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2010 Black Bear Rally - Nissan 240SX

Posted by Ferdinand 
June 18, 2010 09:09AM
Last weekend Martin and I competed in the Black Bear Rally, event #4 in the 2010 Ontario Performance Rally Championship season.

This is a great rally, using several of the famous tougher Tall Pines stages, and included one awesome brand new stage this year.

It was dry and dusty during recce on Friday, but it rained overnight so it was wet and muddy for the rally on Saturday. The new Moccasin Lake stage was especially slippery, catching out more than one team with its treacherous conditions.

We had several little annoying mechanical issues. One worrying problem was that during recce our blower fan stopped working. When crossing deep washouts, water splashes up and instantly fogs up our windshield. With no blower fan to defog the windows, that's not so good for visibility. Before the start of the rally, Martin ripped out all the wires and plumbed in a direct switch to run the fan on high, mounting the switch to the dash with lots of blue duct tape. Problem solved, or so we thought...

Another nagging issue with watersplashes is that the engine cuts out and sputters for a while whenever something critical under the hood gets wet. That has been an ongoing problem that will hopefully get sorted someday.
June 18, 2010 09:09AM
Black Bear - A1 Moccasin-1:

We run this new stage two times back to back. On our two-pass recce we ran into some problems with the notes right off the start, but couldn't quite figure out where we'd gone wrong. I was not feeling at all confident now, but it seemed to go okay when we did it at speed on this first run.

At 4:30 into the video there is a "right 5 - keep left". There is a big puddle on the inside of this right turn, but the real issue is that there is a fallen tree sticking out into the road from the right edge. It looks like it had fallen across the road, then been cut off with a chain saw. But the exposed end of the tree trunk would make a very nasty surprise for anyone tempted to cut the corner ignoring that "keep left" instruction.

We avoided the sawn-off tree trunk, but splashed throught the deep puddle. Shortly thereafter the windshield starts fogging up and at 4:58 Martin reaches up to whack the switch turning the blower fan on high. That instantly fixes the fogging issue. Excellent.

At 6:00 there's a "L5 lg >Vlg" (left-5 long, tightens very long). That's quite a tricky corner, because the easy left-5 goes on and on and on, and just when you think no problem it'll continue like this forever, it surprises you when it suddenly tightens up just a bit at the end. Martin nailed that corner perfectly! Nice easy drift all the way around, let it flow out a little wide later on, then cut back in to cross the apex very late through the tightening portion. Perfect!

Only one more sharp 90 degree left to the finish. Lots of spectators and photographers there. And of course we messed that one up badly. That corner was ridiculously slippery! We nearly understeered straight off, lost all our momentum, and then it's all slippery as snot and slow uphill from there to the finish line. Damn. That sucked.

I am really spoiled riding with someone who drives as well as Martin. At the finish Martin says, "That was slippy like Perce-Neige. (one of the winter rallies)" Not only the last corner, but the entire stage felt to him like driving on snow and ice.

It's funny, because from my side of the car I thought it went really well. Martin is always so smooth, relaxed, and controlled behind the wheel, there's never any drama at all. Even though we're really flying past those trees, he makes it all look so easy. The in-car video is almost boring to watch. Okay, we could have used a bit more traction out of some slow corners, and the last corner obviously was a costly mistake, but I never sensed any other "moments" than just that one.

Martin says, "I bet you that somebody goes off on that first stage." Sure enough, someone did, and someone else did on the next run too.

Mark Biernacki and Jeff Hagan were running further down the order behind us, after the muddy road had been chewed up some more. Check out how much trouble they were having keeping their PGT Subaru Legacy pointed in the right direction, before eventually spinning off the edge of the road. Plenty of drama happening there:

See also Nick & Kelly Mathew, 2nd fastest on this stage, in their Open class Subaru:

At 1:00 they lock up under braking and very nearly slide straight off at exactly the same spot which would later claim Warren and Ray on Stage A2...
June 18, 2010 09:12AM
Black Bear - A2 Moccasin-2:

Same stage, second pass.

You can see Warren and Ray launch into the stage one minute ahead of us. It's really obvious that AWD provides a huge acceleration advantage over our RWD in these slippery conditions. Warren and Ray, in a PGT class Subaru, were flying on the first stage, 3rd fastest overall behind the Open class cars of only Crazy Leo, and the 2-Brits.

In most of my first season co-driving, Martin very wisely ignored much of my incompetent babbling and simply drove the road as he saw it. We've certainly picked up the pace considerably since then, learning to rely much more on each other and the stage notes. But it takes a lot of concentration and an enormous amount of trust and confidence to reach anywhere near 100% commitment to the notes. We're not there yet, and we sure were nowhere close on this particular stage.

