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2011 Lanark Highlands Forest Rally - Martin/Ferd Nissan 240SX in-car videos

Posted by Ferdinand 
The 2011 Lanark Highlands Forest Rally organized by the Motorsport Club of Ottawa was another resounding success.

Martin and I packed up the trailer and headed for Lanark on Friday morning. But first, as always, we had to make a couple of small detours.

We stopped in Smiths Falls at the car wash to hose off the mud left from last November's Rally of the Tall Pines. That was six months ago, but who's counting...

With that little chore out of the way, we continued on to Portland (because it's almost [but not really] right on the way) in order to use the alignment rack at Jim's shop to realign the suspension.

For the price of an extra-large cup of Tim Hortons coffee, Jim lets us use his alignment rack for free. Jim is a nice guy.

This is an awesome cool piece of equipment with which you can dial in exactly the desired suspension alignment settings.

These were not the actual final settings, but it gives you an idea of the sort of measurements available. The necessity for such a high degree of precision is questionable, considering we are once again about to beat the crap out of the poor old car over jumps and bouncing it off big rocks and trees etc. Not to mention that Martin initially set the rear end with a small amount of toe-out, but then decided that made the rear end a bit too "lively" so he later had to readjust the rear toe by eye during the service break at the rally.

More to come...
Perhaps the best part of rallying, besides actually doing the rallying, is the people you meet and get to know along the way. Rallying is a close-knit community of good friends, always willing to help each other out.

This is "Freak". He's our chief mechanic and all-round nice guy. He takes time out of his busy life to come out and help us, so we get to have fun bashing the rally car through the woods while he stays behind in the service park to feed the black flies. Christoph usually comes along too, but couldn't get time off work this weekend.

Ray Felice, looking cool with his new curly blond hair and shades, is President of Rallysport Ontario and is currently teamed as co-driver for Warren Haywood in the Tonik Motorsports Subaru.

It was great to see Greg Healey and Aaron Crescenti come up again from the USA to compete in their Group-5 Datsun 280Z. Martin and I have had great battles before with Greg at the New England Forest Rally in New Hampshire and Maine.

Another tough Group-5 competitor up from the USA is Justin Carven with his vegetable-oil-powered diesel VW Rabbit, the "GreaseCar".

Justin was breaking in this total newbie co-driver, Steven Harrell. That was a huge challenge for Steven as the Lavant Mill Rd stage is very technical and busy. Making your own notes for this road, and then reading them back at speed, is not at all easy in your first ever rally! Justin and Steven tackled the challenge with good humour and fortitude.

In Formula One the drivers and cars are completely inaccessible to spectators. Rallying however welcomes spectators to wander about the service park, chat with the drivers, and even sit in their cars!

Saturday morning started off with a second slow pass of recce.

We were thrilled to see Sylvain Vincent and his son Simon show up. They left Montreal at 3 a.m. that morning in order to get here in time for just one pass of recce and then to compete.

A lot of younger rally fans may not even realize who Sylvain Vincent is. (See really excellent photo by Leon Switzer.)

Sylvain is one of only 13 drivers to have attained "Grand Master" status, with more than 2000 lifetime points collected in the Canadian National Rally Championship. The amazing thing is, he is the only driver to have achieved that status without ever recording a single National win.

Sylvain is like the Stirling Moss of Canadian rallying. Many people believe Stirling Moss to be the best F1 driver ever not to have won a World Championship.

Before retiring, Sylvain Vincent competed in Open-Class Subarus consistently finishing second against such Canadian rallying legends as Frank Sprongl, Carl Merril and Tom McGeer. Sylvain recently came out of retirement to start rallying again with his son, Simon, as co-driver. And he's doing it with style in a RWD Group-2 Corolla.

I have a HUGE amount of respect for this guy!

May 19, 2011 02:30PM
One-by-one we then leave the service park and head out to the forest.

Here's our in-car video of the first stage.

Note the fancy new countdown lights at the start.

Because it was a bright and sunny day, I chose to use the camera mounted at the top of the windshield for these first three stages. The other camera mounted back on the rollcage tends to see too much of the interior of the car and thus over-exposes the view out of the windshield on bright days. We used that one later when the sky was overcast for the last three stages.

Unfortunately the windshield mounted camera gets a lot of glare from the dirty windshield itself, and it sees too much of the dusty dashboard reflected in the windshield. Note the view is much clearer whenever we pass through the shade of any overhanging trees.

Our goal is to finish first of the eleven 2wd cars entered. We suspect our strongest competition will come from Sylvain and Simon Vincent.

Sylvain, due to his "Grand Master" status, is the top-seeded entry in this rally and thus earns the first spot in the running order on this opening stage. Although this means he gets a clear road with no dust hanging in the air from other cars, starting first today is actually a big disadvantage. The road has recently been graded with fresh gravel spread throughout. The surface is inconsistent with many of the corners very "loose" due to the deep gravel.

Sylvain and Simon have only had a single pass of recce on Saturday morning, and not much time after that to clean their notes before the 11:00 a.m. start of the rally. Sylvain is a veteran rallyist from back in the days when they didn't use stage notes. Now he and his son, Simon, are relative newcomers to using stage notes and they are still developing their own lingo for describing corners.

On the other hand, Martin and I were feeling confident going into this first stage. We're starting 11th of the 22 cars in the running order and thus will benefit from the road-sweeping of the cars ahead of us clearing the loose gravel off the road. This will be our third year running in the Lanark Highlands Forest Rally. We're getting to know the road quite well, and we trust our stage notes for this difficult and tricky rally road.

And so we were stunned and amazed to discover that, despite our advantage over the Vincents, and despite having almost twice the horsepower in our turbocharged Grp-5 Nissan compared to their Grp-2 Corolla, we only barely managed to beat their time by 1.5 seconds!

Holy cow, those guys are quick!

2011 LHFR - (Soutbound) A1:

Results for this first stage are posted here: Stage A1 - Clearwater Design
May 19, 2011 02:36PM
This is a really good video shot by a spectator!

The image quality is not so great, but I love how it compares everybody's lines through the same corner. You can tell right away who is fast and smooth, and who isn't.

Sylvain Vincent, is running first on the road and giving it everything.

Then brother and sister Nick & Kelly Mathew, running a little wide, but spectacular, fast and committed as always.

Chris Martin and Brian Johnson, nearly 30 seconds faster than anybody else per stage, with a perfect line taking a big cut over the crest. Listen to that smooth throttle. No hesitation or pumping on and off the throttle pedal. Just confident smooth power application.

Ian Crerar and Doug Draper, also fast, but in comparison to Chris not sounding nearly as confident on the throttle.

Martin Donnelly and James Drake, already with engine troubles?

Neil and Lorna Wright, with that awesome Mazda rotary sound, but clearly hesitant on the throttle.

Then Greg Healey and Aaron Crescenti in the Datsun 280Z. Listen to that sweet inline 6-cylinder engine hum, and listen how smooth Greg is on the throttle. Greg can drive.

Then Justin in the diesel greasecar Rabbit, understandably not yet trusting his brand new co-driver or his stage notes.

Michelle Laframboise and Elise Racette also much slower than they're normally capable of. Elise missed recce and someone else wrote the notes. It turns out that there was some confusion over the numbering of the stages and Elise started into this Southbound stage using the Northbound notes! They were MUCH faster after they eventually figured that out.

Then Martin and me in the Nissan, getting light over the crest and running wide the same way as Nick & Kelly did. But Martin is hard on the throttle, lifting only when braking, then listen how deep into the throttle he gets on the following corner. You can just imagine the resulting shower of rocks and gravel fired into the trees from that rwd goodness!

Warren & Ray in the Tonik Subaru, looking calm, smooth and composed.

I won't bore you with all the rest, other than to give special mention to Nuno Pereira and Isabel in the blue 77 Toyota Corolla at 2:44. These guys always look spectacular! Sadly their rally ended on stage 2 when they hit a tree.
May 19, 2011 02:40PM
Everybody made it safely through the first stage, after which there was a re-seed to shuffle the running order according to the first stage's scores.

Not everyone would make it through the second stage though. The road is much tougher in this direction, running Northbound. It doesn't flow nearly as well in this direction and there are several nasty deceptive corners to catch you out.

Sergei Grishechkin and Ksenia Prokofjeva in their VW GTI overshot the Right-Y at the Gemmills Rd spectator point, hit a tree stump and broke their front suspension.

Paul Hartl and Chuck Storry very nearly duplicated that move, then scared the spectators while chasing a tank-slapper before eventually regaining control of their VW Golf.

Further up the stage, Nuno and Isabel lost control of their Corolla hydroplaning through the only deep watersplash. They veered off the right side of the road and centre-punched a tree. From there the car spun back into the middle of the road. They were both okay, but the car looks pretty sad. See

Nuno and Isabel's in-car video.

