2017 Central UP Rally
Ponds, pain, and penalties in the very wet michigan countryside
There is a phrase in rally that typifies the attitude of the competitors.
“Press on Regardless.”
Meaning that you carry on to get to the finish no matter what. It is this never say die attitude that sets Rally apart from other forms of motorsports. At some time or other pretty much every rally team will exhibit this steely quality in varying degrees.
This weekend, at the Central UP rally, it was our turn.
For this rally it was only a six hour drive across Wisconsin to Powers, MI the location of the rally. Compare that with a 14 hour trek to Southern Ohio a month previous. This was much nicer.
Powers is a tiny place with next to no accommodation and rather than camp at the towns “rustic” camp site. Lorrie and I opted to get a comfy room in Escanaba 30 minutes away. Very nice, except Powers was in the Central time zone, Escanaba was in Eastern. So yes, we did get confused on Saturday morning and got up late. Luckily, it made little difference to our plans for the day.
Once in Powers, Bill Marenich and I headed over to registration to collect our paperwork. I was keen to get the route books and go over them as there was no recce to check them against. Except we couldn’t get the notes because there was an issue with some of the paperwork.
So, shortly before 10am I received my notes, and quickly discovered that page 5 of stage 1 was missing. A quick call was placed to the organizers with the promise that a new page would be presented at the drivers meeting.
With the car at tech, I went to novice briefing. It felt odd to be a novice again. Different organizers have different rules. I was keen to learn, to find out what differences there were between the organizations.
The novice briefing is much different to a Rally America briefing as they assume you know nothing. All aspects are covered. How the signs used here differ from the other organizations. Their unique timing system, (which upon reflection should have been covered in greater detail, but I’ll come to that later), and of course, safety. After two hours in the company of NASA steward Eric Wages I felt I was prepared for the event.
While I had been in class Bill had been to tech and the car had passed with flying colours.
Tri City Evolution car 45 in line at Parc Expose.
Things were moving along quickly now and it was straight over to Parc Expose where it was now raining. This did not deter a few hardy fans and spectators from turning out to look at the cars and chat with us. There was only 19 cars in Parc but they did make a quite impressive sight lined up with many different makes and models. Mazda's, VW's, an Eagle Talon, even a Datsun 510. There were stilll a lot of Subarus but it felt like a much more varied line up than at a Rally America or American Rally Association event.
I would have liked a bit more time to go over the route books as I’d had very little time to look them over since finding the missing page just before going into novice class. We really would be flying quite blind this time. This made me a tad more nervous than usual. 1pm arrived, Parc closed and we headed a few miles down the road to service.
A word should be said about the superbly planned, compact nature of the rally location. Parc had been in the veterans Park in Powers, that had a camp site at the back for competitors. Tech had been at a school barely a mile away and the service area was just a couple of miles away with the rally start and finish only a matter of yards from service, and with less than a mile transit between stages it was a welcome change from an event like Ojibwe where you have to travel about 60 miles from Parc to the start of the first stage.
It was raining quite steadily as we made the short trip to Stage 1 ATC. They lined us up side by side on the road. It must’ve looked like a Rallycross grid.
Our time arrived and we were off!
“50 right five over small crest 200 left four…” the stage started off fast. I’d cautioned Bill about that as we waited for our time. We sped through large puddles spraying water everywhere as the car twitched along the gravel road.
Then It happened.
We crested a hill and the next turn came into view. It was 70 yards to the left four but we could see was a person sized object stood in the trees on the outside of the curve.
“What the hell is that?” I remember thinking. “No-one would be stupid enough to stand there, the most dangerous place you could stand.” As we quickly closed in on the turn I could see it was a mannequin that someone had put there for a joke. But the damage was done, no joke. With his concentration upset, Bill missed the apex of the curve and we slid off the trail into a tree.
I felt the shockwave from the impact spread across my body. That hurt. I groaned and cursed a bit.
“Are you OK?” Bill asked. “Do we need to put the warning triangles out?”
Despite not knowing much of what was going on around me at that time, I asked if the engine was running. Which it was.
I said we should carry on, and as I scrambled to gather the thoughts in my head. The car moved away. Amazingly, the impact with the tree had missed any major parts of the car and we headed off at speed down the road.