Because I screwed up this early section twice already during recce, I'm again not fully confident with the notes. Martin picks up on my hesitation, and then he's not really sure about my calls either. So we're already slow right off the start.

Then, only a minute into the stage (2:00 into the video), from a long way already down the end of a long straightaway, we can see a white car off in the trees. No warning triangles, can't see anyone out of the car. Oh-oh. That's not good...

It's only as we come to a slow crawl that we, with enormous relief, can see Warren standing up on top of the side of the rolled car, waving enthusiastically for us to keep going. Thumbs up, phew, they're both okay, go-go-go.

We have come across stranded or crashed cars before in previous rallies, but only after the occupants had already safely exited the car and placed warning triangles. Not seeing any triangles or crew bailed out of the car, for a moment there we were both VERY worried.

That totally threw us off our pace for the rest of this stage.

I fumbled, badly lost in the notes, and Martin backed way off on his pace. We never fully recovered from that for the rest of this stage. Sure, it was really, really slippery, and more chewed up on this second pass. But nearly everyone else managed to improve their times on this second pass, whereas we were nearly 20 seconds slower.

Martin sums it up concisely at the finish. We were spooked alright, but also mightily relieved to see that both of our friends, Warren and Ray, were fine, even though Warren's beautiful car is going to need some expensive repairs now.
Black Bear - A3 Birch Lake South:

After A1 & A2 we got a generous 40-minute Service break, during which time the creaky strut bearings were greased and taped over to prevent more sand getting into them.

Now we head into a longer loop of really rough stage roads, Birch Lake South, The Peanut, and back up again on Birch Lake North. These stages all have several deep water crossings. We knew from our earlier two-pass recce that the car is not compatible with deep water, as something critical in the engine compartment gets wet and then the engine cuts out.

Our best theory is that water gets past the air filter and onto the mass air flow sensor, which then takes a while to dry off and recover before the engine can run cleanly again. In an effort to screen the air filter, Martin earlier blocked off some of the area around the filter with cardboard. But on our first two stages, A1 and A2, the engine wouldn't run properly at high revs. Martin figured the cardboard was choking off too much of the air flow, so he removed some of the shielding during the service stop hoping that would resolve the airflow issue without letting too much water in.

Confident that we had the water issue under control, and happy with our ghetto-fixed blower fan switch, we headed out to tackle the water splashes.

Of course, mere moments before launching into this stage we discovered that the blower fan draws way too much current and has melted the toggle switch. The toggle lever now flops around loosely and no longer does anything useful. No joy in the blower fan department. That's not good...

Again we had problems with the notes early in this stage during recce, and I'm still not confident that they' are correct. As a result we're a bit hesitant early on. At about 1:30 we come to the spectator point, and we know we're good on the notes from there on.

At the spectator location there is a BIG crest into a Right-5. That's a nasty spot, which explains why it's a spectator location. The Nissan 240SX has a very long nose. When going over a big crest like this, the nose of the car completely blocks our view of the road. It's okay if we know the road continues straight. But here we know that, while we are blind, the road sneaks away from under us to the right as it comes down the other side. It's a bit of a butt-clencher.

At 4:30 into the video there is a critical junction in the road. Later on we will do the longer loop, going straight through at this intersection. But this time we have to turn sharp right. I warned Martin earlier. If I get completely lost in the notes, just remember that we have to turn right this time! Lucky thing he knew that, because I fumbled the previous instruction and, as I was still mumbling trying to correct myself, I was waaaay late warning him about the suddenly approaching Turn Right-2!

I was still kicking myself for blowing that, so of course I mess up the following couple of instructions too.

At 6:15 we come to the first of the water crossings. It's a deep one and we have to take it very slowly. That went well. The engine is still running, and the windshield hasn't fogged up, yet. Looking good so far.

Martin asks me to amend the notes to mark this water crossing as deep and slow. Check it out. I successfully managed to scribble the word "SssssLLLLLoooOOOooOOOoWWww", as the car is bashing over the bumps, without stabbing myself in the leg with my pen, WHILE simultaneously reading ahead in the instructions. Damn, I'm good!

Right away we come to the next water splash. It's not nearly as deep, so Martin charges through a bit quicker, and sure enough with no blower fan running the windshield fogs up completely. Things get a little difficult from there on, what with not being able to see a damn thing, AND the engine starts complaining at high revs too.

We're not allowed to open our windows more than an inch. But I figure driving blind is probably more dangerous than having the window open another inch or two. So I roll mine down a bit more. Eventually that helps clear the windshield until Martin reminds me to wind it back up. We're coming up to another spectator location, where someone might notice that our windows are down too far. It would suck to get slapped with a time penalty on top of all this.

