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2009 Maple Leaf Winter Rally

Posted by Ferdinand 
February 25, 2009 01:25PM
Last weekend, Feb 21-22, was the Maple Leaf Winter Rally, run out of Bancroft, Ontario.

It's a Navex-type road rally starting at 10pm Saturday evening, running all night, and finishing 7am Sunday morning, all on amazing winter roads.

In it's current Navex format, requiring map reading skills and decoding of instructions while trying to maintain challenging average speeds on icy roads, the rally drew only 19 entries this year, compared to its glory days when it was run in Drivex format, with simple instructions but often impossible target speeds, when entries often had to be cut off at a maximum of 60 teams.

It's time to order up a new case of whup-ass, because Christoph and I used up the last of our current supply on our 4wd Subaru competitors. We survived lots of adventures in our old rwd BMW, finishing 1st overall this year!
February 25, 2009 01:35PM
After driving 3 hours from Ottawa to Bancroft on Saturday evening, then the huge adrenaline rush of rallying all night long from 10pm-7am, followed by the post-event breakfast, and finally driving all the way home again Sunday morning, we were completely pooped. About noon on Sunday I decided I had to take a little nap, and didn't wake up again until 9pm. Had some dinner, watched some Academy Awards, went back to bed at midnight and slept until it was time to go to work Monday morning.

Three days later I'm still exhausted!

The Maple Leaf Winter Rally was awesome.

It started off with a blizzard before we even got to Bancroft. Couldn't see a damn thing, total whiteout. Couldn't use the high beams because of the impenetrable and hypnotizing wall of snow, and couldn't see anything using low beams either. The rally sure would be tough if this was the sort of visibility expected. Luckily the snow eased up shortly after the start of the rally. Unluckily, it started right up again full blast shortly after that! The challenging rally roads in the Bancroft area become quite a bit more challenging when you can't see a damn thing!

Although driving blind, thankfully our GPS display gave us lots of warning of upcoming hairpin turns and whatnot. We were really depending on that, except for all the times the GPS froze up when it lost satellite-lock due to the thick cloud cover and snow-covered trees. Eek!

The good news was that, because the snow was coming down so heavily and steadily, the snowplows would all be occupied keeping the main highways cleared and thus we would be unlikely to ever meet up with any plows on the "better" MLWR roads. The bad news was that the snowplows never got to any of the challenging roads at all and thus the snow was really, really, DEEP!

We got over 6 inches of fresh snow that night, on top of whatever was already on the ground before that. That caused us all sorts of problems.

Way back in the summer, during one of our Rallycross events, I ripped the plastic splash shield off the bottom of the nose of the BMW over a big bump, and I still haven't gotten around to fixing that yet. Well, now when driving in really deep snow the engine compartment fills up with snow. Eventually the snow jams in there so tight that it starts backfilling and packing in behind the radiator until eventually the fan stops turning. It's not too bad as long as we can keep driving forward, keeping the air flowing through whatever portion of the rad is left exposed. But every time we have to stop at a checkpoint, with the rad fan not turning, the engine rapidly starts to overheat.

In addition, the snow blowing through the engine compartment would cause our headlights to intermittently dim. That was either because of the snow being ingested through the alternator itself, or because of the alternator/fan belt slipping when the snow packed up behind the radiator eventually stopped the fan from turning. Needless to say this was all rather worrisome and stress inducing, especially when we started onto West Eels Lake Rd and found the snow so deep it was blowing right over top of the hood, and the car was sometimes tobogganing along on its belly with the wheels hardly touching the road.

That was a treat.

We had to stop frequently to poke around the engine compartment with my snow scraper brush trying to clear the packed snow out of there before it turned to ice, otherwise we'd have to wait until spring for it all to melt. While jabbing around in there I managed to pull the wire off the oil pressure warning sensor. After that the oil pressure warning light kept flickering in my instrument cluster whenever the shifting snow and ice caused the loose wire to ground against anything.

