the ATC ready for Delaware. 3,2,1 and we took off, moving up through the gears the wee 16v engine screaming. Delaware is almost straight and the road is so smooth and wide. What catches you out is the Delta, which goes against the whole character of the rest of the stage. Again we entered too fast, this time in forth gear, the car over rotated and we spun. Slow is definitely faster, something I should know from rallycrossing. During the spin we clipped a rock in a ditch and once we got up to speed it felt like we were loosing air out of the rear tyre. Knowing we still had Gratiot Lake 2 to run, which was probably very rough by now, we took it easy. As it turns out the tyre was ok and frustrated that I’d slowed down so much we pressed on to the final stage of the rally, which turned out to be cancelled due to a rolled vehicle. We transited stage 16 and thankfully so. It was very wet and very rough. We met our service crew for a quick once over the car then made our way briskly back to Houghton for the final MTC in. Our rally was over. We had made it through one of the toughest rallies in North America. We had no major offs, no punctures and bonded in only a way that husband and wife can bond in a rally car. We finished 17th out of 32 on Friday and 20th out of 29 on Saturday. It was a great weekend. Thanks to the whole RCM gang for their support. Thanks to all the marshals, workers and spectators and of course Rally America for organizing a great event. We hope to be back next year!

No comments: