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2011 New England Forest Rally - Martin/Ferd Nissan 240SX

Posted by Ferdinand 
Just getting to the rally is often half the adventure. Unusual for us, departure from Martin's place was precisely on schedule.

Angela Cosner, who happened to be visiting in Ottawa, joined us for the ride down to New Hampshire. We would also be stopping briefly in Montreal to pick up Jennifer Daly on the way.

On the 401 near Cornwall we came across this bizarre hybrid vehicle. From a distance it looked like a van with a tall-ship's sailing rig on its roof, including masts, yard arms and crow's nest. If he ever ran out of petrol, he'd could just unfurl the sails and... avast mateys, thar she blows.

Upon closer inspection though, it was revealed that the roof assembly is actually the mother of all ham radio antennae. This guy is one serious hamster!

Nearing Montreal we sent Jennifer a text message to confirm our ETA and, since none of us had ever met her before, we asked how we would recognize her. Jennifer answered that she was wearing "knee socks and a huge backpack", to which the ever-witty Martin replied that we'll be certain to recognize her if that's ALL she's wearing!

Sure enough, we spotted her right away at the prearranged Tim Hortons meeting point, but were sadly disappointed to discover that she was otherwise fully clothed.

Next up, the border crossing...
Two years ago on the way to NEFR, Martin and I crossed into the USA at a tiny Vermont border crossing staffed by just a single officer who kindly allowed us into the country, despite the fact that Martin had forgotten to bring his passport and then tried to convince the border guard that his plain-jane Ontario driver's licence was actually one of them new-fangled special "enhanced" licences that double for passports. The border guard had never seen one of those before, and lacking the new scanner equipment required to process such an "enhanced" driver's licence, he let us go on our way unmolested.

Last year, with the truck and trailer towing the rally car, we stuck to the main I-91 highway and had to go through the busy border crossing into Vermont. The border guards were curious about all the tires and rims heaped in the back of the pickup and wanted to know what's in the trailer. They made us run the trailer through their X-ray machine and then everyone came out to have a look at the car. Lots of friendly questions, as they'd apparently never seen a rally car before. "You race through the forest? Why would you want to do that?" Then they let us go on our way.

This year, however, was not nearly as pleasant.

Again, since we were towing the rally car in the big trailer, we had to cross into the USA at the big border point on I-91. We all had passports though. So far so good.

The border agent asked where we're all from.

Ottawa, Ottawa, Pennsylvania, and British Columbia.

And, how do you all know each other?

One rally driver, three co-drivers. We've known Angela for a couple of years as "SheetMetalGirl" on the SpecialStage.com forum, and ah um we only just met Jennifer for the first time a couple of hours ago in Montreal...

Evidently that was the wrong answer. Pull over here please and y'all go talk to the officer inside.

After grilling us with questions we were given one last chance to change or add to our stories, then told to sit and wait in the office while they took the keys and went outside to search the truck and trailer. It was all rather unnerving, but finally we were allowed to leave.

On the way out, Jennifer tossed a paper bag with the remains of her lunch into the trash can and just about got arrested (or worse) on the spot. "That's NOT a garbage can!!!", shouted one of the border agents from his tollbooth. Huh? "Take that OUT of there, RIGHT NOW!!!"

Jeez. What a friendly bunch. Not!

Welcome to the "land of the free".
Here's a photo of Angela in the back seat of the pickup truck. Note the small window behind her head.

We don't have a photo of Jennifer, but there's a good reason for that...

The pickup truck has a standard-sized OEM fuel tank. When towing the big heavy trailer it drains that stock fuel tank in a hurry. Therefore Martin has a large auxiliary tank in the bed of the pickup truck. Flip a lever, diesel fuel drains from the aux tank down to refill the OEM tank, and we can keep driving nearly forever without the need to stop for fuel. However, when the stock fuel tank is eventually refilled, you have to remember to flip the lever closed again, otherwise diesel fuel spills onto the highway.

Since the whole point is to never stop for fuel, we also don't want to stop whenever it's time to flip that lever. Problem is, the lever is located on the side of the auxiliary tank, outside in the bed of the pickup truck.

That means somebody occasionally has to climb halfway out that little window behind Angela's head, as we're cruising down the highway, to flip the lever.

Jennifer, being the good sport that she is, gamely volunteered to do that.