We soldiered on to the finish, but we were dog slow. Mark and Jeff, who I bad-mouthed in my previous posts, beat us by a whole 17 seconds on this stage! Now we still have The Peanut (with a couple of monster water crossings), and the return trip on Birch Lake North before our next Service opportunity.
June 18, 2010 09:27AM
Black Bear - A4 Peanut-1:

The Peanut features a couple of very rough and deep water crossings, so the windshield fogging issue urgently needed to be rectified before heading into this stage. Martin pulled out the wiring from the FUBARed temporary blower fan switch and made an even more temporary and improvised connection by tying the wires directly together.

Now the blower fan runs continuously on high whenever the engine is running.

The patch of blue duct taping on the dash now sports a new loop of wiring. Martin says, if I see smoke or flames coming from the blower fan, or from any of the jury-rigged wiring, I am to grab this loop and yank the wiring apart, preferably without branding my fingers on the red hot wires.

Ah, yup, sure. That works for me. Sounds like a good plan. What's the worst that could happen? We're wearing fire-resistant 3-layer Nomex racing suits, and carrying two fire extinguishers onboard. What could possibly go wrong?

We survived the wicked rough stuff and the water splashes, with no fire under the dash. But, on the fast run to the finish where we were hoping to make up time, the engine ran like crap again. It would sputter and pop at higher revs, forcing Martin to upshift early instead and bog the engine at low revs.

We're starting to suspect this has nothing at all to do with water getting in. Suspicion has turned to a fuel delivery problem. We're going to change the fuel pump and filter at the next Service. However, we still need to complete another long 13km run back up Birch Lake North before we reach Service.
Black Bear - A5 Birch Lake North:

The engine was really suffering on this stage, sputtering and popping badly from fuel starvation. We were worried we might not make it to the end.

We were only 13th quickest on this stage. That hurt.

But somehow we're still 8th overall, as we have been so far for the entire rally.

We did manage to limp back to Service, where the cause of these misfiring symptoms was successfully diagnosed and corrected. The f'ing fuel filter was almost completely blocked up.

Now we're locked and loaded, ready for a BIG charge and comeback in the final three stages...
June 18, 2010 11:15AM
The fuel filter was completely kacked up, starving the engine of fuel. Cleaned that out, swapped in a "new" fuel pump. Now we're loaded for bear. It's amazing what a difference that made. The car RUNS again!

Now we head into the longest stage, the 18.5 km Qwirk South, one more tour around the Peanut, then the return run on Qwirk North to the finish of the rally. We are aiming to make up some lost time on this loop.

YouTube only allows videos of up to 10 minutes in length, so I had to cut this one into two parts.

Black Bear - A6 Qwirk South - Part 1 of 2:

I am not at all confident in the notes on the opening section here until we reach the BIG crest at the spectator point. It's pretty good from there on though. Holy cow, now that the engine runs clean again, we're really cooking with fire!

At 3:35 we pass the VW Golf of Peter Reilly / Robin Fleguel, stranded with a busted throttle.

At 4:45 we go straight on, past where we turned right on the earlier Birch Lake stage. It gets fast from here on, but very rough.

At 6:50 we pass the 2-Brits, Nick & Kelly Mathew, stopped to change a flat. Note how far back from their car Kelly is standing waving her warning triangle. She's safely in a spot where we can see her from a long way off, and she's well well upstream of their car, giving everyone plenty of warning so that Nick can work safely changing the flat tire with no danger of getting run over by anyone else coming along at speed and being surprised to see them stopped there. That's the way it should always be done.

We're really flying. But I'm getting beat up by this brutal rough road. It's hard to breath, while trying to read the notes.

And then disaster strikes at 7:20. Those damn watercrossings!

We were making good time, but the water killed our engine again. It's just barely running, not strong enough to pull us out of the water. Martin is trying to coax it back to life, but we're not going to make ourselves popular if it dies here in the watercrossing, blocking the road to everyone behind us.

We were only stopped for about 15 secs, but I figure it cost us closer to a full minute on pace, as the engine didn't run properly again until much further down the road, after it cut out a second time in the next water crossing.

When the engine finally cleared up and was running strong again, I had my head down reading the notes and glanced up just in time to see something big and black lying in the middle of the road before we ran square over it. Black Bear? Nope it was the rear bumper cover of Ian Crerar's car. Sure scared me though.

cont'd in Part 2 of 2...

Black Bear - A6 Qwirk South - Part 2 of 2:

Continuing on from where we clobbered Ian's bumper cover, it's fast and rough some more. At 2:56 there's another piece of bumper cover lying in the road.

