What a weekend.
Bill left for Michigan on last Wednesday in a literal whirlwind of snow and busy guys running in and out of a yellow truck trying our best not to forget tools, spares, fuel and of course, clothing. He hit the road at about 2pm with the black trailer attached, inside it the freshly vinyl-wrapped Subaru STI rally car. He headed for Michigan and got to about the middle of Pennsylvania on the first night. The second day of his drive landed him at our fuel pickup point, a place called Aggressive Manufacturing. The owner, Jeff was kind enough to let us leave our trailer there and receive a shipment of fuel for us. That was Thursday night. I arrived at around the same time that Bill was conducting errands and picked up a rental car late in the night at Alpena airport, a small regional airport about three hours north of Detroit. I landed at 11:30pm and was the last person in the airport. Literally everyone had left except for the Hertz employee who was born when Henry Ford was still building cars. She placed her reading glass on the counter and handed me the keys to a Chevy Malibu, described only as a “silver full-size” equipped with a foot actuated handbrake and well, nothing else matters.
The drive from the airport to the Canada Creek Ranch, where the team was headquartered was about an hour. Roughly 1/20th of Bill’s drive but still a challenge at night given that the ranch was located literally off the map on a small hunting and vacationing ground skirting a lake. The rental car did several laps of the completely snow covered dirt roads until I snapped and started screaming at the GPS which tried to send me down a snowmobile trail. Bill had it worse in the 25 foot truck. He faced the same navigational challenges and gave up, surrendering to a hotel back in town. I called and disturbed our team’s driver and co-driver Lauchlin O’Sullivan and Scott Putnam until they reluctantly answered their phones in a sleepy haze to talk me in (and down). Thanks guys. Upon arrival at about 1am there was no receptionist at the desk, just a couple of envelopes each containing two keys. I took both for one room not wanting to leave a duplicate key to my room on the front desk. (sorry Bill) Later I called him and learned that he was in the hotel.
Wake-up was at 6am the next day. We had to get the car to testing on Friday morning. Testing took place on a closed section similar to the rally stages. We made some suspension adjustments for Lauchlin and set tire pressures. Scott and Lauchlin tested both the ice tires and the loose snow tires opting to use the snow tires for the start of the rally. For those who are curious studded tires aren’t allowed in Michigan so all of the teams were relegated to rubber only. This really cuts down on speed and braking ability but everyone’s on even ground in this regard. Testing was short and simple. We fueled the car and drove it to apply stickers and remove the seat for a fore-aft adjustment in a local mini-mall’s parking lot while some Subaru enthusiasts snapped photos.
Parc Expose was next in town where we drove over and parked the car and caught up to all the friends who we missed in the off season. The whole rally took place on the upper part of Michigan’s lower peninsula. Most rallies are in remote locations of the US because high dollar and high population areas would forbid it while these usually-opposing areas invite it with open arms as a boon to their economies. The resulting host towns are usually low population places that someone from New England or the west coast would never go for vacation despite their being generally nice places. I’ll be honest I don’t like some of these places. Mostly because I’m snobbish about my diet and I can’t stand the starchy roadside Midwestern fare that seems to proliferate rally zones. This part of Michigan was gorgeous. It snowed every night. You could see every star in the sky the air was clear and fresh. It was about 10 degrees every day but one tends to forget when working. The people in town were generally very nice.
When work began we had some problems with our own organization but made due with some frozen jacks that refused to work well, easily drained gun batteries and a generator that while perfectly functional, exhausted it’s white diesel waste directly into our fancy new work tent nearly suffocating us and our neighbors. We tried in vein to redirect the smoke with a flexible plastic vacuum cleaner tube. It worked flawlessly until it melted over the course of two minutes.
Service on day one was simple. The car was running great. Unfortunately, Lauchlin got high centered on a snowbank which frustrated him. It lost him 17 minutes on day one, seemingly an insurmountable delay which added to his frustration. Being frustrated on slippery conditions isn’t helpful because it’s harder to push for lost time and stay on the road.
Day two we woke up at either 5:30 or 6. I don’t remember. Bill and I stayed in the same room this time, as planned so it was easier to coordinate our day. We left early and headed to the gas station for coffee and one of twenty or so granola bars that I ate that weekend. The gas station had a Chili dispenser which offered at the press of a button to fill your container with either chili or sour cream. Morning gross out. The coffee tasted like tea and I threw it out before getting to Parc Expose at 7:30. When we left Parc Expose, Bill was following me in the truck as I drove out in the Malibu with the handbrake on for about a mile. The road was snow covered and it dragged the rear axle smoothly on the way to the first service. Saturday’s services weren’t as easy. Many competitors suffered similar and worse fates into Saturday Service. Isle Of Man star David Higgins blew his motor on day one, several Subarus in our class were rolling into service with compressed front ends, bent suspension, missing bumpers and all from the ice. Some of our own low-highlights included a broken in-car jack which happened mid-flat tire replacement (poor Lauchlin and Scott) and difficulty with a front control arm replacement after they had a brush with a hardened snowbank. Our impact guns died again mid-service. They’re getting replaced for this next event. We got the car back on the ground, all straightened out and ready again for the stages and ran over to the fuel station to put ten gallons in. The STI was awfully thirsty at this event. We consumed an entire 55 gallon drum of race fuel in two days.
Bill and I got to watch some of the Super Special which took place after the first service on day two. We drove about 20 minutes to a large construction area, a pit where the spectators stood above the cars by about 20 feet, around it’s perimeter. It looked to be a sand pit with a twisty road around the piles. It was a cool stage, the road lined with deep snow. Lauchlin posted the fastest time overall there, one of his 3 stage wins of the weekend. That pumped us up.
We finished 4th in class and 11th overall. Perhaps nothing to write home about but we did earn points toward the championship. Bill got home last night after another marathon drive. Today we’ll unload all of our tools and begin work on the car for 100 Acre Wood Rally in Missouri. The car will be in the air by the end of the day getting torn down for inspection.
We have a great team with a fast driver we just need a little of that missing luck and some organization for the next rally. We have a couple of weeks to make that happen. There are also some big updates and news coming our way via Rally Tire. Check their site for product updates soon.
One more photo from Mike at World Rally Sport!
Bill also reports that the Canada Creek Ranch has one of the best breakfasts he’s ever had.