Of course, us being guys (and only slightly perverted), with Jennifer squeezed halfway out that little window, our imaginations quite naturally drifted back to that image of Jennifer now wearing nothing but knee socks -- she'd long ago already removed the huge backpack, eh.

Jennifer, knowing exactly what we were thinking, threatened us with slow, painful, but certain death if anyone so much as considered reaching for a camera. Hence the absence of any photos of Jennifer...

But I did notice Martin adjusting the aim of the interior mirror. There's an obvious reason why it's called a "rear" view mirror, eh. smiling smiley

Okay then, so now on to the actual rally stories...

Thursday morning 7:30am, start of recce. We get Jemba-prepared stage notes, and only one familiarization pass on each stage. Still it's a long day.

After recce, rush to get through registration, tech inspection, and line up for the shakedown stage.

Martin is worried about the engine. It overheated badly during a test run back at home. He thinks the head gasket might be done. We may yet need to change that tonight.

This 2 mile Shakedown stage is lots of fun. It's an opportunity to show off, power-boating around corners and spraying the photographers with rocks and gravel.

We managed to get in three runs without the engine blowing up. So, we guess that means it's good to go racing as-is for tomorrow.


SS1 - Sunday River

The two-day New England Forest Rally is an American National Rally event. It is also run (much more cheaply) as two entirely separate single-day Regional Rallies - the Mexico Rally on Friday, and the Errol Rally on Saturday.

Running the two Regional rallies we cover the exact same stage distances with the only difference being that the National entries pay about $1k more for entry fees and their cars are locked in parc fermé overnight.

For us though, the main draw is the 2wd MaxAttack! category as a chance to measure up against the best American 2wd teams. It is scored, same as the National event, on total stage time over the two days.

The event starts with a short half-mile spectator Super Special stage at the Sunday River ski resort.

We're not big fans of these short super specials. We much prefer the long forest stages. Our stage time was only mid-pack, 12th out of the 29 Regional entries, and 10th of the 24 2wd MaxAttack! entries. Still, we're not last.

SS1 - Sunday River:

SS2 - Mexico-1

Straight from Sunday River, next up is a 45-minute transit to Mexico where there's another even shorter Super Special spectator stage of only 0.4 miles.

This one features a jump, which last year had a really nice takeoff ramp and long gradual downslope for a soft landing. It encouraged jumping for distance and showing off for the many spectators gathered there. This was us last year:

This year however it was a nasty table-top jump, with a sharp takeoff ramp, flat tabletop, and a short steep downslope. There was nothing that could be done with that. If you jumped long, you'd land past the downslope and slam down hard onto the flat beyond that. If you jumped not quite long enough, you'd tag the end of the tabletop with only the rear wheels possibly leading to a faceplant and endover on landing.

The only smart option, which nearly everyone opted for including us, was to just drive over it slowly. Safe, but boring for the spectators.

We did mess up the final turn though. It's a tightening radius from gravel onto pavement, with a deep hole right at the apex where a culvert passes under the road. The proper line into that corner is not at all obvious, and the speed falls awkwardly between 2nd and 1st gear for us.

Still, it wasn't bad. Our time of 47.0 secs was 8th quickest of the 26 Regional entries and 8th of the 22 2wd MaxAttack cars still running.

We get another chance to improve on it as we loop back for a second pass.

SS2 - Mexico-1:

SS3 - Mexico-2

Our second pass on the Mexico stage was much cleaner, again no drama over the jump, but better line through the hairpin, no half-spin, no bogging down in 2nd gear.

Yes! That felt MUCH better than our first run!

So how come we were actually slower?

Our first run was 47.0 seconds flat. This second run was 47.8 sec. Go figure.

We're still doing okay. But seconds won or lost in these short Mickey Mouse Super Specials still count toward the overall total. We're currently sitting 8th in the Regional and MaxAttack standings, but the real stages are coming up next.

SS3 - Mexico-2:

SS4 - Icicle Brook North, 15.84 miles

Finally, a real stage.

The first five minutes of this stage used to be on a smooth, wide, very fast road. It's the road where Ken Block and Alex Gelsomino had their big crash last year.

But they've done something awful to the road since then. It looks like they've run a roto-tiller over sections of it and then spread a deep layer of loose rocks and gravel over those sections. Those bits are downright scary loose now.