At 3:15 we reach the Tee-Right onto the wider faster road to the finish.

Would you believe, despite our pretty good pace, Nick finished changing the flat, Kelly ran all that way back to their car, they got all strapped in again, and then they made up all that time and very nearly caught us at the finish line!?! Holeeeeey those guys are fast!

There are two more deep watercrossings on the next stage, Peanut. We vow to crawl through them dead-slow to avoid more problems. Strangely enough, that causes an unexpected and totally different problem...
June 21, 2010 01:18PM
Black Bear - A7 Peanut-2:

We had a few minutes to kill after the transit to the start of Peanut-2, so Martin got busy trying to solve the water problems. Water is getting into something critical in the electrics somewhere. The ignitor module is one suspect.

Martin asked if I had any plastic bags in my navigator kit. Well, I always carry a large zip-loc bag in case I get felled by nausea again. After last year's epic bout of pukage at Tall Pines, I have learned that sometimes more than ONE bag may be required. Since then, just in case, I stow THREE zip-locs bag. I figured I could sacrifice one of those to the cause of waterproofing the ignitor module.

Funny thing though. Up until just that moment nausea had not played any role at all in this rally. I was completely fine. But the mere sight of those zip-loc bags, the fact that I was now down to only two remaining clean bags, and, well, um...

Anyhow, with the ignitor module safely sealed inside a zip-loc bag and remounted under the hood, we set off into the Peanut stage almost confident that we had the water issues solved. As an added safety factor, we decided we would absolutely CRAWL throught the deep watercrossings. We could get out, and carry the car across the water, and we still would lose less time than we had on the previous stage where the engine cut out.

At 2:50 we get to the first watercrossing and creep across at a snail's pace. Other cars have blasted through here at full speed, carrying water well past this point and wetting down the uphill road leaving the watersplash. It's muddy and slick and we have no traction to get going again. But the engine is still running strong and clean! Yippeee!

Unfortunately, we were soooooo slow crawling through the watercrossing, it gave the piranhas in that creek sufficient time to chew through the toe-link in our left rear suspension. Check it out. We never hit anything. Everything was fine until that watercrossing. Mere seconds later, at 3:10, the first time Martin touches the brake pedal, the left rear wheel rubs on the fender arch. You can hear the tire sawing on the fender!

What the heck? How did that happen? This is not fair. What else could possibly go wrong today?

At 4:09 we pass the L4-/Cr where Matt and Ken went

straight off into the trees. So far at least, we've managed to avoid that sort of disaster.

Martin is a little busier behind the steering wheel though, as the handling has gone all wonky with the left rear wheel flopping back and forth alternating between toe-in and toe-out. This new degree-of-freedom in the suspension movement is putting stresses into the rear strut that it was not designed for, so that eventually bends and jams up too.

The combined effects of the new strange handling of the car, the smell of burning tire and melting duct tape where the hot blower fan wire is now visibly sagging lower on the dash than before, and only two of my original three zip-loc bags remaining, all of that together and nausea is now threatening to become a factor as well. Damn.

We have a bit of time again before starting the final long stage, Qwirk North, so I plan to get out of the car and go for a little walk to get some fresh air. However...
June 21, 2010 01:22PM
Black Bear - A8 Qwirk North - Part 1 of 2:

I had planned to walk around a bit to clear my head but, in the few minutes available to us before we need to check-in to the final stage, Martin jumped into action, jacked the car up, and whipped the wheel off to inspect the broken suspension.

Problem is, we're stopped on an uphill slope and the car is threatening to roll back and fall off the jack. So instead of going for a walk, I got put to work leaning against the car to prevent it falling off the jack.

Martin quickly tied the suspension back together using a ratchet strap. It's better than nothing, but not by much.

Wheel back on, stow everything away, hop back in the car, buckle up, strapped in, 15 seconds still remaining before we're due to check-in, it's all under control.

Except I feel sick. I even went so far as admit it to Martin while I dug out one of my remaining two zip-loc bags so that, if or when the moment comes, the bag will be handy rather than buried somewhere in the bottom of my kitbag.

Not even 10 seconds into the stage we can hear the tire chewing on the fender again. Oh well. Can't do anything more for it now. Gotta keep going to the finish, pushing as hard as we dare, and hope nothing falls off.

At 2:45 into the video we turn left off the smooth road and onto the narrow rough stuff.

Let the "fun" begin.

Black Bear - A8 Qwirk North - Part 2 of 2:

The 2nd half of this long stage is rough, busy, and quick.

We survived, barely, finishing 8th overall and 2nd of the 2wd entries.

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