Spring Run-Off ORRC Rally #4 – 30 April 2011

We left home at 6:30 AM for the 3-1/2 hour drive to Hastings, ON for the start of this rally. I was up a little after 4:30 – about an hour early – after having a really weird dream and not sleeping very well. It was looking like a long weekend and I don’t mean a holiday weekend! The weather was clear and cool, but promising to warm up nicely – a great day for a rally. I was confident in the Mazda’s condition, having spent several days recently patching up the body work and removing the evidence of rust. From 100 feet, it almost looked good! I was also confident in the performance of the car, since I’d just finished (the day before), replacing the right front wheel bearing and ball joint. The car was running smoothly and quietly for a change. My only concern was the speedometer cable, since the bracket used to hold it inside the transaxle housing had broken off – in my fingers! – and I didn’t have time to make a proper repair. If we lose our speedometer and odometer, it could be an interesting rally.

We arrived at Hastings after only 3 hours 20 minutes, much quicker than I expected. So we had lots of time to unload, socialize and grab a light lunch. Tim and Perry were there, but not driving his Triumph TR4 since it’s still in the body shop following their February mishap, waiting for panels from the UK.  Chris and his son Jon were also there from Ottawa and those two teams made up the rest of our Intermediate class.

We got away smoothly at 11:10, having been assigned Car No. 10, and arrived safely and early at the odometer check, at exactly 10.00 km. There was a note in the route book saying very clearly that we should remember the regulation that prevents the organizer from placing a checkpoint within 5 kilometres after an odo check. So we confidently left there early, allowing us to drive a slightly more leisurely pace.  At around 14 km we entered a twisty, hilly road and were watching for the instruction at 14.99 for a bridge crossing, at which point the 5 kilometre restriction would no longer apply. We came over a crest at a pretty good clip and saw the bridge – and a checkpoint exactly 0.01 km later! I slammed on the brakes and slowed to a crawl, but the best I could do was to pass the checkpoint 34 seconds early. Not an auspicious start.

After completing Section 1 we began following a series of tulip diagrams, always trying to stay ahead of the pace. We were following Chris and Jon and I let them get ahead of us by a little bit, but sure enough we came over another crest and found the next checkpoint, not too far alter the first one. Once again I slowed to a crawl, but we were still 8 seconds early.

After leaving there we continued to follow the tulips and made several turns, ending up on Coyle Road, which is another dirt road with a sandy surface, climbing over glacial drumlins and eskers and down into valleys between them.  While going down on of these hills I felt something odd in the steering and very quickly found the steering wheel turned about 30 degrees to the right, even though we were going straight. While I was processing this information, the car suddenly nose-dived to the right a bit and I quickly brought it to a stop near the side of the road. We jumped out and assessed the damage and found that the new ball joint had separated from the spindle. It turns out that it was the wrong part and the pin going into the spindle was too short, meaning that the pinch bolt had not engaged the groove in the pin – it was at the top of the pin and simply jammed in. We then began the process of disassembling the hub with the small tool kit I have in the car, to remove the pinch bolt and insert the pin back into the spindle. Then we realized that the axle had been pulled violently away from the transaxle and the inner CV joint was separated and its rubber boot destroyed. Our objective then became just to get the car rolling so we could load it on the trailer, if not drive it back to the village where the rally started.

Fortunately a local resident stopped and offered his assistance, so we quickly told him the tools we would like to borrow, if he had them. Eventually he returned with a whole case of new metric wrenches, which allowed us to remove the pinch bolt (which broke), remove the brake calliper and rotor to create more room and then loosen the joint between the strut and spindle so we could get the ball joint pin back into the spindle. Meanwhile we phoned the rally organizer, relying on an old phone number from the previous Peterborough rally, and he arrived to help us as well. We sent him home to get a selection of bolts to replace the broken pinch bolt and he soon returned with a few options. We were able to re-attach the ball joint to the spindle and jam the broken bolt back in, with the broken axle still in place. Gary didn’t believe that I’d be able to drive it, but the Mazda is basically a one-wheel drive vehicle, relying on the left axle for power. So the car actually moved under its own power.

Then the rally organizer was kind enough to drive us back to the village so we could pick up the truck and trailer.  En route I phoned NAPA and spoke to Jeff, describing the problem and its cause. He then took the VIN of the car so he could try to find exactly the correct ball joint. We drove the truck and trailer back to the site of the incident and easily loaded the Mazda up. All this while we had been trying to decide whether to finish the rally in the truck. Gary was able to use the End of Section map to determine that we were pretty close to the beginning of the last section and we could get there at just about the time we would have arrived if we hadn’t had the problem. So we decided to finish the rally in the truck, with the trailer in tow. This wasn’t particularly easy because of the size of some of the hills, but we managed it alright and checked in at the restaurant only a few minutes after everyone else.

During the scoring, one of the Peterborough club executives pointed out the regulation that requires you to finish the rally in the same vehicle that started, so it looked like we wouldn’t get points for third place. But then the scorer and the rally organizer suggested that all we had to do was unload the car at the finish line and drive it one metre to qualify. They also suggested that we had just done that! They would score the results this way – giving us credit for finishing – unless any of the other competitors complained. I thought this was very gracious of them and I would have been quite happy to actually unload the car and do this if necessary. Once the draft results were posted, we left for home and don’t know yet whether anyone protested. If the results stand, we earned third place points which will help us stay in the lead in Intermediate. Of course I have some work to do to replace the broken axle and incorrect ball joint, but I don’t think there’s any other damage. An interesting day, to say the least.

Follow-up Edit:  When I repaired the damage on Monday I found that the ball joint was actually the correct part. I had made a mistake installing it, whereby the pin that goes into the spindle had slipped before I got the pinch bolt in, resulting in me missing the groove in the pin. I was able to reuse the pinch bolt from the previous ball joint and install it correctly. After pulling out the broken axle CV joint, it was a simple matter of installing the new axle and tighteneing everything back up. The car is fine now and I’m only $137 poorer. I will check my work more carefully in future!

Video is available at:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PvUHmJwEyRU

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