Five minutes into the stage, we turn right onto a very rough loop. It's a minefield studded with huge rocks. The stage-prep crew spray-painted the very worst rocks with fluorescent red paint to give us an opportunity to avoid those. But after ten cans of spray-paint they ran out of paint!

Downstream of the last of the paint the rocks are all the same colour and you're on your own to avoid them best as you can, or not. We just hammered over the rocks, bending two rims in the process.

Visibility is okay for the most part, but occasionally there is dust hanging in the air from the car running a minute ahead of us. That's uncomfortable because you can't see anything through the dust.

At 11:30 into the video we come to a tricky hairpin turn, and at 14:00 we're back onto the smooth wide road.

At 15:00 there is a right/left chicane to slow us down. It's deep and soft off the edges of the road here and it's been badly ripped up. Hidden in all that deep loose sand and gravel is a huge rock which we smack hard enough to knock the video plug out of the recorder. Sound is still recorded, but the picture is intermittent from there until it cuts out altogether for the last 20 seconds until the finish.

Luckily I noticed and fixed that before starting into the next stage, otherwise we might have had no more video for the rest of the day.

SS4 - Icicle Brook North:

SS5 - Icicle Brook South, 16.09 miles

Same stage, opposite direction. This time we're starting off driving into the sun. With the dust this makes it even more difficult to see.

We love this stage! It's rough, for sure. But it's fast and exciting. The poor old car takes a pounding, but Martin shows it no mercy.

It's a little hairy in spots where the dust is hanging thick in the air making it impossible to see where we are going. We're often relying entirely on the notes to tell us which way to turn as we're blind much of the time.

At 10:45 into the video we pass the stranded car of Tingwu (Rick) Song and Yu Feng Hau, out with an oil leak. That was very unfortunate for them. These guys are great. They've come all the way from China to compete in this American event.

Rick is quite fluent in English, the co-driver not so much. They couldn't make heads or tails of the supplied Jemba notes, so they had to write their own notes in Chinese during recce. But with only one-pass of recce, that was a tough task.

The chicanes were not in place during recce and, since they couldn't read or use the supplied notes, the chicanes were an enormous surprise to them when discovered at speed on race day. They actually came to a complete stop to ask some spectators for help in how to get around the chicanes!

Starting at 13:30 there is a nice external video of us shot by Chris Meegan (MeeganRallyVideos). Our in-car video always looks a lot slower than it actually is. Chris' external video shows that we're cooking along at a pretty good pace.

At 13:55 I messed up a call on a "R6 long", and then was way too slow on the "L5 short over jump" that follows. Then it starts getting really busy with a lot of turns over crests, many hidden by thick dust.

At 15:10, it's "150 Brake R4 tightens over big crest, into L3 no cut long". That might have gone a little better if we could actually have SEEN the corner.

There was thick dust obscuring our view...

Next thing I know it's suddenly a lot darker out and branches are slapping off the windshield as we oh-so-nearly fell off the road into the trees on the "L3 no cut long".

"It's dark in there."

After the three short Super Special stages we were sitting 8th in Regional and 8th in MaxAttack. Now, after these two long tough stages, we're suddenly all the way up to 3rd overall in Regional, and 4th in MaxAttack!

SS5 - Icicle Brook South:

SS6 - Concord Pond, 5.38 miles

Concord Pond is the signature stage of the New England Forest Rally, with lots and lots of spectators. In our third year trying, this was our best run on this stage so far. Unfortunately we didn't get to record a time at the finish.

At 5:00 into the video there's a tricky right-hand corner that tightens just as the road drops out from under you. Just to make thing interesting, there's a big tree outside at the edge of the road in the landing zone. We cracked the windshield on landing.

One of the cars running early in the stage went off on landing this jump, spearing deep into the bushes on the right. They were fine, but stuck. The problem was that several following cars, including us, didn't see the car that had gone off.

The marshals at the finish line knew that a car had gone missing from the sequence, but it was unclear as to why and where, so the decision was made to stop sending cars into the stage until the status of the missing team could be safely assessed. That was the right decision. After the situation is cleared, the remaining cars could then still be run at speed.

Unfortunately a marshal well downstream of the incident misinterpreted this radio instruction to mean that he should stop the cars that were already running in the stage by showing a red cross.

