Wednesday, November 3, 2010

LSPR 2010

With LSPR off the national calendar and a switch to a single day rather than the usual two day event there were rumours that it wouldn't draw enough interest to go ahead. How wrong the skeptics were. With 40 entries, national competitors filling the top ten and the final round of MaxAttack! the event was arguably the most exciting regional event of the 2010 season.
We started out on Thursday morning from Grand Rapids to head north into Michigan’s UP. John Atsma isn’t new to co-driving but this was the first time we had paired up in the WRX so we planned to take things easy. With AlbaRallysport expecting their second junior crew member in the spring Tammy was out of action and somewhat happy to relax at home after a week of business travel.
Arriving in good time on Thursday evening in the college town of Houghton we were up and out on Friday morning to unload the rally car, give it the once over, head up to registration then to scrutineering. That sounded all very straight forward until we identified an electrical glitch that took a couple of hours of noodling to rectify. Thanks to Greg Mankin who was servicing for the 555 Sierra Motorsports team without whom, we wouldn’t of had lights.
Tech was a breeze and back at the motel we met up with Graham Evans who had arrived with a truck load of new DMack Grippa rally tyres. We were eager to give them a go so in true WRC fashion had 8 installed on the BRAID Acropolis wheels right there in the car park. Late in the afternoon we headed up to the local practice stage where we took a few laps, loose, rocky gravel just to test our stage note rhythm and check all the various settings and systems on the car. All good although there was some knocking from the rear which we later diagnosed as the struts, nothing serious.
Friday night we headed along to the Pilgrim steakhouse. Brilliant.
We woke to another crisp clear morning on Saturday and carried out a few more checks on the car, again, nothing major but we did remove the footrest to give John more legroom. We setup the in-car video cam, checked tyre pressures and left for Parc Expose which drew a number of locals eager to see some rally action. We set off 14th on the road SS1 and 2 a repeat quarry stage where John got up to speed pretty quickly on the notes with us driving at 80-90% rather than the 70% during shakedown the night before. Being so close to town these are popular spectator stages so we kept it neat and tidy preferring to look boring than go off before the real forest stages began. Sorry guys!
The first true stage was Herman, renowned for being a car killer and sure enough the first pass through claimed few victims. This is a great stage and although our times weren’t so competitive, sitting just within the first half of the field, we really enjoyed the twisty technical road, zero damage was a bonus. I’m really looking forward to Herman again next year.
After service in L’Anse we headed out onto SS4 Menge which was a sandy stage, very different from the hard packed wet road just completed. This started out as a wider, open road that favoured the higher horsepower cars but it tightened up towards the end which almost caught us out as we clipped a bank. Funnily enough on the same corner our West MI rally friends did same thing in the XR8. Perhaps there was a magnetic rock in there somewhere…
SS5 we headed back to Herman and again, with thoughts of ending the rally due to the various ‘off stories’ we took it easy but improved our speed taking over 20 seconds off the previous time and we managed to make up a couple of spots overall.
Passmore, SS6, was one stage I had really been looking forward to on the run up to this event. The last time I competed at LSPR was in 2007 in a Golf Gti and I recalled the long fast sections of this 17 mile stage and just not having the power (or balls) to go fast enough. Now, in the WRX it was a different story and wow, what an amazing stage. With an average speed over 65mph we were in triple digits more than once. Absolutely fantastic. It’s very hard to put into words the feeling of flying through the woods at that speed and I’m glad we got to run this stage twice. Surprisingly we were only a few seconds down on the second pass and that was run in the dark.
SS7 FarPoint was just the opposite of the previous stage in that it was extremely dusty and with such terrible visibility it made for really nerve racking driving. Later we were surprised to learn, despite the conditions we achieved our best overall position up to that point! Perhaps all those years skiing in Scottish blizzards paid off. Onto SS8 and Bob Lake which is where we had the incident. Everything had been going smoothly, perhaps too smoothly and as we came into a tight section of the stage I misheard a note that called for a right turn to tighten. We carried too much speed into the turn and with a tree on the outside had to make the quick decision to either clip it with the rear corner of the car or switch directions and stuff it into the ditch. Well, I chose to avoid the tree and go offroad. Amazingly we found 1st gear, kept the momentum going, jumped over a few clumps of dirt/rocks/stumps, hung a right around the tree and jumped back onto the stage Dukes of Hazzard style. Regardless, this was our best stage result with a 9th place overall. Yeee haaa!
Arriving at service we were eager for the crew to give the car a thorough check. All fine underneath, tyres still looked good, brakes were warped but still in one piece. Two more stages to go, hold on!
SS9 we tackled Passmore again. 105+mph….WOOOOOOOOOO HOOOOOOOOOOO!
The final stage was Far Point 2 a 12 mile sprint to the finish. With a clear lead in the PGT class and sitting in 12th overall we weren’t going to give up the fight even though I usually back off towards the end of a rally. This time we had a 2 minute dust window (usually 1min gaps between cars) and boy did we make use of it as we pushed right to the finish stealing 11th place from Matt and Andrew Bushore who gave us one hell of a battle in a 25 year old G2 VW no less, an impressive drive by them.
I love LSPR. To me it’s the rally of rallies here in the US and whether it’s the time of year, the beautiful scenery or incredible roads it somehow reminds me of watching the RAC as a kid.

A huge thanks to our partners Team Illuminata Motorsport, and our crew Paul Eddleston, Brian Burroughs and of course co-driver John Atsma.

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