Archive for January, 2012

ORRC Rideau Winter Rally – 21 January 2012

Sunday, January 22nd, 2012

This would be the first rally of the ORRC schedule hosted by the Motorsport Club of Ottawa – my home club. Apart from knowing the territory pretty well, the biggest advantage for us is that it’s close to home – no need for a long trip with truck and trailer.

Leading up to the event, I had been busy repairing damage to the front end of the car that first appeared in the January Jaunt and prevented us from finishing. During that event we had stopped during the third Leg due a rattling sound coming from the right front. If we’d only removed the wheel to inspect the brakes, we could have repaired the damage and continued. The pins holding the brake pads in place had come loose and one had broken, but we could have effected a temporary repair with long zip ties that I have in the tool box. But we thought the damage was more serious – like a wheel bearing – so we simply loaded the car on the trailer and left. The damage had been caused by my sons who drove the car at high speeds with a severely deflated right front tire, causing it to pull significantly to the right.

After fixing the brake pad problem I found that the front end was still making unusual noises. On further inspection I decided to change the left side drive axle, thinking that the CV joint had been damaged. While that may be true and didn’t cost me anything due to its warranty, there were still noises. I determined that the right wheel bearing had some play in it, so I replaced that, only to find that there was free play between the new bearing and the stub axle on the hub. So I replaced the hub and installed yet another new bearing, since the first replacement had to be damaged in order to disassemble the hub. This resolved the noise problem, but then I discovered a small leak of transmission fluid coming from the place where the left drive axle enters the transaxle. I had to seat the axle 2-3 mm further into the transaxle to eliminate this leak and then refill the transaxle with oil. Finally the car was ready to rally again.

Saturday dawned partly cloudy and fairly cold – at around -11 C – but the forecast promised no significant snow fall and reasonable temperatures. I took the car for a short drive to check everything out and it was fine. But then I was going to take it to pick Gary up in town and it died in the driveway! I used the truck and hurried home to do some testing. I believe the problem was dirty contacts on the coil wire, because the coil tested OK and there was spark at the plugs after I reconnected the coil wire. So I cleaned the connectors and everything was fine. We drove out to Perth and bought gas, arriving at the restaurant around 3:30. We were the second last team to register, so we were assigned car number 9. After getting caught up with our friends from out of town, we departed for Section 1 a couple of minutes before 4:39, our nominal starting time.

It quickly became obvious that this was not going to be an easy rally. All of the side roads – both paved and gravel – were covered with a sheen of ice plus loose powder snow and sand. They were very slippery and all of the corners required great care not to understeer off the road. Section 1 was pretty straightforward for an odometer check, but with a twist. We were given an elapsed time to a distance beyond the odo check point and average speeds beyond that.  The elapsed time distance was more than 5 kilometres beyond the odo check, so there could have been a checkpoint just beyond it. So we had to be careful to stay on time once we reached that point, just in case. As expected, the first checkpoint was before the end of Section 1. As I approached it, I thought we were running a bit late. But if I’d looked at the clock and remembered that it was timed to the minute, I’d have slowed down. We checked in at 56 seconds after the minute. If we’d been four seconds slower, we’d have been right on time. Oh well, on to Section 2.

We were given a series of tulip diagrams but only a few had non-accumulative distance from the previous instruction. So we had to keep our eyes peeled for turns that matched the diagrams, as well as changing speeds often. All of the roads continued to be icy, so the driving was stressful whenever we were in a twisty section. I believe it was in this section that we ran into a problem. We were travelling at around 65 km/h when we came to a 90-degree left turn that was not marked and was not visible well in advance. I tried to brake to scrub of some speed and depressed the clutch to roll around the corner, but we were just going too fast. We slid sideways into a snow bank that was only about 10” high and went right onto it. All four tires were in deep snow and I couldn’t get any traction to move either forward or back. Another team stopped to help us and we tried pushing the car and then pulling it out with theirs (a 4WD Mitsubishi), but my toe rope came apart at one end.