That was truly unfortunate because the rules are clear that once the red cross is displayed the stage is shut down. All remaining cars must transit through the stage at slow speed with all affected cars then receiving the slowest reasonable time of those set by the few cars that had completed the stage.

The spectators weren't too happy about that, wondering why everyone was going so slow. But, if an error like this has to happen, I'm sure everyone realized that it's much better for it to have been an error made on the side of too much safety, as opposed to someone getting hurt.

It's always a shock to arrive at speed into a potentially serious red cross situation. It was a big relief to everyone to find out that it was merely due to a miscommunication.

SS6 - Concord Pond:

Mexico Regional Rally - Awards

The day ends with a banquet dinner and awards ceremony for Friday's Mexico Regional Rally. This is me, Martin, "another Luke", and Freak chowing down.

Actually that "other Luke" is Seth Strait, co-driver for Luke Sorenson in the old SAAB. All week we've been calling someone else "Luke", except it turned out his name was actually "Geoff". Geoff also used to be the co-driver for Luke Sorenson, but now was riding with Justin Carven in the VW Greasecar. It's all so confusing. We just started calling everyone Luke. That was much simpler.

This is only the first day, of two, in the 2wd MaxAttack competition. But we were feeling quite pleased to discover ourselves sitting in 4th place behind the amazing Chris Duplessis, Andrew Comrie-Picard (ACP), and Dillon Van Way.

Even better, we found out that we had finished 3rd overall in Friday's Regional Rally!

Here's Martin checking out his trophy. "What the heck is this thing?"

And here's Jennifer Daly, in knee-socks, taking 1st overall as co-driver with John Cassidy in Friday's Regional Rally.
[I'll never be able to look at knee-socks in quite the same way again...]

Still to come, Saturday's Errol Regional Rally and the conclusion of the NEFR MaxAttack competition...
NEFR Day-2 - Errol Regional Rally

SS7 - Errol Super Special

This super special stage in a gravel pit was so new, it wasn't ready in time for us to do recce on it.

Instead we were shown a map and given a verbal description, except this feature isn't there yet, and that curve doesn't exist because it hasn't been dug out of the hillside yet, and see this curve to the right here today, ignore that because you'll be going around the far side of this grassy knoll instead, and see this, the only good feature of the entire stage, this nice long smooth sweeping uphill left-hander to the finish, well we'll bugger that up completely by stringing some surprise tape across it and forcing you to swing wide to the right through this deep tank-trap hole instead.

Sadly you won't get to see any of this stuff beforehand. But it'll all make sense when you encounter it for the first time at speed. Really it will. Trust me...

Um. :confused: Ya. Ok.

Despite our negative opinions regarding this silly stage, we weren't actually the slowest car. Of the original 24 MaxAttack 2wd entries only 14 are still running, of which we were 5th quickest on this stage. And of the 24 Regional entries, we were 6th. So I guess that means we must have set a respectable enough time despite this mess.

SS7 - Errol Super Special:

Now on to the long, dusty, rough, rock-strewn, truly awesome stages, and the beginning of the end...
SS8 - Sturtevant Pond Long, 19.38 miles (31.2 km)

This is a huge stage, the longest of the event, starting out fast, then with some brutal rough portions, again some wide open fast portions, then a very twisty technical fun section past the hundreds of spectators to the finish.

This is the stage where we suffered two (2) flat tires.

About 3:00 into the video we turn right, off of the good road onto a rough rocky section.

At 5:50 we turn R2 onto a new section of road. New, as in not used before. Not new, as in brand new condition. At 6:20 there are a couple of good external views of us shot by "MeeganRallyVideos" and "kdsaura".

At 7:05, we turn L2 onto a very narrow, very busy, twisty, little soft sandy road that we end up using three times today. It will get churned up really badly, cut up with DEEEEP ruts and huge rocks pulled out of the soil.

At 10:20 we turn L3 back onto a much faster road.

At 13:00, we turn L4- and then we start with the ROCKS! There are lots of instructions like "R5+/rocks", and "sm Jmp keep Left rocks", and "L5+/Crest/rocks", rocks, rocks, and more rocks, and ROCKS!!!

This old car is amazing. It takes a beating, but with its fancy rally suspension soaking up the worst of the hits, we hardly feel the rocks that we're smashing over unless it's the occasional really big one or it whacks the skidplate. The big danger is in cutting a tire open on the sharper rocks, or bending a wheel rim.

