It was 1am Saturday morning, 5 days before our road trip north to Atlanta, Michigan for the opening round of the Rally America Championship, Sno*Drift and we had a gearbox in pieces, not complying with our demands to go back together. Despite Tommy’s best efforts I was already running through alternative scenarios including pulling out of the event. As the crew chief for T.Hanson Motorsport, Tommy knows a thing of two about Subarus but even this had him stumped. Perhaps the week of late nights prepping the car had paid its toll. Perhaps it was all those energy drinks! Once the rest of the World was awake we made a call to Ryan of Lenger Racing and by Monday we had a functioning gearbox ready to go back in the car. Tuesday night we headed out for a test drive and on Wednesday evening we loaded up the truck and headed north in the morning. We missed recce but at least we were at the event with a reliable car.
John and I hadn’t done a rally since LSPR 2010 and the car had sat in my garage since returning from the U.P. so we were glad to have 4 runs on the 2 mile shakedown stage. Tammy and I never finished Sno*Drift 2010 due to a knee injury after slipping on the ice and it was just my luck that the conditions this year were no different. With a sellout rally of nearly 70 entries, Parc Expose had quite an international flare; American, English, Bulgarian, Belgian, Irish, Chinese, Canadian, Polish and a token Scotsman. There were kids everywhere asking for autographs and I’m glad we had plenty of postcards of the car to give away. It was a brilliant atmosphere. The sun came out as we left the first MTC, 35th on the road heading for SS1. Our plan was to take it easy for the first half of the day to find our rhythm and groove. We caught 2 cars on that first stage and pulled another off a snow bank on the second. We were having a great time considering the glare ice conditions. The Ranch was a test of patience and skill as usual but those who made it through all of the tight, twisty, icy night stages were treated with wider, flowing stages on day two. I treated the crew to a heated garage this year and it was well worth it as we gave the car a thorough check then headed to the cabin around 1am. The ice banks weren’t soft but we survived the day without punctures or suspension/steering damage. It’s amazing how much abuse BRAID wheels can withstand. An early start on day two and we were greeted with a dusting of snow which would make it tough for the front runners as the ice was as slippery as ever underneath. We checked stage scores and found ourselves twenty-something on the road so Friday’s night stages had claimed a few casualties allowing us to move up. The rally seemed to be run flawlessly which gave us little time between stages to take a break. Saturday’s stages were faster with as little grip as we experienced the night before. As if the corners weren’t tricky enough, crowned roads caused the car to crab along at 80-90mph on the straights. This was contrasted by the 1 mile super special stages in a local quarry that offered fantastic grip but no stage notes. John’s destructions were basically, “Turn right. Have fun.” The 30min and 15min services passed quickly as we checked for damage, tightened bolts and refueled the car and crew. It was a sprint event and totally exhausting both physically and mentally. As darkness fell we headed out to the last 3 stages. The long, nerve racking 15 mile Camp 30 stage was followed by the best stage of the rally, Thunder River which was beautifully prepared with snow (gription at last!) and spectators along the sides tossing gas onto bonfires that exploded 30ft into the air as we flew over crests. We crossed the finish laughing. It was a rally hero stage; unforgettable. We cruised into the final MTC in Hillman relieved but ecstatic about finishing Sno*Drift. A 5th place in the Sno Regional and 4th in the Drift regional was more that I could have dreamt for. On top of that our combined times landed us 17th place overall in the national had we entered! As it turns out we punctured at some point in the last few stages because we discovered a flat on Sunday evening. Lucky? Absolutely. A huge thanks to Tommy and Brian for getting the car to work, Jeff and Henry the first timer for crewing all weekend, John for putting up with my inability to remember what he is reciting through the intercom and of course Paul Eddleston from BRAID USA for all the support.