The wrecked Corolla then caused collateral damage to the results of several following cars as they were forced to stop because of the Corolla completely blocking the road. The worst to suffer from this delay was Greg Healey, first on the scene, as he had to wait the longest until enough people arrived to help push the stranded Corolla out of the way. As if that wasn't bad enough, while he was trying to get buckled up again in his car, the crotch strap of the harness dropped down through the seat. He had to climb back out of the car so he could fumble around under the seat to feed the harness strap back up through the slot in the seat. That huge delay pretty much ruined his chances of a good result.

And up at the front of the pack, Martin Donnelly and James Drake were forced to quit when their Subaru caught fire.

In comparison our run was trouble-free, except for a bit of confusion early in the stage due to an incorrect stage note. During Friday evening's first recce pass we made lots of changes to our notes from last year. During our second recce pass on Saturday morning we made several more changes. I messed up one of those corrections. Entirely my fault. Oops.

At 3:23 into the video, or 12:46:25 showing on our camera display, we pass the R4/Cr@'Y' [Right-4 over Crest at Y] at the Gemmils Rd spectator location where Sergei and Paul had their moments.

The water splash that caught out Nuno and Isabel is at 6:45 into the video, or 12:49:48 on our clock.

Martin was pushing hard on this Northbound stage. We were 1.6 seconds quicker than on our first Southbound run, despite the fact that the stage is more difficult when run in this direction.

Sylvain and Simon Vincent also improved, but only by 0.2 seconds. We beat their time by 2.9 seconds, extending our lead over them to 4.4 seconds. Still, that's probably not going to be enough. Sylvain is only going to get quicker and quicker as he learns this road...

2011 LHFR - (Northbound) A2:

Results for this stage are posted here: Stage A2 - Whiticar Auto Body

Passing the Gemmills Rd spectator location.

May 19, 2011 02:44PM
Stage 3 - Southbound.

The camera view is further obscured because I forgot to clean the dust and water splashes off the windshield during our wait at the turnaround. I switched to the other camera view for the remaining three stages though. The picture improves for those stages. Really it does.

At the start of this third stage we were informed that there are two cars off, pushed safely out of the way, and marked with warning triangles. But we weren't told where in the stage to expect to find them. So when encountering a triangle on stage, we wouldn't know for sure if that's for the cars previously abandoned on the stage, or for any new wreck just occurred on this stage. Either way, we will slow down whenever we come across a warning triangle.

At 4:50 into the video, 13:57:11 on our clock, we see the first triangle. It's for Nuno and Isabel's Corolla, pushed off onto the side of the road. We slowed up for that until past the car, losing a second or two, but it was the safe thing to do.

At 6:12, 13:58:33 on our clock, we come to a very tricky "Left-3 Loose down" that comes up very suddenly after a series of fast crests. This is where Mark Biernacki and Jeff Hagan, running a few cars behind us in the order, rolled their Subaru Legacy.

See their in-car video:

Also 4:00 into this video:

As we go through that Left-3 corner, Martin recognizes that it's nasty dangerous so he asks me to, "Put a Caution on that back there, if you can." Watch how that momentary break in the flow of concentration almost bites us a few seconds later.

Immediately following is a "Right-4 tightens and Left-Crest". It's important to hug the left edge of the road while going over that blind crest, hence "Left-Crest", because the road takes a little jog to the left on the down side of that crest. If approached at speed along the right edge of the road, or even the centre of the road, as the car gets light over that sharp crest it's too late to change direction. Then you get a big surprise when you run off the right edge of the road on landing beyond the crest.

We got a little out of shape there for a moment. Not a big deal really. But Martin had to get out of the throttle for a moment until he had it all back under control.

All-in-all, despite that little moment, and despite slowing for the triangle for Nuno's stranded Corolla, we still were 4.5 seconds quicker on this stage compared to our first southbound run on stage-1. That was pretty good.

Then we found out that Sylvain and Simon beat us by 2.9 seconds! Just like that they've narrowed the gap between us, so we're now only 1.5 seconds ahead of them. That's worrisome.

We're already pushing as hard as we can, whereas we suspect Sylvain is only just getting warmed up.

Now it's back to Lanark for our 30-minute Service break. Then another 3 stages still to come.