That's what happens somewhere around 14:10 into the video. "70 L4 no cut, R4+/smCr/rocks, and Turn L4"

Immediately after that Turn L4 Martin notices the change in handling, and you can hear on the video how the ride quality has suddenly become harsher producing lots more gravel noise as the flat tire picks more stones out of the road surface.

We still have another 7 miles to go to the end of the stage. There's no way the tire is going to survive running flat for all that distance. But we know we suck at tire changes and we'll lose a ton of time if we have to stop to change the tire within the stage. Besides, the road is very narrow and there's no safe place to stop in here. We're going to press on.

Watch the steering wheel. The car still turns okay to the right, but look at how much steering angle is required to make it turn left. At 17:00 we come to a Tee-intersection where we're supposed to "Turn L4 no cut", except we don't turn at all, nearly ploughing straight off into the bushes. This would be a good spot to stop, but we again decide to keep pushing on.

We're already losing a lot of time limping along slowly like this, but we know we'll lose far more if we do stop. At 17:40 we pull over to let a faster car flash past. Now we have dust to contend with as well. That's a treat. The car barely turns left at all. We can't see a thing. What could possibly go wrong?

At 18:30 we Turn R5- back onto the wider smoother fast road. Here's where we'd normally be hitting 4th gear, but that ain't gonna happen now. Martin is driving half-blind because of the dust and because half his attention is focused on watching the mirrors for any other cars catching us.

At 19:05 the flat rear tire gives up the ghost. It's had enough of this abuse and it starts coming apart. We have another 4 miles yet to go. Not going to make it. That's it, we need to stop.

At 20:20 we pull off at a junction to get completely clear of the stage road. There was a marshal crew guarding this intersection and they had ringside seats to the gong show we put on for them as we commenced our dog and pony routine of trying to swap tires. They must have been killing themselves laughing.

First off, it was at least 35C (95F) degrees out. We're rushing around in 3-layer Nomex suits, with helmets on, dying in the heat. It only took us a couple of minutes to realize that we'd both likely pass out from heat stroke if we kept this up. So, take a break, remove helmets, take a deep breath...

The scissors jack goes up driven by the impact gun, after which the wheel nuts come off again by using the impact gun. Except of course the seldom-used battery is flat. #@%!

Okay, switch to Plan-B. Dig out the little six-inch ratchet wrench and use that instead of the impact gun. Except that socket doesn't fit the jack or the wheel nuts.

Simple, swap the deep socket from the impact gun to the ratchet wrench. Ya, but, the impact gun is 3/4 inch drive, and the ratchet wrench is only 1/2 inch drive.


Plan-C. Use the 3/4 inch drive impact socket, and turn it using the vice-grips! Brilliant!

Wind the jack up far enough to get the rear wheel off the ground. Car falls off jack... Shoot me now, please.

FINALLY right rear wheel is replaced. Repeat entire process for right front wheel...

The two destroyed wheels are left behind with the marshals as 15 minutes later we finally hop back into the car. Don't worry, you won't have to watch the entire 15 minutes on video. I compressed it all down to just 30 seconds. It takes us another minute to buckle up before we can ride off into the sunset.

Check it out. I'm back on the notes immediately. I rock!

It's another 4-1/2 minutes to the finish, but this is the best part of the entire stage. We have no idea how much time we've lost, but we're worried we may even be max-late. So we're pushing as hard as we dare.

Turns out we're still good, 15 minutes to spare before we would have been time-barred and excluded. Of course we were the slowest car to finish this stage and we've now dropped right to the bottom of the standings for the cars still running.

But we ARE still running. :dance:

SS8 - Sturtevant Pond Long:

Now we merely need to transit back to the start of this same stage to run a slightly shorter 16-mile version over all the same rocks again, but this time do it while carrying no spare tires.

What could possibly go wrong?
SS9 - Sturtevant Pond Short, 16.15 miles

After our tire-changing misadventures on the previous stage, we were still dripping in sweat. So we took the opportunity on the transit to this stage start to have a dip at our favourite swim spot.

Ahhhhh, that's better.

There's always a delay at the end of this transit while waiting to check in at the start of this repeat running of the Sturtevant stage. This gives the organizers and sweep crews plenty of time to clear out all the wrecked and abandoned rally cars before we're cleared to run the stage again albeit in a slightly shorter configuration. There is plenty of opportunity to get out and exchange war stories with the remaining teams.

