Oregon Trail Rally (OTR) 2012 was a three day event. Friday evening stages were at Portland International Raceway and were more of a shakedown / fan appreciation thing and not much of a rally. Saturday and Sunday are the meat of the event. It is not possible to win the event Friday but it is certainly possible to lose Friday.
But before all that, there are some preliminary things to deal with. Like recce on Thursday.
Recce for the 2012 Oregon Trail Rally was scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday. Wednesday was for the cars "invited" to the press stages on Thursday and as you may well imagine, a 25 year old Subaru and a first time driver were not invited so our designated recce was Thursday. Recce registration was from 6:30am to 7:30am at a restaurant in Portland close to PIR. In order to get there on time we needed to be out of Seattle very early Thursday.
Wednesday night at 8::00pm we met up with Kathryn (co-driver for the weekend) and Steve (Car 000 and general team support) at the Northgate Park and Ride. Due to his massively generous nature, Steve has volunteered use of his trailer and a truck to get the rally car down and around Oregon. Steve and Kathryn had loaded their car on the trailer and drove it down to Seattle where they met up with the Seattle team (me, (driver) Joe (designated crew chief), and Hans (designated crew captain)). We unloaded Steve’s car and took instruction on using the trailer and loading the Subaru. Then Steve and Kathryn continued their drive south while Joe and I attempted to drive the truck/trailer over to my house.
Note: The trailer in use this weekend is the same one that was used to extract a Saab and a BMW from Canada one wintery weekend. It is HUGE. It’s big enough to hold a Ford Excursion so the Subaru was an easy load. But the trailer is LONG, the truck plus trailer was in the neighborhood of 40 feet log, making maneuvering through the tight streets of Seattle a challenge for the relatively inexperienced crew. Still, we managed.
Joe and I crashed at my house for a few hours before waking at 3am for the drive down to Portland. An early departure was ideal for getting familiar to the characteristics of the truck and trailer at speed. Sure, we were tired, but our weaving down the road was a lot easier without much traffic. We arrived at the recce registration location before 7am, meeting up again with Steve and Kathryn as well as Marinus and Renee Damm who brought Marilyn (their BMW 325IX) with them for us to use as a recce car.
Note: Rally America does not allow rally cars on recce. You need to use a different vehicle.
So at 7:30am Kathryn and I headed out from Portland to the Dalles and Dufur stages. The was no recce for the PIR stages; they were short and the parade lap at the beginning of Friday night alleviated the need.
As part of the entry fee for OTR, I had purchased the recce and the Jemba Notes for the rally. The notes were required for the recce. With the base entry fee, you get a route book similar to one you may have at a TSD event, minus of course the CASTs. The route book is the basic route with major turns and cautions and timing but it does not have every turn or the detail that one may want to run the event cleanly. The Jemba Notes are detailed notes on every turn and dip, and they are generated by a combination of computer telemetry and manual input. A car with special equipment (gps, accelerometer, etc) is driven on the course before the event. The details from the equipment generate a list of turns and dips and crests and then rates the contours of the event with standard notes, I.E. R or L turn, severity of turn from 1 to 6 (with + and -) and length between notes. So for instance, the co-driver might see:
R 5- Over Crest 50
L 3 200
Which would translate to a easy right turn (5-) over a crest then 50 meters and then a square left turn (L 3) and then 200 meters before the next instruction.
Kathryn has many rallies under her belt. I had around zero, so the main objective of the recce was to get me familiar with the sound of the notes, the way Kathryn calls them, and to map in my head what a 6 feels like compared to a 5 or a 3 or a 2. There was no way I was going to memorize the route but as we went on I started to add my own comments, things like “put a caution there” or “super rough, keep left” or “there’s no way I am going to make this turn look good”. Recce speeds are controlled and the maximum speed limit is 30 unless otherwise posted. With that, it is hard to judge what turns will look like at rally speed but
The weather all week had been rain/wet/ick and Thursday was no real exception. While the first stages around the Dalles were fine (apart from some light snow at one point – really, snow in May), as we got up into the Dufur areas the ground, usually light dust and dirt, turned to quicksand. A competitor recce car behind us got stuck and we had a hard time getting out of one mud pit, even with the all wheel drive. And then, after we were 1/2 way through the second Dufur stage, we were stopped. The rally officials called off the rest of recce in order to preserve the roads for the weekend. So we transited out and back to Portland. We gathered some very good information on how to work together for the rally but were unable to run the entire course.
During the time that Kathryn and I were out on recce, Joe drove the trailer over to Trackside Motorsports, Garth Ankeny’s shop. Through previous arrangement, Garth had offered his locked yard as trailer storage for Thursday evening. Garth is a good guy.
Kathryn and I drove back to Portland and met up with Joe at the Damm’s house (our lodging for Thursday night). We dropped the BMW off (wet, muddy, and happy) and took the service truck for a late lunch. Picking up food for Steve, we drove over to PIR where the press stages were wrapping up.
That night, the Scion Rally Team was hosting a party for the competitors and crew in Portland so Joe, Marinus, Renee, and I piled into a car and headed out. There was beer, tacos, scantily dressed babes, energy drinks, and other related hoopla. Scion drive Andrew Comrie Picard worked the room like a humble celebrity and both Joe and Marinus posed for photos with the NOS Energy Drink girls while showing off the TeamD colors. It was good.
Friday morning Joe and I left Damm mansion early. Renee and Marinus had to “work” for a while but we’d see them later in the day. We grabbed the service truck and headed over to event registration to get our papers and credentials and all sorts. Then we picked up the car and trailer and headed out to PIR. Somewhere in here we also bought a 10×10 easy-up but I don’t quite remember when. At PIR we unloaded the car, ditched the trailer, and lined up for tech inspection. At tech you need to show the car meets regulations. You also need to show all the required safety gear, driver’s gear, and the vehicle log book. And that’s when tragedy struck. The log book, the thing every car needs to be legal, the record of it’s entire career. Missing. I could not find it anywhere. It usually lives in the glove box and is not separated from the car. But it was nowhere to be found. And without a log book the car could not be entered.
I had a feeling (a correct one) that the log book was on my desk at home. But at this time it is noon and there’s not enough time to drive to Seattle, pick it up, and drive back. Hans, who was meeting us on Friday to complete the service crew staffing, was already in a train headed to Portland.
But a combination of technology and familiarity saved us. I had scanned every page of the log book and placed them online for review by Rally America prior to getting the cage re-certified. I was able to pull up the log book on my iPad and with that and Kathryn’s sweet talking we were passed through tech. I think the official comment was “log book missing but verified by concrete evidence”.
Passed through tech, I drove the rally car out into line to be passed to the infield of PIR. The track was being used all day by a local sport driving club so we had to wait for breaks in their lapping to get to the infield service area. Once inside, we were assigned our service location and we started to set up service. We put up the canopy (which was essential when the rains came, and they did), rolled out the tarp, and set up service. We then popped the car onto jack stands and Joe and I bled the brakes which were feeling a bit spongy. This was fun as neither Joe nor I had done this before. Luckily the TeamD service ended up also as the pace car collection point so we had no end of advise and suggestions.
Around this point, Hans arrived. Ron in Car 00 picked him up from registration and transported him to our service location. Now with a full service crew of Joe and Hans, things were humming. Tires were swapped, brakes checked, lines checked, etc. All sorts of mechanical things happened. I tried to stay out of the fray, excepting the job of applying decals and making a nuisance of myself.
OTR had 60+ entries. Soon the service area was full of cars and teams. Big panel vans, trucks, RVs, semis full of parts, sponsor tents, the place started to feel “professional”. Little TeamD in the corner with a white pickup felt somewhat out of place.
But then people started showing up. Spectators. People that paid $10 to come see the show. And a few of them even came by and talked to us. And were amazed. “What is that?” “Is that an RX?” “Does it run?” and similar quotes. Sincere wishes of good luck came our way. And then Antoine L’Estage came by. Team Mitsubishi and leading the Canadian Rally Championship. And he loved the little RX. His crew were impressed (the ones that knew what it was). And TeamD felt a bit better.
2:00pm Novice Driver’s Meeting
5:30pm Parade Lap
6:00pm Parc Expose
6:15pm Mandatory Driver’s Meeting
6:59pm Massive nervous attack
7:00pm first car out.
There were four stages on Friday evening. Stages 1 and 3, identical, started on the track. The course headed down the main straight, with a right hairpin at the end, coming back up the other side of the barrier, then a left onto a service road, hard right out around the perimeter of the property, onto gravel, around some curves, back onto tarmac, and around to the finish. Stages 2 and 4 had more gravel and “sod” as they wound around and through the motocross park. At least that was the plan. The parade lap proved that the sporadic rain during the day had turned the motocross park into mud soup and some of the sod had turned to mush so they changed the course after the parade lap (and after they towed a car that got stuck in the muck on the parade lap) and redirected around the bad portions.
The PIR stages were run reverse order, meaning the slowest cars went first. Luckily I was not “first”. But as I lined up for the start of Stage 1, and as Kathryn attempted to roll up her window after getting the time card, well, the window would not roll up. This would cause problems as regulations state the window has to be open no more than 1/2 inch. So the seconds tick down and I start on time and we’re trying to get the window rolled up and it won’t move and perhaps the motor has died or the switch has died and it’s my first stage and I am trying to go fast but it is a real distraction and here comes the hairpin and I didn’t get to the speed I wanted and it feels sooo slow and we turn and then I remember something and turn the window lock off (it had been hit accidentally) and the window comes up and we can concentrate and boy that was crazy and whoa I’m supposed to be turning left into the service road….
Breath. It’s Ok. Just go.
And we did. Stage 1 complete. No longer a stage rally virgin.
Stage 2 had an uphill into a Left 2 and what Kathryn noted as a “tidy” left. I told here there was no way that left was going to be tidy and I was right. It’s on video. I’m all over the place and I am going to blame it on the choice to run our most worn tires to save the “better” ones for gravel. But still, ugh. At least I didn’t put the car into a pond. That happened to the Audi 90. There are great photos.
Stage 3 was a repeat of stage 1 but with no window issue. So I felt pretty good about it. And we floored it down the straight and around the back through the gravel but now I see in front of me a Saab 96 and I catch them on the gravel and end up following them down the final tarmac S turns and my time is slower this time because I caught the Saab but could not pass it.
Stage 4 was abbreviated and changed from the original course and from the parade lap. And we got lost. There was a sort of figure 8 which was in fact two 90 rights in an X configuration but we got lost going into the first loop and flailed around and lost time but did not get stuck and did not plow into a hay bale or a pond or another car and we finished the day without finishing the rally on day one so it’s all good.
After stage 4 we packed up service, loaded the car back onto the trailer, lost my iPhone, and drove out of Portland to our hotel in The Dalles, coming in around midnight, ready for day 2 when the rally really starts.
To Be Continued.