It took a while to get my bearings and get myself back on track. My right arm was hurting quite badly. How we managed to get through the 13 miles of the stage I don’t know.
Once through the stage end we took a closer look at the damage. Indeed, the impact had missed any important parts of the car. Doors and wheels for example, and had just smashed up the rear quarter and the hatch door. The hatch had no glass in it at all. The inside of the car was almost free of glass. What happened? Had the rear window just popped out? I still don’t know today.
Damage assessment at the end of stage 1.
We carried on with stage 2. I think I was calling the notes OK. I might have lost concentration a couple of times as the car would hit a bump and pains would shoot along my arm. But we pressed on. My wife was working the finish control here so it was the first she knew of the incident, I’d texted her that we were OK at the end of Stage 1, but we were in a cell phone dead zone so she never received it and didn't even see the damage until we drove away from the control.
Three was much the same but I began to wrestle with some doubts, though this “off” had by no means been a serious one. It was the first one that I had some tangible pains from. There was a part of me that didn't want to carry on, I was looking for a reason to stop, however flimsy. Was I in shock?
My arm certainly hurt. I hadn’t broken anything, I knew that much. I had visions of it being a purple bruise from shoulder to elbow. If it was, I told myself I think I’d be justified in not carrying on. We only had stage three and four before service, when I could take a proper look.
Stage four involved driving the first stage in the opposite direction and at the start, our intercom quit! We could hear nothing but feedback. We quickly unplugged the comms and I immediately knew what to do. Hand signals. It had worked with Adam VanDamme at Ojibwe successfully, so I knew what to do. Show Bill the amount of fingers corresponding to the curve severity and wether it was left or right and point down the road if there were no issues to urge him on. As the stage went on I looked for the mannequin, I don’t recall seeing it, perhaps I was looking in the wrong place, perhaps it had been removed.
We made it through stage four unscathed, and pulled into service to properly asses the damage. Other crews were not so lucky, we had seen several cars on the road side during stage, including our friends Al Dantes and Brandon Snyder in their new Mazda RX-7 Turbo. They hit a tree and developed an electrical fire. I was sad for them, it was a lovely looking car. In addition to the car repairs, we needed food and Bill’s wife Jennifer kept the hot dogs and brats coming. We wolfed them down. Thanks Jen!
Within moments of looking at the situation Bill had a plan, the hatch would come off and we’d cover the hole with a tarp held in place with tape and zip ties. I was more interested in the state of my arm. Which, upon closer inspection, turned out to be normal. No visible damage, no excuse to quit. I put my efforts into helping to effect the repair. That and getting some food inside me helped to take my mind off things. Members of other cars crews milled around helping. I remember Brandon, Al's co-driver being there, and Heath, Adam's crew member offering their services. Thanks guys.
Repairs and eating underway at service.
Service was supposed to be 90 minutes long, though when we arrived the scorers said they would try to get us out in 60. There was some confusion. I don't know how long service ended up being. But a bit more than 90 minutes I think.
But with a repaired car and a refuelled crew, we were ready to go again. The rain that had plagued the first loop of stages, had cleared a bit during service, but once we started out again the rain came down hard. Reports indicate between two and four inches fell in the afternoon. That was enough rain for some large ponds to form, (It would be unfair to call them puddles) in our path, and just about every time we passed though one of them, water would get into the car and our windshield would mist up and we couldn’t see anything. We’d slow down, crank the demister up, and drive slowly until we could see again. I was convinced that this was destroying any chance we had of posting competitive stage times.
As we approached the location of our off, I could see that the mannequin was there again. This time it was easy to ignore, and we made the corner without any problems. As mysteriously as our intercom had stopped working, it had started again as we began the second loop so I was able to talk to Bill instead of flashing hand signals.
Despite the conditions, or perhaps because of them, we were really enjoying ourselves on the second loop, my personal doubts had faded and I felt I was calling the notes well, apart from when we couldn’t see out of the windshield of course. Our pace was so good that we even managed to gain a minute on the car in front of us, The Mazda Miata of John Lambert and Mattea Freeman is a fun car to see with its simulated soft top finish, but it was pitching, yawing and bouncing through the ponds on stage. Our Golf seemed to be handling the conditions better and we passed them and left them behind quite easily.
