Archive for January, 2011

Rideau Winter Rally – Ontario Road Rally Cup Rally No. 2 – January 22-23, 2011

Sunday, January 23rd, 2011

Day 1

For the first time, Open Road Motorsports hosted a two-day winter rally in the Lanark Highlands and Rideau Lakes regions, which would count as a single rally in the Ontario Road Rally Cup (ORRC), series as well as two rallies in the Motorsport Club of Ottawa Open Road series. Competitors came not only from the Ottawa region, but also from southern Ontario to experience the wintry conditions and terrific roads in this part of the province. This was a particularly easy rally for Gary and me, since we didn’t have to commute for 5 or 6 hours to reach the start of an ORRC event and we could sleep in our own beds for a change.

Watching the long term weather forecast in the two weeks preceding the rally, at times it looked as though we could get a big snow storm just before the event, which would have made the back roads extremely challenging. But as we got closer to the first day, the weather simply got colder, with only a small amount of new snow. Both days were very cold, with high temperatures no warmer than -20 C, but at least we also had brilliant sunshine to make the scenery sparkle and to take the chill out of the air, albeit briefly.

Saturday morning I left home a little after 9 o’clock for the drive to Perth, arriving at the restaurant around 10:30 after gassing up. There were a number of new faces from our club, as well as several friends from the Toronto area whom we have met through the ORRC series. Unfortunately, our co-champions from 2010 and chief rivals – Tim and Perry – decided not to come to Perth, probably because it would be a lot to ask of their 45-year old Triumph TR4. So while missed their companionship and competition, their absence did open the door for us to get a good jump in the 2011 championship race. In total, there were eleven teams entered, including three in our Intermediate ORRC class. Some of the entrants would compete only on one day or the other for the MCO results, while any team staying for both days would automatically qualify for points in both series.

The instructions were all straightforward distance-to-turn or tulip style, with the emphasis being on mastering the challenging snow-covered roads at brisk average speeds. I had suggested to Gary before the start that we might experiment with an enhancement to our practiced style, whereby we would leave checkpoints early and also build up a reserve of “early time” on easy roads (i.e. highway transits), thereby allowing me to drive the really challenging stuff at a prudent pace. This would essentially guarantee that we would achieve the primary objective of staying on the road, while avoiding being unnecessarily late at checkpoints. We agreed to monitor how early we were and, when we stopped being early, to compare our actual clock time to calculated ideal times as we passed milestones in the route book to know how late we were. This technique worked reasonably well on Day 1 and even better on Day 2 as we got accustomed to the ongoing monitoring and to making adjustments on the fly.

Because I registered early for the rally, we were designated as Car No. 1 and started Saturday morning at 11:31. In fact, we started a minute or two early, so we would have lots of time after the odometer check to build up “early time” and to do some calculations for the next few sections. However, I nearly blew it all immediately after the odo check, when I drove past our first turn-off by about 300 metres. I must have been pre-occupied with mental arithmetic. It was too far to reverse to the turn, so I backed into an access road to a farmer’s field. That was a mistake, since there was a bigger drop from the road than I could see and it was full of 6-8” of soft snow. It took me a good minute of rocking the car between reverse and forward gears to get out of that ditch and back on track. In about a half kilometre we came to the first checkpoint, where I had to ask for a 1.5 minute Time Allowance (TA), to minimize the penalty. When I read the sticker that the checkpoint workers gave us, I mistook a “6” for a “4”, which suggested that we’d been early. That bothered me for quite a while, but at the end of the rally I learned that it was just bad penmanship and we wound up with a very small penalty.

From then on we applied our new technique as well as we could and took very few penalties due to road conditions and speeds. However, we did catch up with an empty logging truck on a road where our average speed was supposed to be 68 km/h; but his speed was about ten kilometres slower. So we lost about 10 seconds for every kilometre until he finally pulled over to let us and another competitor past – a total delay of about 100 seconds. That threw all of our calculations off and I had to take another TA at the next checkpoint, only approximating the final amount of lateness that we’d suffered. Eventually we had to take a third TA because we’d been unable to bank enough “early time” to offset the effects of a really twisty, hilly, slow section. After the first TA, each subsequent one carries a penalty of 0.5 points for ORRC purposes, so the two additional TA’s cost us a whole point in the final scoring.

