Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Bulldog Rally

Not seeing the end of a rally is one of the worst feelings in the world to me. As far as I'm concerned, getting to the finish is success in and of itself (guess I'm old school) and your position at the end of the day is just bonus. However, despite not getting to the end of this past weekend's Bulldog Rally, I came away feeling quite fulfilled and generally, just feeling really good.


Tom picked me up Friday midday and we sped down to the host town of Oswestry a whole 70 miles away from Manchester (I could get used to this...). There, we met our team, Pro-Tec, who had the car cleaned, tech'd, and ready ago before we even arrived. Class job. They even had my name on the side of the car complete with American flag and all 26 stars representing each state of the union ;). Pennsylvania is one of the original 13, so I guess it all works out.

The usual signing on procedure went relatively smoothly, and I started feeling more comfortable, confident, and in control rallying in this country. We headed back to the hotel rather early and began going through the recce DVD again. In the Patterson Notes, I realized finally that they don't include any notations for short corners, which was a big reason why my timing felt OK at the Plains Rally, but not absolutely perfect. You assume the corner will be of a normal duration and hold the next call, then suddenly you're right on top of the next corner; therefore, the following time you don't hold the call, so your a bit too far ahead and lack rhythmn. Tom let me add in any "short" I wanted to, and we discussed each one briefly. It really helped a ton and made the notes much more accurate in my opinion.

We grabbed dinner, then I went back to my room and marked up all the notes for raceday and ran through the recce DVD once more on double speed with my laptop, as suggested by Mark Higgins. Now, the recce is being done around 60mph, race speed, rather than 30mph. It was truely a magnificant tip. I could go through all my notes, get my timing down, and figure out precisely where I needed to speed up or what sections I should possibly write differently so that every call was clear. I got to bed a bit late, but I never felt so prepared for the following day of rallying. Tom's 1 to 6 system, 1 being fastest, 6 being slowest, now feels natural to me now and I feel quite confident my brain is completely wrapped around a corner grading the exact opposite to the one in the US.

Rally morning comes and surprise, surprise, driver starts making us run late and won't get out of bed in time! Typical...I feel confident and prepared, but I am quite anxious, and that horrible feeling you get as a co-driver when you're running a bit late doesn't help. This really is my big opportunity here and an absolute gift. If I expect to be a reputable co-driver at the top end of UK rallying before I go back home, I need to be flawless today.

None the less, we arrive at the start line to the car warming up. I briefly chat to David Bogie and Kevin Rae, and Bogie's mom points out I look a bit anxious the way I keep pacing around! I run to get my time card and quickly say hi to Patrick Walsh and then Martin Brady, who gives me a few tips as for places to watch out for. Apparently, the little American flag on the car creates quite a stir, so the Motorsport News and TV people are quite interested in us as we move up to the start line. We start at 8:20am, between 2 world rally cars, out of a field of 150+ cars. They'll be starting rally cars until 11:00am

The rally car doesn't have an odo, which makes me slightly uncomfortable because I'm not too familiar with the UK road system yet and many roads are unmarked. I try my best to keep 110% absolute focus on every part of the rally, even the transits, so I write down approx. arrival times to each routebook instruction as we pass. We get through the initial 30 mile transit, no turn arounds, no confusion, we're ready to go.

As we pull up to the start line, I start to feel relaxed, focused, and back at home. My seat is low and far back, I'm confident in the notes, my start line procedure, including turning on the camera, is just the same as in my Vermont SportsCar rally car with Dave. I get the timecard, double check the start minute, warn him of 30 seconds, begin recording, warn him of 15 seconds, switch the stopwatch mode, remind him of first two corners, 10 seconds and the lights go on, count down 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, GO! and this time around the launch feels quite good. With two hard corners right away, we're right into the stage. The surface is quite greasy and it feels a little timid for the first mile or so, but we get on with the pace. I feel focused and every call is more or less how I want it. We have one little moment and tap a bank in a hard right hander that was a bit slippy, but we're doing just fine. The roads are twisty and technical, and almost a bit maze like as we take hairpins and square corners at junctions what seems like several times a mile. Tom, however, comprehends every note and gets the car cleanly through the stage. We finish the technical challenge of Dyfnant in 9:42 on a 9 mile stage. Not bad. We're 12th OA from 150 starters and 8 positions up from our seeding, and even 2 seconds quicker than Mitsubishi Challenge champion and teammate David Bogie.

We find our chase car at the end of the stage for our emergency service. Everything is going well. Tom is happy with the notes and all he asks is that I speak a bit more loudly (guess I'm *too* calm) and we carry on with our day. Stage 2 is Dyfi in a 13 mile configuration. Much of the transit mimmicks that of the Plains, so I know where to go to get to the stage, odo or not. We take a good, clean run through the stage, but know we're losing some time due to our tire situation and the greasy mud on the road surface. We finish a stage a bit further back in 16th, but we're still up from our seeding order, still beating the WRC car ahead of us, and still very much in touch for a top 10 finish.

