It was a tad chilly on Saturday morning as I stood on the doorstep of my room at my motel and watched the Rally Superstore van pass by heading to Parc Expose as I got in my car and made my way to the delightful coffee shop I'd discovered in L'Anse the previous day. I needed some breakfast and caffeine.
Java by the Bay sponsor my good friends Al and Brandon at Tower City Rally Team, so it was natural to support the business. It was a good breakfast, and excellent coffee. Highly recommended if you don't want a large meal to start to the day. It was still several hours to the start of the rally but streets in the sleepy town were closed and cars were arriving.
When I returned to my room, I got a message from Bill to meet at Hilltop Cafe for breakfast. That place is the opposite to Java by the Bay. Here you can have an all you can eat breakfast buffet with caramel rolls the size of brake discs.
It was a grey morning down on the waterfront in L'Anse for Parc Expose, but many people turned out to take a look at what was going on. It's very heartening to see so many people taking an interest. Some pessimists will say that rally has no following in America. Not to the level that it has in Europe certainly, but a good solid fan base to build on for the future.
Parc is important to give back to the fans, to let them see the stars and all the cars close up. But I think we'd all rather be out there racing, and the time really seemed to drag by to our appointed start. At last it arrived and we began the short drive to the first stage Menge Creek. The stage notes say the stage is fast and flowing. It was. I was still on a note calling high from the previous night and my accurate calling gave Bill confidence to drive at ten-tenths and post what we felt was a quite good time, with our speed frequently topping out at over 80mph. Not bad for our little car. As the drive from Menge Creek to the next stage, Herman Nestoria was a long one we had plenty of time to reflect on how well things were feeling. Herman was billed as another fast stage and it felt to me like we sailed through it.
We approached the final stage of the morning, Silver Arvon with a little trepidation. We had heard it was rough, and when I had been doing some video recce for the stage before the event, I looked for some of the trail on Google Earth and I couldn't see anything.
This was a busy stage, and by busy I mean the instructions came thick and fast. I have never talked so much or so fast before. As we hadn't had the chance to do recce beforehand, I was also trying to edit what I was reading because some of it was just too much to say at speed.
L5->4-< >4+ "Left five minus tightens four minus opens and tightens four plus". A right mouthful. "Left five tightens four long" much easier and allows me to get onto the next note quicker. Perhaps I was was probably taking on too much, editing on the move, for at 5.2 miles I missed a call at a left three and we ran wide and nudged a tree.
Nothing serious, Bill threw the car in reverse and we sped on our way down the narrow forest trail that wasn't on Google Earth again. A few miles further along the trail we came to the spectator area. What a sight! Crowds were standing two or three deep for 200 yards or more along this horseshoe curve. As co-driver I pretty much had my head buried in my notes but I was most definitely aware of all the people around. The last mile of the stage was smooth and fast, so we really gunned it to the finish. I handed our time card over at the control.
"Ian Holmes?" The control worker asked.
"Yes" I confirmed.
"I read your blog. Great stuff!" I wasn't expecting that. I was a bit speechless. I certainly enjoy bringing this blog to you all and it's very nice to get positive comments, even if your mind is on getting to the next control.
"Thanks!" I gave a thumbs up, took our scorecard, and Bill drove off to service.
Because the entry field was so big, cars were already heading out to start the second round of stages as we headed back to service. Most everyone was sharing cheery waves with us as we met.
Service consisted of removing the wheels, cleaning out the arches, checking the brakes and remounting them again. Then grabbing some food quickly. We only had 30 minutes before it was our turn to re-visit the stages we'd just driven. Confidence was quite high as things had been going well. Perhaps too high. For I started to make a mess of the calling. I don't know why, it just became difficult. I lost place several times on the re-run of Silver Arvon. With an almost cumulative 100 cars passing over the stage before us, a stage that was rough to start with was a lot rougher. We were bounced all over the place what had been a difficult task the first time, became almost impossible the second time. But at least I managed to keep my wits about me as we approached the corner at 5.2 miles that we messed up the first time around.
Then a short way down the trail, a rut forced us off the road and into a bank, but we got out of there quickly and sped on. Second time through the spectator area was as cool as the first, but this time we had to navigate our way around a couple of abandoned cars; Mike Hurst's beautiful Ford Capri and a white vehicle of some description. We plowed on to the stage end and were very surprised to find that we had been a full 20 seconds faster through the stage the second time! I guess things hadn't been as bad as I thought.
Second Time through Menge Creek was just as bad, probably worse, or so I felt. I lost my place a few times and could feel Bill ease up on the cars speed as my indecision crept in. How come I made a pig's ear of a couple of stages I'd aced just a few hours previously? I wish I knew. Was I complacent after conquering the stages the first time? Or was it just plain inexperience? Probably a combination of both.
Either way I was beating myself up pretty bad inside and the drive to Herman Nestoria was rather quiet on my side of the car.
During the drive to the start of the stage it rained and the trail was a tad slippy. This slowed Bill down a touch and allowed me to get some confidence back in my note calling and we sailed through the stage without a problem. This meant that we had reached our goal for the event, to drive the final stage. The street stage. It was still a sixty mile drive back to Houghton but because the previous stage had gone well the drive back was cheerier.
The stage was a short one, barely half a mile in length, but the layout of the streets and buildings of Houghton meant that spectators could stand around the finish and see nearly the whole course, as the cars crested a hill, navigated a chicane and a sharp hairpin to finish inside a parking ramp. A strange place to finish I grant you, but it was a great sight for the spectators that's for sure.
We pulled up to the start and awaited our countdown.
Bill dropped the clutch and let the handbrake out.
The inside of the car filled with smoke.
What was going on? I had no idea. I thought we might be spinning the wheels but there was no tyre smell. Did we burn the clutch? I don't know what a burning clutch smells like, but there wasn't much of a smell at all. Still the car was moving, and we were going to make it to the finish line Dammit! A friend of mine watching the live stream on Facebook and the street stage commentators reported sparks coming from the front of the car. It was only when we got the car to the hotel after the event and lifted the hood did we find out that a cable to the alternator had come off.
We made it to the finish and were very happy about that. No wins, no podiums, no champagne spraying. But that didn't matter. We'd had a really good time and that is what it's all about.
So, in closing I have to thank the organizers and volunteers who worked to make the event the great success it was. To Bill for letting me occupy the silly seat. It was great fun and beneficial experience in my development as a co-driver.
To Dexter and Fady for working on the car with such speed when it was needed.
Last but not least to Bill's wife Jennifer and Dexter's wife Michelle for keeping us in food when we needed it.
Hopefully I can co-drive for Tri City Evolution Rally team again someday.