For some reason my head is pounding. Could it be that it is now 1:00AM, the day the Alcan Rally starts and I'm still up packing? That I ate way too many cookies at registration today and at the Alcan reception tonight? That I'm grinding my brain trying to think of what I've forgotten?
The out of town teams have it easy. They went through this already. They left home days ago. They already know what they forgot and bought new. They are sleeping soundly dreaming of ice and snow and second place trophies. I'm awake, yet dreaming of sleep and starting the rally rested. Such sweet thoughts those are...
Driver's meeting and Tech Inspection was held today in Bothell. All 16 teams were on hand to hear advice, rules, stories of Alcan rallies past and to have their vehicles inspected to ensure safety and compliance.
Car numbers aren't passed out until the paperwork (licenses, registration and insurance) is checked and verified. Tech inspection makes sure that there are no loose items in the engine compartment and no obvious flaws with the vehicle as well as ensuring that safety items like triangles and a tow strap are present and that there's an installed radio that will work on the official event frequency. Turns out there are quite a few ham radio folks in the event so that will give us gabby types more to do on the long transits.
Of course, we had no problems and neither did the Horst/Willey BMW. Rob and Nick are going to have some extra work tonight, mostly installing a stereo. We're finishing packing the car and have had visits and phone calls from friends wishing us luck. Now if we can get a good night's sleep, we're off at 8 am tomorrow!
As the February 18 jump off approached, we started to get a *little* nervous about the number of electron-consuming doodads that we were stuffing into the WRX. The stock battery was only about two years old, but it never inspired confidence never mind awe. The stock alternator? Rated at 75 amps, so even with a conservative rating, we were skeptical of it keeping up with the the demands of dual Ham radios, stereo, rally computer, laptop, driving lights, and more.
The first part of the equation was pretty easy to address. Battery? The obvious answer was a deep cycle Optima. We were reassured by the fact that the battery was guaranteed to operate within design specifications when inverted. The marine "blue top" version fit nicely into the Subaru battery tray and offered dual terminals that made it much easier to attach accessory power.....
We fabricated a little plate to hold a Blue Sea Systems 80 Amp Maxi-Fuse that serves 4 accessory circuits for stereo, rally computer, Ham radio and driving lights.
Addressing the issue of the stock alternator was a bit more complicated. The engine compartment is a *very* cramped place! We hadn't heard of anyone offering a higher-output alternator for the WRX until we caught sight of Wrangler Northwest on a Subaru bulletin board. Stan Hackathorn at Wrangler responded to our cry for more amps and furnished the Comden/Hogan WRX with a 110-amp alternator, This arrived with all required bolts and adaptors.
Time was tight. We wished we had installed this alternator two months ago, but that was not the case. It took us two months to find Wrangler.... Where to turn to get this unit installed? Based on past experience, we made a bee line to Smart Service in Shoreline. As usual, Mike Corbin and crew at Smart Service did a great job on this install. Beyond simply installing the alternator, Mike put in an extraordinary amount of effort in benchmarking the new alternator under load so we could drive north with confidence.
Mike Corbin testing the new alternator under load...
The resulting installation was clean and hard to tell from stock save for some beefy 2-gauge charging cables running back to the Optima battery (and a 175 amp fusible link which I hope we never blow!!)
The alternator in place...
As long as we were messing with electrons, I could not resist the temptation to add some new horns. The previously added Hella Supertones were a great improvement over the anemic Subaru horns, but I was concened about the ability to get somebody's attention in the wind-swept environs we would traverse. The answer (from eBay) were some compact Fiamm air horns which instantly raised the combines horn sound output from 122 to 125 dB.
Not a lot of space under the WRX hood. I hope my positioning of the horns in the vicinity of the exhaust manifold won't cause them to get out of tune!
Two TeamD cars spent some quality indoor time today in the TeamD Vinyl Tech Application Center (V-TAC) in Lake Forest Park, Washington. Thanks to our great sponsors we had a difficult time choosing where decals would be applied as well as getting back in practice for getting the dang things to line up properly and not get messed up.
We have stickers from 180, Yakima, McNamara Signs, and Wrangler Power Products. Of course the event itself has vinyl that we're required to use. We also had a few other decals we felt it important to apply as well. Many test arrangements were made and pondered.
The weather wasn't great when we began so being indoors was nice. After a few hours we were able to move outside for the last applications on the WRX. We took a bit longer due to our indecision and inexperience, but thanks to the vets we were able to get finished. Lack of sun didn't make for great photographs however, so you'll have to wait a day or two for those. In the meantime, here's a shot of the ix all purtied up:
One of the common questions I get when telling people about the Alcan Winter Rally and Time Speed Distance (TSD) rallying is how the rally and scoring works. I'll try to give a brief overview.