Service is back in Dolgellau (pronounced Doll-geth-y), same as the Plains, and it's still the only Welsh town name I don't absolutely butcher. I speak to the Motorsport News guys some more who seem quite interested, Tom is saying good things about me, and we go into service quite happy. David Bogie's mom points out my big "cheesy" smile after the first two stages as compared to my anxiousness of the morning. Hah!

We go out to Stage 3, Big Ray, usually known as Gatheiniog, and it's configured into nearly 17 miles of greatness. There's a few tricky sections during the stage, including the spot where Tom's replacement navigator last year got one note behind and called an easy right on a deceptive hard right tightens with a big drop on the outside. It absolutely destroyed Tom's EVO last year.


We pull up to the start line and are stopped as 2nd place Cronin just rolled 2/3rds of the way through the stage and was somewhat blocking the road, so they're just stopping the stage for a few minutes to get the car completely cleared. No problem. At least we won't be slowed.

We start off on the stage, and now the road surface is just lovely. Slightly damp, very grippy, very consistent, and Tom starts to push a bit harder as we really begin to enjoy ourselves. We approach the hard right he went off on last year, I call it correctly, and he quite bravely commits to the call and we power through perfectly just on the edge of the cliff to many camera flashes coming out of the forest. Brilliant. We continue down the stage and get into a great rhythmn. We approach a some hard corners at the end of straights with deceptive drop offs where Martin Brady had given me some good tips to slow him down. I slow him down for the corners, and we nail each one. We continue down the following straightaway to a hard right. Tom gets on the brakes a bit late, but it seems ok. Then, the brakes lock as he can't seem to get the car over to the inside of the turn and we slide straight off into a ditch and head on into the bank rather hard. Spectators run down from seemingly knowhere and push the car out, but the front left suspension is pushed back and the car is billowing with smoke from puncturing the radiatior. We limp the car to the intersection at the following turn, but it's Game Over on a seemingly innocent turn.

I get out of the car, and as my American rally up-bringing has taught me, I grab a safety triangle and set it up before the right hander to warn the following cars. However, since the car is completely clear, I'm instructed by the marshalls to put away the triangle. In the UK, you only need to set up a triangle if the car isn't cleared or there's a possibility someone could run into it, more or less. I then start to appreciate our triangle rules as I see Cronin's 2nd place rolled EVO pushed back behind the banner tape. This was the corner he also ended his rally at. Then a Fiesta comes down the road, slides into the ditch, but gets pushed out and keeps going. Next, a BMW comes down the road, hits the ditch and the bank, and wrecks the front suspension and he gets pushed back in front of Cronin's car. 3 cars all ended their rally on the same corner, and 3 or 4 went off there but kept going (including the car in front of us). I think our triangle rules definitely would have prevented our rally ending accident as well as the car behind us.

Cronin's rolled EVO


The BMW sliding off into our ditchAt least Tom is not too bummed, and neither am I. I got to do most of the rally and we were really enjoying ourselves. From my perspective, my performance was precisely how I wanted it to be and precisely how it needed to be, flawless. I was really proud of my focus and calm, and was really pleased I managed to truley enjoy every stage even with the pressure.

We waited as 100+ cars made their way by before our crew could come retrieve us. The spectating was quite good actually as we were at a crossroads (so we could see the same car twice on the stage) *and* an infamous corner for cars going off as well as at the highest point of Dyfi forest. Not bad.

The crew got us back to the host down, and I went and said goodbye to the team. The managers at Pro-Tec openly discussed that they were impressed with me and would like to have me back to run an event with them before I head back to the States.

So, even though we didn't finish, it was certainly mission accomplished from my point of view and should help to facilitate a few more big things happening before the end of the year. I felt I did do American co-drivers proud, and despite not being much of a nationalist, I was very proud of that little American flag next to my name. Hopefully, I was able to add some more legitmacy to our rallying, even if in a very small way, and I hope little positive experiences like this for American co-drivers will make it easier for those after me to hit the international stage.



Next weekend (Nov 1) is the Cambrian Rally in North Wales with some new classic stages for me such as Penmachno and Clocaenog. I won't be with a professional team for this one, but at least I'll be in a reasonably quick GC8 Impreza STi and will continue to learn. As always, I'm certainly looking forward to it!


-Alex


Our poor broken car and my attempt to be artistic

1 comment:

Aaron said...

That's really a bummer about the ditch that claimed your car and several others. Much better than going off where Tom had previously!

-Aaron & DirtyImpreza.com