So, try to keep a close eye on the coolant temperature to make sure we stop before the engine goes into terminal overheating mode. And try to ignore that very alarming and distracting red oil pressure warning light flashing on and off, because it's a false alarm, or is it...?
February 25, 2009 01:48PM
Of the 19 entries, there were only three Expert teams, including one team that came 6 hours all the way from Ithaca, New York. Unfortunately they got lost early in the rally and were 15 minutes late arriving at checkpoint A5, then quit altogether at the end of Leg-A due to the navigator getting sick (I think). That left Christoph & me to duke it out against our main rivals, Robinson K and Louis C.

The rally started with a lap around the Bancroft rallycross track. That caused a bit of confusion because we were told the first checkpoint A1, located at the finish line of the rallycross track, wouldn't be scored in the final results. The times would be recorded just for fun, but none of the times can be compared anyhow because we were allowed to start whenever we pleased. So that was a bit of a mess. We were told to zero our odos exiting the access road where it meets Hwy 62.

We misunderstood that to mean that our rally time starts from there too, when actually it started at the A1 finish checkpoint at the end of the rallycross course. Since we didn't take into account the 1.3 minutes it was supposed to take us getting out to the highway from there, we ended up with a 1.3 minute early penalty right off the bat at A2, our biggest penalty all night. But pretty much everyone screwed that one up so it didn't affect the final results.

At the end of Leg-A we were leading overall with a penalty score of 3.3 minutes, versus Robinson & Louis lying 5th overall with a 4.9 score. We were feeling quite pleased with that, but suspected it wouldn't last long.

Here's a Google Map of Leg-A with our GPS trace overlaid. [Thanks Dave_G for showing me how to do that!]
February 25, 2009 02:07PM
Things started going wrong for us in Leg-B.

On Monck Rd I got fooled by a deceptive left over crest and had to take the "escape road" up somebody's driveway. What tricked me were the fresh tire tracks leading straight on into the driveway left by the car running ahead of us, who had made the same mistake. Lucky thing there was somewhere to go, otherwise we would have been deep into the snowbank there. As it was, we lost some time backing out of the driveway and were 0.6 late at B1. Robinson and Louis were -0.7 early instead, so we still came out better than them. Ha!

From there we had a short transit up Hwy-28 to Lower Faraday Rd, where we waited out our Transit Elapsed Time before continuing.

We thought it odd that the Subaru ahead of us left 30 seconds late. We're supposed to be running one minute apart. Our time was coming up in another 30 seconds, so I was worried maybe they (or we) had miscalculated and we'd both end up on the same minute. We were relieved when they eventually left 30 seconds late, figuring they'd just slept through their proper departure time.

But we fairly quickly caught up to them on Lower Faraday, and then got held up behind them in their blowing snow seemingly forever flashing our lights before they finally let us by just before reaching checkpoint B2. We were convinced we were almost 45 seconds late because of being held up like that coming into B2, but were surprised to see the checkpoint timing sticker saying we were actually 0.2 early. Hmmmm, that's curious.

And then the exact same thing happened again leaving B2. Another Subaru, a different one now, left 30 seconds late ahead of us again. I can understand leaving a checkpoint early before your assigned out-time, but why would anyone choose to leave 30 seconds late?

We waited patiently for our minute to come up, 30 seconds after the Subaru left, and then took off down Ingram Rd. We caught up to this Subaru too. But they didn't hold us up for long before we reached the Tee intersection at Rose Island Rd, where they turned right and immediately pulled over to let us by. We tooted our horn and waved to thank them, then set off west-bound on Rose Island only to discover that there were no other tire tracks in the deep snow. Damn, we'd turned the wrong way at that Tee intersection. STOP!!! Turn around quick!

After slowing to warn the (now closely following) Subaru, I pulled a quick handbrake U-turn and we took off in the correct East-bound direction on Rose Island, only to find the next checkpoint B3 two corners later. Again, expecting to be late after that off-course excursion, we were surprised to see the sticker say we were actually 0.2 early again!?! What's up with that already?