First, and foremost the Alcan Winter Rally and other TSD touring rallies that we do are held on open public roads at or below the legal speed limit. It is not a race to get to certain points the fastest or be first. It is a competition of precision, planning and preparation.
At the start of the rally we receive a big book called a Routebook which lays out, in words, the entire route that we are to follow. After the rally begins everything is predetermined by the Routebook and we are to follow it to the letter. The Routebook is simply a series of numbered instructions that we do in numerical order. It tells us precisely what time to leave and the mileages, speeds and route following directions for every turn.
Within the Routebook all of the instructions are broken up into things called Sections. There are two types of Sections: TSD and Transit. A TSD section is a scored section in which we must start at the right time and drive precisely the right speed at all times. Along the route in a TSD secion there will be hidden checkpoints recording the time that we pass. A TSD is typically short, less than 30 miles. A Transit is a non-scored section, which must be started and finished at a specific time but during the transit we are free to drive at our own pace, stop for gas or food or sightseeing. On the Alcan Rally transits are generally long, usually at least a few hundred miles. One important note is that time allowed for transits is limited, so while we can go at our own pace we must be very aware of how much time we have to cover the distance so we are not late starting the next section.
As I mentioned above, during a TSD section we must start at the right time (to the second) and drive exactly the right speed at all times. A TSD is planned by the Rallymaster (the person who setup the route) and measured with an odometer which is accurate to 0.001 miles. The Rallymaster also chooses the speeds and decides where to hide the checkpoints. Using a bit of simple math the Rallymaster knows precisely what time each car will be passing each checkpoint. On the rally when we drive past the checkpoint they record our time and compare it with the official calculated time. If we are early they penalize us one point for each second we are early. If we are late they penalize us one point for each second that we are late. Arriving perfectly on time scores us a zero. The maximum penalty on a TSD is 200 points.
The Alcan Winter Rally is unique in that it has special ice racing or ice slalom events in addition to the transits and TSD sections. On these closed courses, which are usually on a frozen lake, we go as fast as we possibly can without getting stuck off the course. On these events the fastest time scores zero points and slower cars score one point per 0.1 second that they are slower than the fastest car. That's pretty rough but luckily the maximum penalty at an ice race is only 10 points.
With all of this precision and time management required you can see how important the role of the navigator is. While the driver works to keep the car on the road, the navigator works to keep the car 'on zero' by doing calculations or running the rally computer. This provides feedback to the driver about how close he is to being on time.
Finally, after being timed at hidden checkpoints on a few dozen TSD sections and four ice races over the nine days of the rally, the scores are totaled. The highly competitive cars will generally have very low scores (under 100) and be separated by a few seconds. The winner of the rally is the one with the score closest to zero. We hope that will be us.
Some of the technically inclined may be interested in all the equipment we use in the cars to stay on perfect time. Both the BMW and the WRX use the same equipment in this quest.
For the competitive TSD (Time-Speed-Distance) sections which will be scored on our accuracy, we'll be concentrating entirely on the official route instructions and our Timewise 798A rally computer . The Timewise allows us to approach staying on perfect time by taking a signal from an odometer input, using the target speed (What we call the CAST -- an acronym for Change Average Speed To) and displays our error between perfect time and actual time at any point during a scored section. It's slightly complicated to learn and use if you're unfamiliar with the goal of TSD rallying, but it really does a great job when it's handled correctly. Basically it does a tremendous number of those good old time/speed/distance math problems you may recall from junior high school and displays those calculations in a way that is useful feedback for the driver and navigator. We each get our own display -- the driver has a small box in front of him that displays the error, while the navigator gets all of that and more to control.
The Timewise can use two odometer inputs. We've installed connections for both in the WRX. The stock odometer in the dash is not precise enough or accurate enough for our pursuit of the perfect time. Most stock odometers read anywhere between 2-10% faster/longer than actual distance traveled -- stock speedometers have a similar error. The WRX's primary odometer sensor is a Hall Effect sensor mounted on a bracket attached to the rear differential and two magnets epoxied to the axle. As the axle turns, the magnets are exposed to the sensor which generates an electronic pulse that is relayed to the computer. The backup odo sensor is the stock VSS (Vehicle Speed Sensor) which provides the signal from the transmission to a variety of devices, including the stock odo. The BMW uses Hall effect sensors as well, one on each of the front drive axles. The Timewise allows us to tweak our odo readings to match whatever the rallymaster's odometer used to measure the rally. It can get a little more complicated, with different tweaks for different kinds of road surfaces and tires, but I won't go into that, mostly because I'm not good enough with the computer yet. It can be incredibly accurate. As for precision, the Timewise is able to display to a resolution of 0.001 miles. Usually rallys are measured and calculated to a hundredth of a mile. That extra digit allows for incredible precision if we're using the equipment correctly.