2011 LHFR - (Southbound) A3:

Results for this stage are posted here: Stage A3 - Benson's Auto Parts
May 19, 2011 02:58PM
We were provided a generous amount of time to transit from the end of the stage back to the Service Park in Lanark.

This is a good thing as it means there is no need whatsoever to be breaking any speed limits on the open public roads. It's just a leisurely cruise back to town. However, it meant we then had to queue up and wait a while before checking into Service on our correct minute. Again, that's not a bad thing as it gives us several extra minutes to relax.

Poor Greg Healey. Already dropped down the results due to being delayed by Nuno and Isabel's crash, Healey was again delayed on this stage-A3 when he got bottled up behind Mark and Jeff's rollover. But then things went from bad to worse when Greg suffered the further indignity of falling victim to the confusing difference in rules between the way transit and check-in times are calculated in Canada versus the USA. They checked into the Service time-control ten minutes too early, landing themselves a whopping 10-minute road penalty!

It's easy to shake your head and go, "tsk, tsk, tsk, they should have read the rulebook." But I know exactly how absolutely crushing it feels to have made such a mistake, having myself done the same thing last year at the New England Forest Rally when I incorrectly checked us in to the Main Time Control at the end of the first day 5 minutes too early. I still feel sick about that.

It's awful, when you are literally risking your lives to fight for mere seconds of difference in rally stage times, to then get whacked with an enormous 10-minute road penalty. To Greg and Aaron's credit they laughed about it later. Sh*t happens. Rallying is still awesome.

Meanwhile, we hadn't broken anything on the car (yet). There was nothing to do but jack it up, take the wheels off, make sure nothing important had fallen off since the last time it had been looked at, rotate the tires front to back to even out the treadwear, then get ready to leave, making sure to check out of Service on our correct time to head back out into the forest for another three stages.

Leaving the Service Park:

May 19, 2011 03:03PM
Stage A4 - It's game on. Sylvain is only 1.5 seconds behind us. Now it's time to push.

I changed the camera view to the one mounted behind us on the rollcage. I prefer that view as it shows Martin at work. The image quality is much clearer too.

Listen, as we roll up to take our place on the start line, how every freakin' bushing in the suspension creaks and groans and squeeks. I bet all those guys with their super fancy-schmancy Porsche GT2s and GT3s at Targa Newfoundland are jealous of us, and they're all busy modifying their suspensions to squeek just like the mighty Nissan 240SX..., or maybe not.

The start goes well. Then at 4:53 into the video, or 16:00:53 on the clock, we spot a new warning triangle that wasn't there before. Oh no, it's the 2009 LHFR winners, Nick & Kelly Mathew. Their car has been sick all day already, fogging the woods with thick blue oil smoke, doing their bit to keep the bugs down. Their engine finally said enough is enough and packed it in. They're done.

At 6:55, 16:02:55 on the clock, there is a tight Right-3 with an evil kick right in the middle of the turn. We just call that as a "R3/Cr" (Right-3 over Crest). Martin already knows this corner well, so there's no need for anything more descriptive. But if you didn't know that sharp kick was coming mid-corner, it could easily launch you off into the trees.

Check out how much air we get in this cool photo of us shot by Tom Hayston as we launch over that kick. It's kinda hard to steer the car when none of the wheels are touching the ground, eh.

We finished with a time of 7:40.5, our best run yet, and 4th fastest of the 16 cars still running. We even beat Ian Crerar and Doug Draper on this stage, but only because they ran half the length of the stage on a flat tire and now it's hanging in shreds from their Mitsubishi Evo.

We're anxious to find out how Sylvain and Simon did, running next on the road behind us. Except, they've gone missing. There's no sign of the red Corolla GTS.

Turns out they had an electrical issue and their engine quit only a couple of corners after the start line, and they're out.

That's a huge disappointment for them, and us as well. We were having a great battle with them, but suspected we were about to get our butts whupped once Sylvain got himself warmed up enough to lay a schooling on us. We're looking forward to a rematch with them at the upcoming Black Bear Rally in June.

2011 LHFR - (Southbound) A4:

Results for this stage are posted here: Stage A4 - Benson's Auto Parts

Two stages still to go...
May 19, 2011 03:08PM
Stage A5 - Northbound.

Earlier on our previous Northbound stage I fumbled with an incorrect note. In the video you can see the spot in my notes where I then made a correction and scribbled over the bad bit.

Well damn, didn't I go and blot out the wrong instruction? The notes are still wrong here. :doh:

Having screwed it up both times on each Northbound run, I now know exactly what's wrong and the notes have been properly fixed for next year.

This was our slowest stage. Not quite sure why it was so much slower though.

It turns out the exhaust system was falling off, separated below the down-pipe after the turbo. That's right next to Martin's throttle foot. The transmission tunnel was too hot to touch, and we could smell the paint burning off underneath the car.

During the wait at the turnaround Martin managed to re-tighten one of the three nuts. The other two had fallen off somewhere in the stage. Oh well, one is better than none. That'll have to hold it until we get to the finish. What's the worst that could happen...

2011 LHFR - (Northbound) A5:

Results for this stage are posted here: Stage A5 - Hot Bits Suspension

Still one more to go...

May 19, 2011 03:13PM
We lost another three cars on that 5th stage.

Neil and Lorna Wright sideswiped a rock with their Mazda RX7, Lance Webb and Max Vadeboncoeur snapped a halfshaft on their VW Golf, and Paul Hartl and Chuck Storry were forced out with a "mechanical problem", methinks due to brushing up against a rock. See this really cool mood-photo of Paul Hartl shot by Peter Macdonald.

With the famously notable and out-of-character exception of our "FMG Veronica" incident at Targa, I must say that Martin is a very confidence-inspiring driver. I've watched the video of this last stage, and the others, about ten times now and it's remarkable how calm and relaxed he looks even though his hands are always busy at the wheel. There's never a white-knuckle moment anywhere.

Watch his shoulders. Ya sure he's strapped in tight by his harness, but his shoulders never move. He just sits there totally relaxed, while his hands dance on the wheel. How cool is that?

I mention that because this is actually the toughest stage of the day by far, because by now the road has been dug up pretty badly with deep ruts on the racing line and with soft berms of deep loose dirt and gravel piled-high off the line.

Watch at 2:41 into the video, 17:59:06 on our clock, where there's a R3 into L3 long. In that L3 the car starts off with a bit of oversteer, but then ploughs badly into understeer due to catching the deep loose sand. Martin cranks in a bit more steering angle, but then the front end bites again and very nearly spits us off into the trees standing close on the left edge of the road.

That required a sudden and aggressive steering correction from Martin. I don't remember noticing it at the time, but I must have noticed it because there's a little hesitation in my voice as I'm saying, "and 50, ah, R4 short", then I repeat the "R4 short".

It was such a minor event, that it was immediately put behind us. There's no break whatsoever in the concentration level. Martin's shoulders never flinch. The only brief sign is, as I'm hesitating in the middle of the "50, ah, R4 short" instruction, you can hear Martin blow in the microphone as he lets out a breath. But that's it. There's no other clue that either of us felt this could have ended badly or very suddenly. It's hardly even worth mentioning.

At 6:30 into the video, 18:02:55 on the clock, we again come to the R3/Cr with the nasty kick, then over a big crest where Maciej Janiak caught this great shot of us. The Nissan is way up on tip-toes scrabbling for grip, firing rocks and gravel out the rear as though it's rocket-propelled. Maciej is my favourite photographer. He shows up at EVERY rally, always shooting from the best spots, and consistently has awesome photos. See links to his, and others', photos at: http://lhfr.ca/2011_photos.php

At 6:57, 18:03:22, in a "loose R5 long", you can see and hear just how deep the ruts have become as the car, even with it's long-travel suspension, toboggans on it's skid plate over the high crest in the centre of the road.

2011 LHFR - (Southbound) A6:

Results for this final stage are posted here: Stage A6 - Tonik Motorsports

Good job Martin!
May 19, 2011 03:15PM
A little dusty, but otherwise no worse for wear, we head back to the Service Park for the finish.

It was a successful event for us. 5th overall, 1st in Group 5, 1st 2wd, and now that the car is 20 years old, we also finished 1st in Classic.

Cars lined up in Parc Ferme.

The top three finishers get to spray champagne in the podium ceremony.

1st place [by a huge margin!], centre in photo,
Open Class
driver: Chris Martin
co-driver: Brian Johnson

2nd overall, on left
Open Class
driver: Ryan Huber
co-driver: John Vanos

3rd overall, on right,
Production GT
driver: Warren Haywood
co-driver: Ray Felice

Short video of champagne spray:

Next up, the Black Bear Rally on June 11th.
May 19, 2011 07:16PM
Another great story.
I am glad to see the Nissan going fast again, after the accident and all...

Well done!
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