There was no checkpoint B4. We were told about that during the pre-rally driver's meeting, so the Elapsed TIme shown on the sticker for B5 would be incorrect. But we forgot that we had been told that, so we were really confused when the ET on the sticker for B5 had us something like 3 minutes too early, but it turns out we actually had somehow zeroed that one perfectly.

Finally the one that had us scratching our head and searching for an explanation was B6. This next checkpoint B6 was only a few kms down the road from B5. We knew we had nailed that one perfectly. Our ALFA rally computer said we'd zeroed that one bang on, arriving exactly on time. But the timing sticker said we were 0.5 early, a whole 30 seconds too early!?! What the heck is going on?

That's when Christoph discovered that the real-time clock on our ALFA wasn't showing the right time. It was set 30 seconds too early! We'd been leaving every checkpoint so far in Leg-B 30 seconds too early before our proper out-time!

How is that even possible? The clock was set correctly for all of Leg-A. Sometime during the 20-minute break before Leg-B, the clock setting mysteriously went 30 seconds early. It's not possible to inadvertently change the clock. You have to simultaneously hold down two specific separate keys to alter the time setting. It's designed that way on purpose to prevent accidentally changing the time. Was it sabotage???

We fixed the clock setting and after that all our other penalties were legitimate. We made a few more small mistakes, couldn't quite make the required speed on some sections, and were late at several more checkpoints in Leg-B.

After all that, we stumbled back into the Rally HQ at the end of Leg-B thinking we'd blown our chances for a win. We now had a total penalty time of 7.6 minutes, but then we found out that Robinson & Louis were also up to 7.4 minutes of penalties, in the lead by only 0.2 minutes.

It's still on!
February 25, 2009 02:26PM
During the break before the start of Leg-C, Robinson & Louis were forced to drop out. Their Subaru had developed a strange drive-train noise that was diagnosed as a CV joint going bad. Because it was a borrowed car, Robinson did not want to risk further damage and they decided to try limping home with it.

On the way home the noise got so bad they were forced to stop and check it out, and discovered all the wheel nuts were loose on that wheel. It wasn't a CV joint after all, just loose wheel nuts. D'oh.

So going into Leg-C, we were the only one of the three Expert teams left running. We only had to reach the finish to win Expert class by default. Our only objective in Leg-C was not to screw it up.

But this is the toughest portion of the rally. Fatigue is an issue, plus they save the infamous Old Hastings Rd for this leg of the rally, as well as several other of the stage roads used in the Canadian National Tall Pines Rally.

We were forced to make another couple of emergency stops to dig more snow out of our engine compartment. But we made it to the finish with a grand total of 12.3 penalty minutes. Phew.

2nd place overall went the top Novice team with a score of 25.8, the top scoring Intermediate team finished 4th overall with 53.6.

The (t)rusty old rwd E30 managed to not get stuck anywhere in the deep snow, and whupped every one of those 4wd Subarus!

Some of the competition:

The sames cars, slinking home with their tails tucked between their legs...

February 25, 2009 02:29PM
Congrats Ferd thumbs up

You two are a force to be reconned with smileys with beer
February 25, 2009 05:42PM
that is awesome. any pictures of the bimmer?

February 25, 2009 05:49PM
any pictures of the bimmer?
Any time I had to stop at a checkpoint, get out and run back to retrieve a timing sticker, I'd give my tail lights a wipe. The snow whipping up behind the car would completely cover everything.

This is a shot taken by one of the checkpoint workers.

February 25, 2009 05:57PM
any pictures of the bimmer?
Any time I had to stop at a checkpoint, get out and run back to retrieve a timing sticker, I'd give my tail lights a wipe. The snow whipping up behind the car would completely cover everything.

This is a shot taken by one of the checkpoint workers.

i can't imagine doing a rally like that in the daytime, much less at night!

February 25, 2009 07:13PM
Wow! That's a story Ferd! Did you eat pancakes with maple syrup afterward?
February 25, 2009 08:03PM
Did you eat pancakes with maple syrup afterward?
Um, actually yes. How did you know?