As the navigator, it's important to understand how to use the rally computer so that the driver gets good information as to whether he's on time, early or late. If we don't do everything correctly, including remembering to zero the odometer (see the Last (real) Practice blog entry) it means we aren't starting with data that the computer requires. If we miss hitting the CAST switch at just the right location in the mileage, the calculations will be wrong, and the computer won't display the error correctly, meaning that it's impossible for it to tell us if we're on time or not. During a scored section we need to pay attention to the official mileage in the route instructions and figure out if our odometer is displaying different numbers. If there's a mismatch (usually due to wheel slip in gravel or on snow), we need to be able to correct both the odometer and the calculated time. The Timewise makes much of this easy, but we need to be quick and efficient in its operation. Also, we need to slap the driver's hand if he reaches over and tries to fiddle with any of the switches.
And the driver? All he has to do is look at his display and go faster or slower.
The Alcan Winter Rally is only 18 days away. Today, rally chairman Jerry Hines posted the provisional start order. Steve and I were assigned car number seven, our veteran status earning us a single digit number. Jim and Dan have been given car number eleven, a good draw considering they are first-time Alcaners. Our new TeamD colleagues Rob Dunn and Nick Marcuse, two-time veterans and winners of class III (Seat Of Pants class) in the 2002 Alcan Rally, earned car number six.
As for classes, the Subaru WRX (Jim and Dan) is in class I, passenger cars with unlimited equipment. Our BMW 325iX is also in class I. Rob and Nick's Mazda 323 GTX is in class III, which is limited in navigational aids.
All six of us will be competing as TeamD for the Alcan Winter Rally Team Award. This new award goes to the team of three (or four) cars which scores the highest places in their respective classes. This will add some extra competition.
This was it: our last chance to practice with the computer on a rally even remotely resembling the kind of scoring we’ll see on the Alcan. Chuckanut Sports Car Club put on the Armageddon XXII Redux rally on January 25. This event was rescheduled from last
November due to excessive flood damage on forest roads that comprised the planned route. Now it would be almost all paved instead of the gravel we crave but regardless, we looked forward to it for the valuable seat time in a competitive setting. After all, it’s been many weeks since we had to try and stay on time during the Totem Rally in British Columbia last November...
Jim was over on Saturday doing random wiring and re-wiring and installing of additional gadgets. (My youngest son’s comment: “you again?!” – already a wiseass at the age of four). I worked on some stuff for this web site that will be revealed later. We got the GPS multiplexer mostly working, installed the rally computer and planned on a 7:30 departure for Bellingham. I programmed the coffee maker and my alarm clock for our wake up and Jim fretted about a last-minute problem report from his nest of computers at work. The fact that I didn’t push all the right buttons on the alarm clock was foreshadowing that I failed to heed. Fortunately the sound of the coffee maker squeezing out its last drops of human starting fluid woke Jim and we got on the road a mere 30 minutes late for our jaunt north to sign in.
We love getting our car number, and we really love getting car #13. There was a whole lotta love for us in the silver WRX but we were unfazed. Perhaps I should’ve done a fazing practice, or read a fazing manual. But who the heck knows what being fazed actually means? Hindsight is brilliant in its clarity...
Eric and Steve got lucky #7 so we knew we wouldn’t see them much, if at all, during the event. Six minutes is a long time when it comes to hanging out before a scored regularity section begins.
First car out was 10:01 and we weren’t far behind for the very brief odometer check. No wrong turns is a Good Thing when it comes to matching up our odometer signal to what the rallymaster used to measure the course and this was our first success of the day. I had our speed programmed, the odometer factor calculated, speed changes highlighted in the route book... what else was there to do? Our start time approached, I said “hit it” to Jim, and then realized that a significant task had been left undone. Setting the odometer to zero is kind of important when beginning a rally. It’s vital, in fact. I quickly scrambled my limited resources to come up with a plan to get our odometer on the right number and while I was congratulating myself on solving that problem I managed to miss a speed change. I tried to fudge it and gave Jim a variety of instructions to adjust his speed: “Faster!” “No, slower!” “Ummm” – Perhaps it was that last utterance that clued him in to the fact that his navigator was ... fazed?