Our total score for the day was a commendable 3.3, but not as good as we wanted – it never is, just like golf. That was good enough for third in the ORRC Intermediate group, with a second day ahead in which to try and better the final placement. We finished the 174 km at 3:12 PM and I was home a little after 5. None of us could have asked for better or more challenging road conditions and, despite the cold, the weather was outstanding.

Day 2

Once again Sunday morning it was bitterly cold – about minus 25 Celsius, exacerbated by the fact that I had to leave home in the dark to reach the Perth Restaurant a little after 8 o’clock. At least when the sun eventually came up, it felt a tiny bit warmer. While we had stayed north of Highway 7 in the Lanark Highlands on Day 1, for the second day we would be south of the highway in the Rideau Lakes region. This is significant because the roads in Lanark are basically logging roads, while the Lakes area has cottage roads. The difference in construction, width and maintenance is significant. All through Day 2 we were on roads that were a little straighter, a little smoother and a little wider, but still very hilly and challenging. And because they’re cottage roads, there was very little traffic – in fact we were on a couple of roads covered with 2-3” of fresh snow and absolutely no other tire tracks. It’s a spooky feeling entering the woods on a track that has no evidence of human habitation and planning to push the limits of adhesion along the way.

Our time-banking technique worked very well for us on this day, as I was able to use highway sections and slow speed Quiet Zones (typically villages), to build up a reserve of “early time”. Then we were both able to monitor the reserve quite accurately as we drove through the twisty bits at less than the specified average speed. Gary would use his calculator to predict ETA’s at various milestones, while I would use the rally computer’s readout of incremental kilometres and a rule of thumb of 10 seconds per kilometre to tell me how much time we were losing. The two techniques gave us very similar and comparable results. As a result, we scored very well and only got into trouble at one turn that I drove past because I had forgotten the instruction that Gary gave me several minutes earlier and he wasn’t watching the odometer. I quickly reversed a hundred metres up the hill and made the turn and was able to recover lost of the lost time with some aggressive driving. We only took one TA, which carried no penalty, and wound up the day with a score of 1.0.

This placed us in second place for ORRC purposes, a result that will be very useful as the year unfolds. Since the series championship relies on the best 7 out of 10 rallies, and since we will only compete in 8 or less, a second place could be very valuable. The second day was shorter, running for 134 km, for a total rally length of 308 km. So although it was spread over two days, this ORRC rally was only about 30 km longer than the longest one we’d completed until this time. While the scoring was being tabulated, we had time for a light lunch and lot of socializing; and I still got home around 1:40. The next event is an overnight rally in Bancroft, which we will skip. So our next rally will be a club rally on March 23, followed by the next ORRC event at the end of April. It felt really good to get home and warm up!

Videos are here:

January Jaunt ORRC Rally #1 – 8 January 2011

Sunday, January 9th, 2011

The new season began with a pretty good snowstorm before we left for Waterdown, ON, which is near Burlington. After shovelling snow a couple of times on Friday, the truck and car were relatively clean Saturday morning when Gary and I left around 8 o’clock. The highway forecast didn’t look very good, with “poor” conditions predicted from Belleville all the way through to Burlington.

We had flurries, blowing snow and centre-bare road condition for the first hour; then it cleared up a bit and wasn’t too bad. But in the Brighton area we caught up to a snowplow convoy of four trucks that were clearing the left side shoulder all the way to the right side, at 30 km/h. So we lost about a half hour and had to skip our gas and lunch stop at Port Hope to stay on schedule. The roads and skies cleared a bit and we made it through Toronto easily, arriving at Waterdown a little after 2 PM. After unloading and registering, we had time for a quick sandwich and some socializing before the drivers’ meeting and the start at 3:30, which had been delayed by a half hour while they checked some portions of the route. The weather had been pretty bad for this part of the country and they had to verify that certain portions of the route would be open to traffic after being battered by unusual snowfall and winds causing drifting.

