It was tough to get up at 8 o'clock after getting to bed at 2am, so coffee was needed first thing after the previous nights fun and games. As for breakfast; once bitten, twice shy. After my stomach gyrations on stage six, I vowed not to have a greasy breakfast. I played it safe with a visit to Caribou for coffee and some oatmeal before going down to the car. Everyone from Tower City Race team was there checking over the cars ready for the day. They had discovered that the night time landing at the big jump had not only flattened a tyre but bent both wheels so a wheel change was necessary otherwise it was unlikely we would have made it to Itasca service.
Even as we were driving to Itasca Adam wasn't happy. He was sure one of the boots on a CV shaft was worn and was going to take a look at it before we started and replace it if necessary .We arrived at Itasca, de-trailered car 50 and immediately jacked up the Rabbit. The outer CV joint boot wasn't worn, it was ripped. I think there was a few other issues with it too, perhaps as a result of the landing at the jump. So the whole drivers side CV shaft was replaced before we headed out to the first stage.
I left him to the task and took a stroll around the service park. Piotr Fetela was on his way out to the stages in his car. His crew had replaced the transmission overnight after the previous days failure. He was happy, he saw me and gave me a cheery wave as he headed out.
With the CV shaft replaced Adam was much happier as we headed out to the first stage of the day. Otterkill. This was the first stage I volunteered on last year. So I was a little familiar with some of its twists and turns.
Otterkill, had been another busy stage for my hand signals to the driver, in fact my arm had got rather tired being held out in front of me all the time. Too many signals for Adam to follow. So we came up with a plan where I would leave him to navigate the 4's 5's and 6's himself. Whereas I would only signal curves of 3 and tighter, and crests only if there was a danger beyond them. This seemed to work, for we immediately started post the third fastest time on stages instead of fourth.
And what a stage the next one was! McKenzie Lake. The trail ran right along the shoreline of several lakes. At one point we passed by about 15 yards from a couple of fishermen in a boat. Then a few miles later the stage presented us with what must be the most gorgeous vista in the state of Minnesota. Surrounded by tree covered hillsides, we burst through a gap in the trees onto a causeway between two lakes. "L3 (between lakes) R3 L3 R3-lg" reads the instruction, but I was so taken with the view I forgot to call them. Adam was taken with the scenery too. It was all we could talk about on the short drive to the next stage, Strawberry Mountain.
Strawberry Mountain is a fast stage, probably the fastest on the rally. The curve severity was mostly 4's 5's and 6's with only two 3's. Several mile long straights were interrupted only by these slight curves. Adam could really put his foot down and with me giving minimal signals he could really concentrate on his driving. At one point the little Rabbit topped out at 85mph. Not bad for a little old car. Now we were feeling really good. Over the previous two stages the sign language had clicked and we had worked well together. We headed back to Itasca service feeling quite confident.
The car had been running well, so we felt there was little to do to the car. It was quite a relaxed lunch break. Al told us that we were running third in class, just behind them in second. All we had to do was keep going to the end for Tower City Race Team to take two of the three places on the podium.
One day Al will learn to keep his mouth shut...
Service over, we refuelled and headed out to run the afternoons stages, but didn't get very far.
No, we did't breakdown. A monumental hail storm passed through. Hail so bad that we had to pull over, as did half a dozen other cars behind us. The windshield leaked, and I got soaked. I thought the windshield might break, the hail was so hard. I heard tell that funnel clouds had been spotted in the area. But as it is with these summer storms, it passed by pretty quickly and within a few minutes we were on our way again. But by that time the people at Itasca service were probably getting soaked to the skin.
Waiting in line for the start of stage 10, (a re-run of Otterkill) we noticed someone was missing.
Al and Brandon.
The other Tower City car had died. Their catalytic converter gave up the ghost and the car was spitting fiery balls of metal down the road. Their rally was run. I guess he shouldn't have said anything at service. It was now down to us to keep up the honor of TCRT.
The storm had played merry hell with the course conditions. What had been a dry, dusty trail a couple of hours ago was now a quagmire in places with lots of standing water. But as is the case with many of these small pocket storms, the worst conditions were over a small area covering the first 5 miles or so of the stage. By the time we crossed the finish line there was no standing water, and before we reached mid stage on McKenzie lake the roads were dry again. McKenzie Lake was just as stunning to view the second time around as it was the first and I managed to keep my concentration as we sped along that causeway again.
Stage 10, 11, and 12 passed without incident. It was difficult not to think about how we were doing. Apparently we were third at Itasca service. Al and Brandon's unfortunate exit meant that we could be second. Not wanting to tempt fate, I pushed those thoughts to the back of my mind as we drove back to Detroit Lakes and entered Parc Ferme at the fairgrounds. We had after all, attained our goal of taking part in the street stages. Anything else was a bonus.
It was a long wait until the street stage started. The running order was reversed, the fastest guys going out last, so that everyone got their moment in front of the crowds lining the street. As we waited the weather took a turn for the worse. A lot worse. The heavens opened again. The hail wasn't as bad as before but a quick check of the weather satellite imagery showed that the storm was purple in color and it was bearing down on Detroit Lakes! Luckily the eye of the storm passed north of the fairground, but apparently a lightning strike on our hotel a few miles away blew out the phone system.
The rain eased and we waited to start. Some crowd issues pushed the stage start times even later and we began to wish that we'd put the rally lights on the car again. We left the start line and disappeared into the darkness of the fairgrounds. After all that rain it was a mess. It was more like a mud bogging run instead of a rally stage as we slid around making our way to the streets, where due to the rain it was no less slippy. Gravel tyres are great for gravel, but not so good on tarmac, and even less good on wet tarmac. We drifted around corners like a champ racing to the finish of the stage, pulling out a particularly magnificent drift around the corner by the pavilion. A drift so good that the street stage commentators remarked on it.
A quick trip back to the start line and we were to have a second run along the stage. This time as we entered the fairground we got a little too close to what looked like a puddle, but BAM! there was a deep pothole hidden there. It bounced the rear of the car up in the air. Adam was concerned about another flat tyre as we slid around the fairgrounds and onto the streets. He was having a lot of fun as he powered along the lake front drive sliding and drifting around corners again. With the last corner drifted around we powered to the finish line. We had completed the entire rally! We were over the moon.
We parked up the car and began to feel a bit lost. We needed to find out if we had placed on the podium. We believed we had but needed to confirm it. It took a while, but we found out we needed to take the car down to the pavilion for a champagne spraying celebration for all the regional winners. We had come second in G2, and with Al and Brandon getting third on Day 1 both of the Tower City Race Team cars were represented. It was a great time.
What a great weekend all around. A big thanks needs to go out to everyone involved in the running of the event. The event committee for all the organization behind the scenes and the volunteers for all the work they put in on both days in all sorts of weather. To all the fans for turning out. I hope we gave you a good show.
Finally to all the members of Tower City Race team. My Driver Adam, his father Roger for helping to crew. To Brandon, co-driver of car 50 for the sick bag on Friday night. Last but not least Al Dantes for putting me in touch with Adam in the first place. It was a blast to be a part of TCRT. I hope we can do it again sometime.