The repair has held as we wait in line at the start of the final stage.
We arrived at the start line of the final stage with just 13 miles to go. After all we’d been through on this rally surely we could have a trouble free run though one stage, couldn’t we?
We couldn’t. As we left the start I quickly discovered that the notes were wrong. This had been mentioned by another co-driver at service, but first time down the stage we were dealing with a faulty intercom and hadn’t noticed. It took a while for me to get find my place, but we were still dealing with the windshield misting as well. Then about one mile from the finish I was aware of flashing orange lights behind us.
Orange lights? If we were being passed by a competitor the lights would have been white headlights. Bill pulled over.
“There’s huge flames coming out of the exhaust” he said. “Our race is done.”
I checked the route book, .9 of a mile from the finish. We were out. Disappointed, I threw the route book on the dash, ready to get out of the car to place the warning triangles.
What seemed like an eternity passed and Bill tried the ignition and the car fired up.
“How far?” he asked.
“Less than a mile.” I told him. “You’ll have to do it blind I can’t reach the notes.” We eased off into the dark to finish the stage. That last .9 mile seemed to take forever, but we made it. As I handed the timing sheet in the workers said.
“You’ve got a flat tire.”
As well as the flames coming out of the exhaust? We can’t catch a break, can we? The right rear tire had given up the ghost. Let’s say that it blew at that same corner as the crash, shall we? It makes for a really good story then.
Luckily, thanks to the compact nature of the rally we were less than 100 yards from the final control and once through there we changed the tire before heading to the park in Powers and prize giving
Ready to change the flat tire. It looks like the plastic wheel arch may well have cut the tire.
We had no illusions of doing any good. A crash, fogged up windshields, and the conditions for sure had put us way out of contention.
We got to the park and I checked the internet for the first time to tell my friends at Open Paddock that we were done and what an experience it was. Only to find the guys were way ahead of me.
‘Ian got 5th overall and 2nd in two wheel drive.” Someone had messaged the group
“What? Where the devil did you get that from?” I asked in shock.
They shared the link to the provisional results. It was true. I showed the results to Bill. I think it was as much of a shock to him as it was me.
But that wasn’t the end of it. Not by a long way.
Just about everyone had loads of time penalties. Up to half an hour in some cases. We had 10 minutes ourselves. Remember several hundred words ago I mentioned how the unique scoring system could have been better explained?
It would appear that hardly anyone had understood the explanation properly. At a basic level the procedure is simple. Arrival time at the control plus the allowed (bogey) time for the stage plus transit time to the next control equals the check in time at that next time control.
What had confused things among most competitors, I think, was that the bogey time for the stages was in no way at all attainable in these conditions. I myself had messed up things quite badly, but in my defense, I was somewhat confused in the first loop of stages after our little incident.
Some proper in depth explanation of the timing should have been a bigger part of the novice briefing to clear up any chance of confusion. Instead the organizers were surrounded by angry drivers and navigators pleading their case. When it came down to it, to have acceded to the requests of the aggrieved parties would have been unfair to those more experienced crews who had understood the procedure and done things correctly. Most everyone was in the same boat. So the results stood. We were second in two wheel drive. Something that we had never expected after a few miles into the first stage.
The final results.
Shell-shocked, receiving the first of our two trophies.
I think we were a little shell shocked as we received our trophies, 2nd in 2WD Light and 2nd in Atlantic Cup 2WD, and that trophy is by far the nicest one I have. This means I’ve now won trophies with everyone I’ve co-driven for. I’m quite proud of that fact.
In closing then, I want to thank event chairman Roger VanDamme for introducing me to these great roads in the UP and his crew of volunteers for all their hard work in what were truly terrible conditions.
The roads were great. If it had been dry out there it would have been a truly great event. Yes, there had been a few problems and the NASA representative was well aware of them and I’m sure they will be having discussions about putting some of the issues right.
A closer look at the trophies.
My first NASA rally had been an experience, both good and bad. It won't stop me going back and I look forward to doing other events with them in the company of Tri City Evolution Rally Team in the future.