Fortunately another car came along and stopped to help. This was a couple who had intended to compete but had arrived too late for registration, so they were just using the instructions for practise. They had a good tow strap and a 4WD Subaru, so were able to pull us out reasonably easily. As we left the site, the car seemed OK but it was pulling a bit to the right. At the next checkpoint I took the maximum Time Allowance of 19.5 minutes, which allowed us to come very close to zeroing that control. I also checked the tie rod ends to make sure nothing was bent and couldn’t see a problem. I should have looked more closely at the tires! When I checked them the next morning I found that the right front was almost totally deflated and we had finished the rally on it and driven at highway speeds back to the city. Just like my sons had done , causing the same symptom! Will I ever learn?

Section 3 required us to plot the shortest route between the beginning and end of Section, while passing through three points. The changes in average speed were given in descriptive terms that didn’t reveal any tips about the route, so Gary had to use the end of section map and carefully devise a route that would get us there. He did a great job and we were pretty successful at the next couple of controls.

Section 4 had an odd set of instructions, where the cumulative distances were given in miles without tenths, as though they’d been read from an old car’s odometer that began the section at 171,834 miles. The average speeds were also given in miles per hour. So Gary had to convert all the distances and speeds to metric and then we had to pay close attention to the various turns, since we didn’t have precise distances to follow. For example, one instruction told us to turn left at mileage 171,849, but all we really knew is that the turn would be somewhere after we reached the metric equivalent of 171,849 and before the metric equivalent of 171,850. I think we did pretty well in this section, although were a little early at one control. I was basically driving as fast as I could comfortably, given the conditions, and it caught up with us at that checkpoint.

Section 5 was the place where the driving really got interesting. We were on cottage roads in the Rideau Lakes which are hilly, narrow and twisty, as well as being icy. The speeds don’t sound all that challenging, in the low sixties and mid-fifties, but they were. None of the curves are marked and you never know what’s over the next crest, so I had to take it easy just to stay on the road and be comfortable. The instructions were simple enough, but the driving was exhausting! We were the last car to arrive at one of the checkpoints, so the workers followed us for quite a while, which was comforting. Then we caught up to and passed another competitor who had just been pulled out a snow bank by the same team who had tried to help us earlier, so I knew I was doing the right thing by being cautious. We ended up being late by about five minutes at the two checkpoints in this section, but at least we stayed on the road.

The final Section was very simple and relatively short, being designed simply to get us back to Perth over some more reasonable roads. We had no trouble with it, although the frequent speed changes and turns caused us to be a little late at the last checkpoint before the finish. We correctly calculated the finishing time for the end of rally and handed in our route card at the restaurant, sharing some harrowing tales of the nights driving with a few people before leaving.

Gary needed to get back to the city as early as possible to join his wife at a social event, so we didn’t wait for the results to be finalized. We knew that we would have a pretty respectable score, especially since we had not missed any turns or gotten off track at all. That’s the first event for which we can say that! As it turned out, we finished second in Expert class with a score of 9.4, which is very gratifying. There were four teams in Expert, so we did well to beat two of them, despite the flat tire! Now I have to check the car over carefully to make sure there is no damage. At least I have a couple of months before the next event, so the pressure is off. I had the video camera mounted in the car, but was so busy with the driving that I didn’t even think to turn it on. That’s a shame, because some of the footage would have been spectacular.


ORRC January Jaunt Rally – 7 January 2012

Sunday, January 8th, 2012

The 2012 ORRC season began as usual with the January Jaunt rally, run out of Waterdown, ON, near Burlington. Since the season-ending event in Perth in November, I have been busy making improvements to the Mazda for the new season. It started with the replacement of a burned out headlight bulb (both actually), which happened on the way home from Perth. Next I spent a bit of time under the car trying to find a small oil leak on the left side, which turned out to the seal on the transmission shift rod. That was a fairly straightforward job, made easier by the mild temperatures we had in November.