Pancakes, and eggs, bacon, sausage, toast, lots of coffee...
February 25, 2009 08:16PM
Sounds like great times! One of these days I'd like to make it up your way for one of your rallies. It'd be about a 6 or 7 hour drive, but I think it would be worth it. And then there's that one(s?) in Quebec that would be even closer.

Recently, in the afterglow of this year's Vermont Winter Challenge Rally, a few people have begun discussing the possibility of holding a second one, similar but easier and geared more toward novices. The more the better, I say! smiling smiley

'91 325iX
February 25, 2009 09:59PM
That is a great story. I thought the whole time that you must be driving an ix so it is even more amazing to do all that in RWD. You must have some really awesome tires. Makes me want to rally!
February 28, 2009 02:35PM
Makes me want to rally!
Rallying is fun.

There are several different levels of rallying. The most awesome of course is World Rally Championship, but we're not likely to ever get that far. The next best is the stage rallying I do with my buddy Martin in his Nissan 240SX. I would much rather be driving though, than navigating. Someday I will get my own performance rally car so I can have my son, Christoph, navigate for me.

In the meantime, the best we can do is TSD road rallying (Time Speed Distance). You can do this in any street car. It's not racing. It's driving to a precise schedule, trying to arriving neither late nor early at surprise checkpoints along the route.

We are required to obey all traffic laws, stopping at stop signs, no speeding, etc. In fact, the required average speed targets are always well under the posted limits. So sometimes we'll even be trundling along at an embarrassingly slow speed while the locals are blowing past us on the way to the beer store in their pickup trucks.

Because most of the time the driving is not challenging, to increase the difficulty level the route instructions will often require decoding or unscrambling. At the Novice level the instructions are usually quite simple. At the Expert level the instructions can be fiendishly difficult to decipher, thereby making it more likely that you'll be late, or lost.

My favourite by far are the winter rallies, because on some of the roads we use it's impossible to get anywhere near the speed limit anyway. On top of the usual navigational challenges, driving skill plays a much bigger role in the winter rallies.

That is a great story. I thought the whole time that you must be driving an ix so it is even more amazing to do all that in RWD. You must have some really awesome tires.
We certainly do suffer a traction disadvantage compared to the awd cars, especially when launching from a standstill or climbing steep icy hills. There is one hill with a tight hairpin turn at the bottom, so there's no way to take a run at it. We very nearly didn't make it up that hill, falling almost a full minute behind schedule right there. None of the awd cars had a problem with that hill.

But, once underway, I'm convinced rwd is way more fun than awd.

Much more so than the difference between awd and 2wd, tires are the most important factor in rallying. Since this is my daily-driver car, not a race car supported with a truckload of different tire-types to choose from, we just run our normal Bridgestone Blizzak WS-60 winter tires. They're a good compromise for just about any winter conditions. Except really deep snow...

The Blizzaks are great on ice. The soft rubber compound allows all those deep siping cuts on each tread block to open up, breaking the water film, and giving lots of little "fingernail" edges to grab onto whatever traction is available on ice. Plus there enough open space between the tread blocks to cope with moderate snow depth.

However, when trying to drive fast in deep snow there just isn't enough space between the tread blocks, so the tires will float up and hydroplane on top of the snow, thereby losing contact with the road surface. It's not so good when that happens.

In performance rallying, the hot tire for deep snow conditions is the Yokohama A034, costing $250 each! Note the tread blocks with many siping cuts for good ice traction. But also note the wide spacing between tread blocks so these tires can clear a LOT of snow. These tires, like all good rally specific tires, have ribbed and armoured sidewalls to help prevent rocks from cutting through the sidewalls.

Although these tires are great for deep snow, my Blizzaks are probably better in hard-packed snow or ice. And neither of these ultra-soft rubber winter tires would last more than a stage or two in a full-out performance rally on bare gravel. They'd get ripped apart fairly quickly under those conditions.
February 28, 2009 02:38PM




February 28, 2009 07:58PM
Who the heck is that T. team that ripped up the 'E' class smileys with beer

You guys done good...you make us proud to be E30 owners grinning smiley
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