Friday, February 19, 2010

Black River Stages - Take 2

In 2008 Jimmy and I failed to finished the final round of NASAs Atlantic Rally Cup, Black River Stages, in 2009 not only did we finish we brought home a 4th place overall, my highest place to date as a driver but it wasn't without drama. Here is the story...

I set out on Friday morning with Tommy, the Team Illuminata Motorsport WRC in tow, to pick up Jimmy and Brad (the young 'un) en route. The enclosed trailer and extra boxes of spares were heavy. In 2008 we DNF'd due to mechanical failure so I brought every spare part I had.
The truck was struggling. The tow to Harrisville, NY was expected to be around 12hrs. Having passed through Ohio and Pennsilvania we stopped for fuel for the 3rd or 4th time. I noticed the trailer wheel was smoking. The hub was destroyed. We crossed the street to the TA Centre but all they had we semi parts. It was 3:30pm on a Friday, we were 30 miles from a trailer service shop with a wheel hanging off. We unloaded the rally car and crawled to the garage in the hope they would have the parts needed to repair the hub. Remarkably they did and replaced the entire axle as the spindle was no longer straight. The father/som team did a brilliant job to get us back on the road, albeit 9pm and 5 hrs later. After a detour thanks to Miss Magellan we finally arrived at the roadhouse at 1am, something out of the Stephen King movie. It had been a 20 hr tow.
On Saturday morning we headed out to registration and tech, fueled up the car and cans and found a suitable spot in the service park. The ground was soft and as the guys gave the car a quick check it literally fell over in the sand. Thankfully nobody was underneath. A couple of the Irish lads came over and helped us lift it up again to get a jack underneath. Tommy went looking for another more suitable spot to work on the car.
In the afternoon we headed out the Parc Expose, chit chatted with the other competitors then onto the first stage. We took it steady getting used to the car again after a year away from gravel. The car was stiff as hell and I was thinking I should have softened it up more since the tarmac of Tennessee. The second stage saw a major incident involving one of the front runners and despite not having discussed an emergency plan Jimmy and I just seemed to kick into action and did what we had to do. The car was a write off but the crew have since made a good recovery. It could have been far more serious.

Onto SS3 and we actually ran the stage without a problem although a little shaky having witnessed what can happen to a rally car when it goes from 60-0mph in a few feet. Into service and Travis Hanson was with Tommy and Brad and helped adjust the suspension. We checked tyres, brakes and oil. All fine. Lights were fitted and off we went to run the same 3 stages. The suspension was still too stiff but we soldiered on with slower times than earlier. The mist was settling in the dips in the woods which made it difficult to commit to some corners. We weren't alone and on SS4 we had a 3 way tie. Due to delays the last 3 stages were cancelled. We adjusted the suspension again and headed to the haunted roadhouse for some sleep.

Sunday, this would be the day I said. Again, beautiful weather for late September in upstate New York, nippy but sunny and it warmed up nicely. Perfect weather for a rally. SS10/11 Goose Pond was rediculous. Jumps galore and it certainly woke us up with continuous rhythm changes. I missed an R3 and spun into some poor guy's garden but we got back on stage and enjoyed the many crests and jumps that twisted through the woods. The reverse stage saw us take a good 15 seconds off our time on the way in. We pressed onto SS12, Jayville. This was a fantastic stage that narrowed towards the end and was incredibly rough. There was no room for error with trees lining the stage and melon sized rocks on the road. With the temperatures rising I adjusted tyre pressures at the turn around and this paid off on the way back out seeing us take 13 seconds off the previous stage.

At service the guys switched the BRAID wheels front to back, reduced the camber on the front, checked the oil and cleaned the windscreen. We poured some fuel in the tank and headed out for the last 3 stages of the event. I felt we were on it. Jimmy was calling the notes perfectly, the car was fantastic and everything felt great. I just wanted to keep going and going. I had no idea what the gaps were between us and the other competitors and the navvies weren't telling so I felt comfortable pushing a little on each stage. We tied again with Billy and Jeremy in the Broken Motorsports WRX on SS15. We were having fun, laughing like school children. It wasn't until the end I realised how much time we were chewing out of the other guys in the last two stages. As eeryone was winding it down we pushed to the end. Ignoring Danny O'Brians times (who had technically DNF'd) we took fastest stage times on the last two.

The car was in one piece, barely dirty and only 4 tyres used all weekend although the rear suspension bushes needed replaced due to all the jumps. The tow home was as rubbish as the drive there. 2 hrs in and the rear brakes on the truck started to squeal so we stopped, unloaded and Tommy tore them down and repaired the parking brake which had seized on. Arriving back at Alba Rallysport HQ around 11:30pm we were exhausted but still buzzing from the fantastic stages and great competition.

A huge thanks to Jimmy, Tommy and Brad. A tow to forget but a flawless rally.

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