Some E30 content!
I was very sorry to hear that after that last stage my friends in the 88 BMW 325is were forced to withdraw with a cracked oil pan. In their first ever rally, first time driving, first time co-driving, first event for this new car, Kris Gove and Bill Hatem had a very successful day on Friday, driving smart to get useful experience and stage mileage under their belts, finishing 18th of the 29 Regional entries without even a scratch on the car (other than today's unfortunately busted oil pan).

Meanwhile Martin was commiserating with Justin Carven of Greasecar fame. Justin was worried because they had broken their jack and wouldn't be able to lift the car if they got a flat on this stage. Martin was worried about getting another flat because we have no more spare tires, and the tires we have on the car now really could use some more pressure in them. Turns out Justin has an air compressor, and we have a jack that's of no use to us because we have no spare tire anyway. So we swapped, agreeing to return the stuff at the next service break.

While Martin and Justin were busy exchanging compressors and jacks, I was negotiating a better starting position for us in the lineup. Previously we had been 15th in the running sequence, up with cars that were running times closely matched to ours. That is a luxury because it means you can concentrate on running your own pace while unlikely to catch the car ahead of you, or being caught by the car behind you. After dropping back in the order, due to changing our two flats, we now find ourselves right near the back of the pack. That's no good because we are almost certain to catch one, or maybe even two, slower cars ahead of us on this stage and get held up in their dust.

Several teams generously allowed us to move ahead of them in the lineup, so that we found ourselves now running behind Justin's VW Greasecar. That worked out very nicely.

At last we get to start. Martin is using a more judicious approach on this stage, gingerly picking a safer path through the minefield of rocks. At 5:35 into the video there are another two external videos of us shot by "kdsaura" and "MeeganRallyVideos" illustrating the rocky terrain, and at 7:50 an external clip shot by "octratek772".

At 8:25 it's Turn L4- into the nasty rock-infested section.

At 9:40 we come to the section where we got the flat(s) last time. "70 L4 no cut, R4+/smCr/rocks, and Turn L4"

Of course we smack that same damn rock again, hard. Bang! Luckily no flat tires this time, but this is probably where we bent the strut that would cause us grief on the final two stages.

At 13:25 we turn onto the wide fast road, and 14:23 we pass the road on the right where we changed our flat tires last stage, then the fun twisty stuff to the finish.

We were a little more conservative than usual on this stage, only 8th quickest. But another flat tire would have been terminal for us. We survived and now head back to Service for some much-needed attention to the car, pick up a couple more spare tires, and then head out for the final stages.

SS9 - Sturtevant Pond Short:

SS10 - Fish Pond In, 13.13 miles

If I were superstitious, which I'm not, should I be worried that this stage is 13.13 miles long? Double thirteen has to be an unlucky number, no?

Justin and Geoff's VW Greasecar needed some emergency repairs and they were 8 minutes late leaving service. So they're no longer running ahead of us in the order. Instead we now find ourselves behind the Honda Civic of Brian Gottlieb and Patrick Darrow.

That Honda is hurtin'. The gearbox is cracked and leaking oil like the Exxon Valdez.

We joked about it on the start line, but we were rather worried that their gearbox would eventually lock up solid and we'd suddenly find them stopped in the middle of the road somewhere. That would be a BAD thing, because we can't see a damn thing for most of this stage because of the thick dust.

At 5:40 into the video it's, "stay Left/Cr, 150 L4+/smCr".

We just about drive straight off into the trees at that L4+!! It's the closest we've come to crashing all weekend. Look at the steering wheel. Martin has to crank in nearly two whole turns to the right to save us.

Watching the video now, I'm thinking, holy crap did I call that as a L4, when in fact the road actually turns Right??

Nope, the notes are correct. You can see this same spot at 3:25 into Andrew Wickline and Stephen Kurey's in-car video of this stage. They've streamlined their notes, calling it just a "L4" instead of a "L4+/smCr". But it's the same spot.

How come they have perfect visibility with no dust, while we're choking on the stuff???

There is a small clearing off to the left, just before this L4+/smCr. You can see it at 3:25 in Wickline's video. Martin senses the green area retreating from his peripheral vision on the left and, assuming this must already be the L4, he starts turning left a bit too early. Next thing we know we're pointing at the trees!

The huge steering correction to the right was required because the car slewed waaaaay sideways to the left when he jumped on the brakes.


The next instruction is a "R4 deceptive". Funny-guy Martin responds that the previous corner was deceptive too, because he couldn't see it.

Driving completely blind like this, the strategy has been to keep the car pointed centre toward the middle of the soft dusty areas, rather than aimed at the hard green stuff we can see lining both edges of the road. Sounds like a good plan.

What could possibly go wrong? [Other than finding a Honda Civic stopped in the road?]

After this twisty section it gets a lot faster, but we still can't see anything. At 7:50 there's a very fast "R6+ into L6, kinks 250... keep going". But Martin is not liking these conditions at all. He replies, "ya, keep reading".

After our two flat tires on SS8, we're way down the standings anyway. There's no chance whatsoever of making up all that lost time, unless everybody else either crashes or drops out with car problems. So there's no need for any heroics at this point. It would be dumb to wreck the car now.

At 9:40 Martin explains that our lack of pace is due to the fact that he doesn't like these tires at all. With all the flats and bent rims we've suffered so far, we're down to the dregs and running on an old worn out set of tires. We don't even have a complete set, forced to run on a mismatched set with a right-side tire backwards on the left side.

At this point we're pushing as hard as we dare, but mostly are just hoping to finish in one piece. At 12:20 even that goal suddenly looked doubtful.

At 12:20 there's a big bump in the road. Not really a big deal. But it was enough to compress the right front strut to full stroke, where it stuck solid.

We probably bent the strut already somewhere much earlier, maybe on one of the many big rock impacts on the Sturtevant stages, or maybe even on landing the Concord Pond jump where we cracked the windshield yesterday.

With 3 miles still to go, the strut is fully compressed down to the bump stop and seized solid. We have no ground clearance, the car is surfing along on its skidplate, whacking every rock in the road, and I'm going to lose all my teeth.

At 14:50 coming into a R3, I see blue smoke (not dust) hanging in the air. Has the Honda finally blown up? "Keep reading."

At 18:20 we finally reach the finish, where the dust is so bad that Martin is forced to jam on the brakes and we almost come to a complete halt before crossing the flying finish line.

At the turnaround Brian Gottlieb apologizes to us, thinking he must have been holding us up. They were hobbled by the ailing transmission of their Honda Civic. But, with the thick dust and our own suspension troubles, it turns out we were only 10 secs quicker than the Honda on this stage, not even close to catching them.

We still have to run most of this stage one more time in the opposite direction before we get to go home. Oh boy. This poor car, and its occupants, are in for an awful beating...

SS10 - Fish Pond In:

SS11 - Sturtevant Out, 12.33 miles

There were a lot of hurtin' cars waiting at the turnaround. We've joined the ranks of the walking wounded.

Lots of cars with their hood up, crews scrambling to find wire to tie up dragging exhaust systems, changing flat tires, or pouring more oil through their leaking gearboxes.

We decide to let all but one of the other cars start ahead of us. We're going to be taking it nice and slow and don't want to hold anyone up. There will be just one car trailing behind us. They've got a long list of potentially terminal issues, not least of which is a fuel leak dripping onto their hot exhaust. We figured if that turns into a fireball, we really don't want to be first on the scene. It's preferable to have the sweep and emergency teams following closest behind that car.

There was not much to be done about our seized right front strut. It's jammed solid. But Martin cleverly removed the swaybar endlink so at least the left front suspension is freed and no longer tied to the seized right front. That's nice for him. He's got some suspension travel on his side, but my side is still riding rock solid on the bumpstop.

It's time to saddle up and commence the dusty ride home. Oh boy, we're in for a treat.

It's rough. It's rocky. I'm bounced around so much that in some spots I can barely hang onto the notes, let alone read them.

At 6:00, at a "L4-/Cr", we almost slide off in some deep soft stuff. "Oh jeez." Martin just laughs.

About 30 seconds later we find Patrick Darrow holding up an OK sign and waving money! Maybe the Honda Civic has finally blown up.

No. They slid off the road on a R3/Cr and are stuck. They're hoping for a tow to get them going again. Several other cars must already have passed them by. We're no longer competitive anyway. We have time to deposit some good karma into the bank for next year. We stop to yank the Honda back onto the road.