So we did not love the first section. The rest of the rally went pretty well. Long story short, it was a great touring rally on some interesting roads. Snow was not really a factor though we saw some slush on one section but with the surefooted Subaru it was never a worry and the organizers had plenty of provisional plans in place in the event of too much slippy stuff. We were running the GPS as a curiosity and one of the sections had us getting (literally) within spitting distance of the U.S./Canada border. The built-in map for the GPS showed us making a brief foray over the border but we never left the road and the laser guns on the camera towers never lit up so I figure it was a glitch in that piece of technology that provided plenty of in-car speculation/entertainment.
The event ended at a restaurant in Bellingham and before scores were released Jim and I decided we needed to head home. We were able to get the details from Steve over the phone later and found that my fears about our result on the first section were well founded. We placed OK in the event, but were around 30 seconds in error for the three or so checkpoints in the first section resulting in around 100 points of error, putting us well out of contention for a low score. Other sections sounded like they went well for us (plenty of one and zero scores for checkpoints) and we look forward to seeing the details when they’re published. Steve told us we placed fourth in class and fifth overall.
Eric and Steve in car #7 did a fantastic job and placed 2nd, within one point of the first place finishers. 16 points (i.e. 16 seconds) of error over more than 100 miles bodes well for our team’s Alcan effort.
Question of the day: Should I have “RESET ODO” tattooed on the back of my left hand or will I remember this important detail before we head north?
There is one Friday Night rally the week before we leave, but I will have to give that one a miss in order to go skiing with my oldest. Those events are completely different, though, so probably not much help.
Part 54 of the the TeamD Alcan Winter Rally training plan required that we get out and warm up our dusty TSD rally skills in advance of the rally. On Sunday, January 25th, over two months since our last taste of competition the TeamD Alcan crews headed north to Bellingham, Washington for the 22nd running of the Armageddon Rally. This was a short five hour all-paved event but served well to remind us how to drive the cars and run the Timewise rally computers. There were no surprises and this gentle rally was smooth from start to finish. Steve and I missed first overall by a single point with a score of 16. Even more satisfying was that we came in with almost half the score of future Alcan competition Glenn Wallace and Greg Hightower. Of course we're all warming up but it gets us feeling happy. The Alcan Rally seems closer now.
I peered out the small starboard-side port on the Herc and it hit me: "Whoa! Are those Viggens? Or MIGs???? Did Willey forget to file the paperwork? And just how far off course *are* we???? And in what direction?" Järvi 17 sits inside an inactive artillery range, but very close to the border east of Lammasjärvi. The people at the Ministry are a bit touchy and you *gotta* do your paperwork!
I was about to have a stroke and was turning my local chart in just about every direction to figure out where we went astray when the two boy-racer fighter jocks waved their wings, passed about 500 feet below us, and disappeared.
Did I overreact? Sure, I was in a bad mood, had overslept, and wasn't having the best trip so far, but we wouldn't have been the *first* rally team to get blown out of the sky over some stupid paperwork snafu. Ten minutes later, though, we could all relax. As promised, our hosts Simo and Jukka had raised a windsock on a snowbank and Terry, our pilot for the past 7 years, threw the LC-130F in for an absolute greaser in a mild crossbreeze on the clear, arrow-straight eastern shore of the lake. Thanks to my sleep habits we were about an hour late, but we made the best of the circumstances and popped the tie-downs from the BMW and WRX in record time.
What can I say about the next 5 hours? Our search for the perfect frozen lake was worth it. Yes, some locals had laid in a race course -- with a horse-drawn plow from the looks of the occasional dropping along the lake shore -- but the course was nearly perfect and there wasn't another person or car in sight. Save a few minor rough spots, the lake surface was wonderfully smooth, groomed and solid as a rock. For 5 hours we could throw our cars down the lake with fairly complete abandon. Snow cover was pretty shallow, but just enough to help "guide" us back on track when we overshot.
(Eric obsesses over BMW tire pressures as WRX zooms by)
We all took turns driving the two cars. On Winter Alcan, the rules for the 4 planned slaloms dictate that both drivers must take turns -- 2 runs per driver for each of the 4 events with the best 2 of 4 counting -- so this training trip was essential. Dan and I spent most of our time taking laps in the WRX, but we each took some turns in the BMW 325ix. We both agreed with Eric up to a point. The Bimmer felt lighter and a bit more sure-footed -- more deliberate with its somewhat stiffer steering touch. The WRX waggin was, in contrast, a bit more tail-happy on the ice, especially as things warmed up and conditions got slicker. That being said, I'm not sure I would trade the WRX for anything. For 0-70 on ice, the WRX+studded Hakka combination is pretty tight, and the mild tail-happiness became a predictable, absolute joy in an esses on the backstretch.