We were car number 20 (out of an encouraging 21 car field) and we left the restaurant at 3:50 with a set of combined Intermediate and Expert instructions. The Intermediate class is always a little smaller than Novice and Expert, so they didn’t bother with a unique route book for us Inter’s – this time there were four teams entered in our class, plus a lot of rank beginners in Novice class. One of the teams was Perry – without Tim and his TR4 due to business travel – who was going to try to do the rally alone in his Ford Focus. That didn’t work out too well because of the complexity of the instructions, so he recruited a driver at the break. They soldiered on and finished, but Perry wound up with 140 points – good enough for second place! – having missed numerous checkpoints.

Section one was a simple distance-to-turns style of instructions, leading to an odo check after about 24 kms. This was unusually long, but it gave Gary time to read ahead and try to figure out the instructions for section two. This was really valuable, because the section two instructions involved a really small scale map where we were expected to find the shortest path between two defined points, while ensuring that we passed through certain map coordinates. Poor Gary couldn’t find the map coordinates at all until we stopped at the end of section one with five minutes in hand and I was able to look over his shoulder. I caught sight of some lettering in faint blue script, buried in the multi-coloured map and said, “What’s this?” The lettering provided a reference to the map coordinates, which allowed Gary to find the targets and plot a course through them. We passed a number of fellow competitors parked by the roadside, trying to figure out the map. Perry couldn’t see it very well in the fading light and couldn’t figure it out, so he skipped the section completely!

Section three wasn’t much better, with a hand-drawn line map being provided, to go along with the map used in section two. Using the relative scale of the two maps and the twists and turns of the hand-drawn version, Gary’s task was to figure out which turns to take, while keeping me informed of the speed required. This section took us first down the Niagara escarpment, then back up again, on a very twisty set of roads. In the middle, there was a pit stop break with a timed pause, where we used the time to work ahead on other instructions. I left the break a little early because of the worsening road conditions and tackled the climb up the escarpment aggressively. When we reached the summit we suddenly found a checkpoint, with little time to adjust our speed. So we ended up a touch early, but not much harm done. From here on the road conditions deteriorated rapidly, so that all gravel roads were covered with several centimetres of snow and all paved roads were centre-bare and tricky. So my ability to maintain the required average speed began to degenerate. Also in this section, we somehow attracted a group of the rank beginners in our wake, following us faithfully no matter where we went. I’m sure this didn’t help their scores, since we missed a couple of turns and at least one checkpoint! At one right hand turn I saw a flash of lights in my mirrors and looked up to see the first follower looping his car through 90 degrees as he tried to take the corner too fast under braking alone! He kept it out of the ditch and continued the chase undaunted.

One of the next sections used cartoons of snowmen to indicate the directions of turns, which was easy enough if you could read the direction of their eyes clearly. I can’t remember the instructions for the next section, but the last one before the mid-rally break was kind of interesting. There were four lines in a diagram, shaped like a tic-tac-toe puzzle, each of which looked like a standard line diagram where the jargon goes like “leave one on the left”, for a tee-shaped intersection. Something inspired Gary to wonder whether all four lines were the same – and sure enough, they were. So it was a simple matter to follow one of the lines to the refuelling/food break in Smithville.

