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

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