Maybe it goes without saying. We had a blast. About 2 hours into our laps I think we all said: "I know what we're doing next year on this holiday! Back to Jarvi 17!"
We all took some reluctant last laps and prepared for the long trip back to Seattle. Simo commiserated and Jukka offered to put us up in the guest house if we wanted to stay, but Terry's time doesn't come cheap and the four of us - dedicated public employees all - knew that duty called.
As much as we would have loved to stay with Jukka and enjoy some of his wife's famous stew once again, we came away pretty happy knowing that some serious ice time lies ahead in February on the Alcan!
None of us was sure what to expect from the day as we set out in the early morning darkness from Seattle on January 19th. It would be a long day and our expectations were high that our day at the dedicated TeamD test facility, Lac de Glace (Ice Lake) would prove beneficial. Our rented C-130 cargo plane and flight crew were right on time and in just a few hours we were on the ground again and warming up for a day of trials and tuning on the ice.
The temperature was above freezing, about 1.6C (35F) when we arrived about 1:00 PM. The lake was snow covered but the track plowed on the surface could be seen from above as we approached the lake. Very little snow had fallen over the last week and about 3cm of snow blanketed the lake. Once on the lake the course was harder to see but was outlined by small snow banks on either side of its 12m width. Several concentric tracks were available but the largest outer track was most interesting. There were two curves which had ice damage on the inside resulting in a long puddle and large chunks of ice so we worked around that by using what could be considered the pit lane to avoid the spots. In all our test track measured 1.9km (1.18 miles), with the start/finish at one end and the furthest point half that length down the lake.
None of us has that much experience with lakes that freeze so initially we were nervous about the soundness of the ice. We jumped and stomped like fools, examined the parts of the track that had holes torn in the ice at apexes and soon convinced ourselves that the ice was plenty thick.
The precise details of our driving and equipment test methodology is, of course, confidential information. What I can tell you is that it was totally awesome! The first few laps were exercises in finding the right path through the snowy track and then it was a simple matter of following the tracks. The somewhat slippery snow gave way to more predictable ice below after a dozen trips around. We began to learn the track and increased from slow second gear laps to faster laps that saw more third gear. As speed increased it became clear which driving lines worked and which didn't as the unforgiving surface was quick to show us our errors. Within the first hour all of us were very comfortable and loving every minute.
For tough winter driving like the Alcan Rally there is only one winter tire choice, the Nokian Hakkapeliitta. Jim's Subaru WRX has Hakkapeliitta 1's. My BMW 325iX has new Hakkapeliitta 2's that I've been breaking in. I recently switched from narrow, Hakkapeliitta 10's which are excellent for deep snow to the wider Hakkapeliitta 2's which are better suited for the compact snow and ice that we'll see on the Alcan. We expect the Hakka 2's to give excellent performance on the ice racing portions of the rally. Steve and I burned lap after lap dialing in our tire pressure settings on the BMW. It is amazing the huge difference in traction that a little change in pressure makes.
I love the sure footed feel of my BMW 325iX, the feedback that it gives through the steering and throttle and am very comfortable making it do what I want. After I drove my BMW 325iX until I was comfortable, I took some laps in Jim's WRX. Wow, what a difference. Switching to the WRX was a massive change and one that took some getting used to. The horsepower on demand and easier steering takes a light touch through the corners. I finally figured it out fine enough to stay on the track but boy do I prefer my BMW.
It is rare that you can spend enough time on a track to run out of setups to test and energy to drive. After four hours and almost 80 miles on the track we found ourselves standing in the fading light realizing that it was done. We rolled back to terra firma, loaded up for the trip home and took one last long look at our Lac de Glace. We all agreed, it was an excellent warmup for the long cold rally ahead.
This past weekend (January 10-11) we spent a few hours crawling through and around the WRX. Here's a recap of everything we did:
Here's a view of the interior with all the seats out. Radio #2 is sitting on the temporary piece of plywood. Lookit all the wires!
Here's what the under-seat radio (#1), fuse block and GPS mux look like with the driver's seat out:
I probably forgot one or two things that we did. We still have to add some bits but we're pretty much done pulling wire through and under things. I hope. This should be the last time we have all the seats out of the car, anyway, except to complete the install for radio #2.
When you see Jim, congratulate him on his ability to shoehorn yet more gadgets into the WRX.