After the break, the first section used an analogue clock face to dictate the direction of turns, i.e. enter by the hour hand, leave by the minute hand. It was pretty straightforward and relaxing after the difficulties of the first leg. Then we had one section where the instructions told us to avoid certain landmarks, such as churches, recreation centres, a body shop, etc., but we couldn’t figure out how to do that in the pitch dark conditions. However, Gary was able to plot a route and see enough roadside signs to keep us more on less on route and we ended up in the right place at end of section. One of the next sections quoted the basic rules of “route following”, which we were encouraged to apply. Essentially, they amount to (a) stay on the road you’re on until you must make a choice, (b) at any crossroads, go straight, absent any other instruction, and (c) if you arrive at a place where you must turn without any other instruction, turn right. The only instructions in this section were (1) turn left at Lover’s Lane, (2) turn right at 10.54, and (3) turn left at Crook’s Hollow. That was the entire section! The balance of turns had to be taken based on the convention for route following, as above. While it took a long time and about 8 kms to reach Lover’s Lane – during which we hoping we hadn’t missed a street sign – we did fine until we mistakenly turned right at an intersection where we should have gone straight. This caused us to miss Crook’s Hollow and to waste 10-15 minutes driving around Ancaster looking for the end of section. Finally Gary got us back on the right track and we found EOS, with only one section remaining.

The last section required road counting at each intersection, but this time the distances and road counts were provided in binary form! It took Gary a few minutes to remember enough ancient mathematics to figure out how to read the binary numbers and then we were off. But he was never sure he had the right numbers for distance, so we had to be careful not to make a wrong turn. Eventually, it got quite confusing and weren’t sure we were still on the route. But I recognized that we were on Highway 5 (Dundas St.), approaching Highway 6 just west of Waterdown. Our destination was the starting point in Waterdown, so we decided simply to go to the end of the rally and take our lumps. We were tired and frustrated and we’d had enough after 267 kms and over six hours. So we checked in at 10:04 and I left Gary there while I went down the street to load the car on the trailer while the scoring was being compiled. The car and trailer were filthy with slush from both the rally and the drive down and we only had my single pair of work gloves to handle the messy ramps, straps, etc. So I left Gary to relax and socialize while I froze my hands trying to use frozen, stiff gloves to load up. By the time I finished loading and dealing with an irate resident whose dog I was upsetting, I was very cold and beginning to get pretty tired. When I returned to restaurant I found Gary sitting with Perry and his recruited driver, rehashing the route. The first thing Gary said to me was, “How do you feel, winner?!” The draft scores had been circulated and we had the lowest in Intermediate class, even though we had a large total of 81! We had missed three check points and our speeds had been too slow because of road conditions, but we had done better than the others. It also helped that they were not going to include the scores from the last section – which we had truncated – because there was a mistake in the instructions.

We didn’t stay long enough to hear the final results, but our position remained assured. We stopped on the way out of town to fill up the truck’s gas tank and saw the most amazing collection of emergency vehicles lining the route down to Highway 403. It was a convoy of six massive beer vats manufactured in Germany, shipped to Hamilton and being ferried to the Molson’s Coors brewery in Toronto. The trip, which is expected to take four nights, began Friday night as the vats — loaded on six flatbed trailers — were slowly pulled out of the docks by transport trucks. The beer vats are huge — 45 metres long, eight metres high and more than seven metres wide. The transport company had to plan a route that would avoid overpasses and then coordinate with police forces to close intersections, raise or cut hydro and cable wires to get the vats through, steer trucks by remote control through tight areas and remove metal poles then weld them back in place. It was quite an amazing sight!

We reached Les’s house in Pickering around 12:30 AM and they were waiting up for us, although Les hadn’t received my text message telling him we were en route. He had left his new cell phone in his coat pocket – not wonder he didn’t hear its tone. Anyway, we had a short visit and hit the sack, looking forward to blessed sleep. We were up by around 8 the next morning and the house was filled with the aroma of bacon and fresh coffee. After a great breakfast of French toast, bacon and fruit we set sail for Ottawa under sunny skies around 10:30. Four hours later we arrived at my driveway, which had accumulated three centimetres of snow since we’d left. Gary left for home; I shovelled the snow and then unloaded the car. It was a great start to the new rally season, with a result that we’ll be able to use towards the 2011 championship – and for me, a ten point lead on my rival Tim. The next event is in two weeks in Perth and I’m looking forward to it!

Video is available at: