Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Well That Was Quick...

I promised my next post would have more ACTUAL rally content; however, I didn't expect it to involve me competing already!

Last weekend there was a WHOLE lotta rallying going on, including the last round of the Rally America Championship, the last round of the UK BTRDA gravel championship, the last round of the UK MSA Tarmac Championship, AND the last round of the British Rally Championship (BRC). My hope all along was to somehow secure a ride, or multiple adhoc rides, for the BRC for 2014 if possible. I didn't think I'd get the chance to compete at that level as soon as I got here.

As a bit of background, the BRC has been the national championship I've loved since I was a kid. I still have my old VHS tapes of the BRC from the late 90s when those awesome F2 cars dominated the 2wd-only championship with the likes of Martin Rowe, Jarmo Kytolehto, Alistair McRae, and Mark Higgins going flat out all the time in some screaming Renaults, VWs, and Vauxhalls. It really was the best, most cost-effective, stepping stone into the World Rally Championship which unfortunately gave way to domination by rich dudes with insanely expensive world rally cars in the 2000's along with some foot and mouth disease driven cancellations (remember that!?). However, now the BRC is back to a 2wd only championship, and while the cars aren't as cool as the old F2 cars, the championship is "affordable" (in competitive rally terms) and EXTREMELY competitive.

Earlier this year, I watched some onboard Martin Brady posted of himself co-driving for one of the young Irish aces, 18 year old Jon Armstrong. I was astounded by how hard he was able to push at such a young age, how aggressive he was driving, and how much he fought to keep the car as straight and flat-out as possible. I thought, "he must be murdering everyone else in the R2 category by a mile" but then I check the times and he was like, 2nd or 3rd..and the difference to first is like, 2 seconds, and the difference to 5th is just another 2 seconds, and everyone else setting those times is only a year or two older as well. That's awesome! I thought, I HAVE to be doing that as my standard national championship rally. I want to run a stage absolutely flat-out and nearly to perfection, and then still get beat. That's how you get better, and that's really my only specific end goal of my rallying, to get better. As Chris Duplessis' program for the year fell through and Joseph Burke's program for the year started retracting as well, I realized if I was going to get better, I had to come here, and this was definitely the championship for me to do it in..if I could just find my way into the championship and into the country...

Fast forward 5 months later and oddly enough, as soon as I arrive, Jamie Edwards, one of the top British co-drivers I had connected with 5 years ago last time I was here, already sent me a message, asking if I was available for Rallye Sunseeker, the last round of the BRC. To give you a sense of how small the rally world really is, we had connected 5 years ago since he's also good friends with US co-driver Ben Bradley, who has known me since my pre-teen days and also hosted my rally videos. Anyway, I get the offer, find out it's with last round's BRC Pirelli Star Driver Alex Parpottas, and realize two weeks in I've just been handed the ride I came over here looking for. I was expecting a struggle; I was expecting to go down to Rallye Sunseeker and network my ass off rather than compete; I was expecting to be sending out messages to everyone and their grandma looking for the right ride; and then slowly maybe I'd be able to build up to where I wanted to be; but instead, it took no effort whatsoever. If anything, I was being treated as if I was doing him a favor! It's like, sometimes, you bust your ass and get nowhere, and other times, you don't do shit and opportunity falls in your lap. I'm certainly appreciative of any bout of luck I get, since I've been in this sport long enough to understand the constant struggle, and getting a break here and there REALLY helps.

I do my best research/internet stalking to get a feel for his driving style and the way he's used to hearing pace notes. I realize he's on the British 1-6 (6 fastest) system, which seems closer to the Jemba system we use here in the US than it really is. Yes, a 6 in both systems is the same flat-out bend, but a 1 is very different. A '1' in the British 1-6 system is slightly faster than a 90 degree corner, whereas in our system, a '1' would be an acute hairpin. Obviously, when you start getting to 3's and 4's, you end up with corner gradings that are similar yet definitely not the same. It takes some mental discipline to not visualize the road ahead or time your calls like you would in the US, and instead, really make the effort to reprogram yourself to think of it as an entirely seperate system. I order the Patterson notes and DVD and give the whole thing a read through twice to switch my brain around, and it seems to work. It's much easier to switch back and forth these days after having done it 5 years ago at least.

We get to the event and get on quite well from the start. Alex has a couple Chris-like elements that actually make co-driving a bit easier at times (i.e. as we're driving along the road after leaving registration..Me: "Do you know where you're going or are you just driving?" Alex: "Nah I'm just drivin mate!") It's a bit of an element of, "I'm just gonna go and not think about it until you tell me what to do." Which is good. If you're going to go fast down a stage, you shouldn't be thinking about anything other than what your co-driver tells you to think about. Rally driving is really hard, REALLY REALLY hard, and takes every ounce of concentration and ability you got, so you need to be able to utilize the guy next to you as much as you possibly can or else it's really hard to be fast. Having said that, going through the recce DVD and the recce itself, there was an intellect I was impressed by as far as analyzing the roads, remembering them, and really trying to figure out the fastest line through it all. During recce, his notes were good. They had a lot more detail than previous incars and conversations with previous co-drivers led me to believe. They were quite technical and detailed while still being within the realm of what he could comprehend on stage. My input was limited to helping him find the right terminology for certain nuances and getting him to think more about really critical pieces of road with no hand-holding required.

After a very nice welcoming reception along Poole Quay complete with palm trees in a English autumn, hundreds of fans, autograph signings, and official Spearmint Rhino girls (ROFL), it was an early-ish start Saturday morning after an evening of rain. I certainly had a bit of nerves going into my first British rally in a long time, and no odometer/rally computer (story of my life) meant I was a tad nervous on the first transit, inevitably leading to me second guess myself while we drove around in circles in one roundabout. Granted, I sorted everything out after then!

As what generally happens whenever I'm nervous going into a rally, as soon as I count down 5,4, 3, 2, 1, GO and we're away on stage, it all just melts away; and I'm happy reading my pace notes, blasting down some awesome roads particularly in a car that screams beauifully like the Fiesta R2. Reading pace notes always seems to reassure me that I still, in fact, know what I'm doing, and that my competency goes beyond the realm of GMT -8 to GMT -5. With no shakedown or practice, we're third fastest on the first stage, and we settle into a rhythmn right away. We continue to consistently place third while struggling with a bit of an oversteering car which was caused by a very bent rear beam. We change the beam, win the next stage, and start reeling in BRC Rally 2 championship winner and Pirelli Star Drive shoot-out winner, Daniel McKenna. Going into the last stage after a drama free rally, we're 3 seconds behind him and will catch him if we maintain our pace, but a VERY rutted road after some AWD cars passed through for the national event means we hit a huge rut over heavy braking, bounce past our braking point, and go off into the grass stopping just before a log. Restarting takes forever, getting into reverse takes even longer, and then we're back on our way with 2nd place long gone. Still, we reach the finish by the stately home in Somerly Park in a comfortable 3rd place, giving Alex 3rd place in the championship behind McKenna and event winner (and 2nd in the championship) Steve Rokland, both drivers of whom have some years on Alex as well as years of rally experience. Not bad eh?! The rally honestly was as straight-forward as the above paragraph.

We head back to the Quay for the ceremonial finish, and I'm quite elated to spray some champagne in front of a nice crowd my first time out in the UK. It's quite the relief to already be here, doing what I set out to do, just a couple weeks after arriving. Of course, it's also a huge confidence boost to be accepted so quickly into British rallying after appearing out of nowhere really. Being an American and being a co-driver have been pretty mutually exclusive in international rallying with the exception of a few dual citizens/multiple passport holders (some of which have been quite famous!). Coming over here on my own, I'm definitely trying something different, which is a bit nerve-racking since, you would have thought someone else would have at least *tried* it by now or that there must be some reason no one has tried it. However, for me the fear of never giving it a go has always far outweighed the fear of never getting it to work. Fortunately, I've been pleasantly surprised that just a few weeks in, I've gotten it to work a bit already, and going through a tough move to leave everything from home behind has yielded some unexpected instant gratification.

Of course the rest of the gratificiation I'm sure won't be so instant!

For now - enjoy a little bit of Alex & myself (aka Alex) blasting through some English forests before my GoPro dies. We did this stage on a bent beam and were quicker later in the day..but we're still setting top times here!

And of course, shout out to Jillian, Mel, and Laura for having an Easier Said Than Done viewing partyafter I left. It's nice to know I got to leave the US in indie-film semi-stardom ;)

Until next time...


1 comment:

test said...

good on ya! keep writing..