It'll take them a while to get belted up again, giving us a good head start. But still Martin checks his mirrors often to ensure they haven't caught us up and want to pass.

At 11:40 we turn L4-/smCr into the section where the serious rocks start. Oh goody.

At 13:25 we come to the R4+/smCr/rocks that caused us so much grief on the previous stages. There is a huge flat stone sticking up smack across the centre of the road. It steps up at least three inches above the surface of the road, with a sharp vertical leading edge that's been painted fluorescent orange so you can see it coming. It's like driving over a parking lot curbstone.

That rock spans almost as wide as the car, but if you line it up carefully you can straddle it without either wheel touching it, as you suck in your breath hoping the rock won't tear off your oil pan.

The problem is, while you're concentrating on lining up to straddle that rock, you tend not to notice the even more lethal rock that follows immediately after right in line with your right-side tires. I'm sure that's the rock that caused our two flat tires on SS8.

If we nail that one again now, with the right front strut seized solid as it is, there will surely be bad consequences. But Martin deftly swerves around it this time and we escape with no damage.

But there's another 2-1/2 minutes of even worse rocks to follow, until finally at 15:50 our notes promise that the road "gets smoother". I suppose it might feel smoother if we actually had working suspension, but we don't and it doesn't.

At 17:35 we pass Niall Johnson and Daniela Manago, with their Subaru WRX stuffed into the bushes on a R4-long. Nothing we can do about that. They're in deep.

We do make it all the way to the end of this stage, and we're not last. We finish the day 15th/24 in the Errol Regional event, and 11th/24 in the MaxAttack standings.

But the adventure is not over yet. We still have an hour long transit from here back to the finish at Sunday River...

SS11 - Sturtevant Out:


First order of business, an emergency, we desperately need to stop for another swim! On the dusty transit out we stop at the Sturtevant Pond and jump in for a refreshing dip.

I guess we should have put the OK sign out because several other teams, noticing our car abandoned on the side of the road, stopped to check if we were alright. Nobody joined us in the swim though.

Eventually Brian Gottlieb and Patrick Darrow came limping along in their Honda Civic. They also stopped to see if we were okay, but didn't have time for a swim. They have more serious worries.

Amazingly their (now dry) transmission hasn't seized up tight yet. But, when they slid off the road on that last stage, they fetched up nose-first against a tree which holed their radiator and now the engine is overheating.

Simple enough. We're feeling alive again, refreshed from our swim. Our car is still running strong, albeit limping on one corner. We have a tow rope. We'll tow the Honda home! It's only another hour. What could possibly go wrong?

The first little bit, on the dusty gravel portion out to the highway, must have been an adventure for the Honda boys. Our car is rear-wheel-drive. It shoots rocks, eh. This is what the Honda looked like afterwards. Note all the pockmarks in their radiator (it was finished already before that). But we put a nice bullet hole through one of their headlights, and cracked their windshield (it was already cracked beforehand).

Once we got onto the paved highway it wasn't so bad. But man, our poor old engine got a workout. Guess we proved the head gasket is still okay though. The turbo must have been glowing red hot the whole way. The floor was so hot Martin could hardly keep his feet on the pedals. Still, mission accomplished, we got the DirtyDrifters Honda back to Sunday River in plenty of time for them to check-in at the final time control with no road penalties.

Objects in mirror...

Video of towing the Honda:

Many thanks to the organizers and all the great volunteers who make this such an outstanding event.

Big thanks to Eric (Lurch) Burmeister for all his hard work in organizing the 2wd MaxAttack stuff!!

Hats off to Greg Healey and Cynthia Krolikowski! For the third year in a row now Greg, in his gorgeous museum piece Datsun 280Z, has kicked our butts.

Here's a shot of Andrew Comrie-Picard, just because he's ACP.

HUGE congratulations to Antoine L'Estage and Nathalie Richard (Canadians, eh) for their overall win and for always making it look so easy when we know for a fact it's not!

Now it's time to pack away the wounded car, and party.

Jennifer Daly got a better offer and hitched a ride with someone else. So next day we packed up our "SleepMetalGirl", and headed home.

With no Jennifer along for the ride to perform the duties of flipping the fuel lever on the auxiliary tank, we eventually forgot to close the lever at the conclusion of our trip. The truck sat all night emptying expensive diesel fuel into Martin's yard...
Yopu have been busy!

It will take me a while to read through all this...
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