Then in December I decided to tackle a job I’d been procrastinating on – the rusty frame rails just behind the seats. Once I began removing the rusted and rotten metal, I discovered just how serious a problem it was. By the time I’d finished cleaning up the two sides, I had a four inch diameter hole in the floor behind the driver’s seat and a section 7-9” long on each side where the frame rail was completely gone from rust. I made a patch for the floor out of sheet metal and screwed and riveted it in place. Then I covered the top and bottom of the patch’s seams with fibreglass maxi-fibre.

For the frame damage, I calculated that I could weld a steel strap to the good frame rail in front of the damaged sections and extend it over the damage to the rear trailing arm mounts. It would have to be shaped like a hockey stick to follow the shape of the rail and it would require some bracing to provide strength in the vertical direction. Using some of my friend’s inventory of 1/8” x 1-1/4” steel strapping, I made the necessary flat pieces and he welded them together. Then I made two braces of ¾” angle iron which he welded across the angle of the hockey stick shape. He then welded the assembly to the floor board and we added some side pieces to increase the strength, since the floor metal is quite thin. Then I filled in the void between the new pieces and the floor with expanding foam and covered the whole thing with fibreglass maxi-fibre. Finally a coat of Tremclad rust paint to protect the whole thing and some yellow highlights to show where the good jacking points are.

The next major project was to replace the fuel lines between the engine and the fuel tank, which were clearly on their last legs. I had lost two brake lines in the same area as the rusty floor repair about two years ago. So I knew the fuel lines wouldn’t last much longer. I took a shortcut and used flexible rubber fuel hose from the top of the tank down to the floor level; then 5/16” steel lines up towards the engine compartment. I left the old lines in place and simply zip-tied the new lines to them in multiple places along the floor. I took advantage of the opportunity to relocate the fuel filter from the firewall to the area vacated when I moved the battery to the trunk, to improve accessibility dramatically.

I also replaced the engine’s coolant temperature sensor, which is used to trigger the radiator fan, since I had had an overheating problem in October when I had to replace the radiator. I also tweaked the toe-in a couple of times to get the steering perfectly neutral, had the right front tire remounted to solve a slow leak and had the left front tire re-balanced to remove a vibration. The vibration sound is still present, but the wheel is balanced! I’m just hoping the vibration is nothing serious, since the front bearings are new and the brakes are not rubbing. If a tire is breaking an internal belt, we’ll find out in the rally!

My travel plans for the rally were a little complicated this time, since I would take my son to Toronto to catch a bus to St. Catharines for school; then I would pick Gary up in Toronto at a hotel where his wife is staying while working on a big project; then we would drive to Waterdown and compete in the rally. At the end of the rally, my old friend Rob might meet us in the restaurant after delivering a car to his son in Waterloo and catch a ride home with me – after dropping Gary in Toronto and spending the night with my other old friend and his wife in Pickering. Whew!

We left Saturday morning about 8:10 (thanks son!) in the midst of some freezing drizzle that had left 1/8th of an inch of ice on the cars. The roads were somewhat slippery until the temperature rose from -5 C to about freezing, when the ice started to fly off the truck in chunks and the windows cleared, along Highway 401. We made pretty good time despite the conditions and only made two pit stops before reaching Toronto around 12:15. I dropped my son at the bus station and picked up Gary and we were off. The weather in Toronto was remarkably different from Ottawa, with sunshine and temperatures reaching +9 C. We arrived at Waterdown with plenty of time to spare, so I filled up the truck, which turned out to be fortuitous.

After registering, saying hello to old friends and listening to the drivers’ meeting, we departed at 3:10 PM with Expert instructions in hand. There were 18 teams entered – 3 Expert, 2 Intermediate and the rest Novice – many first timers. We were the only team from Ottawa, which is often the case. The rally was going to be about 300 km long and was divided into three legs – A, B and C. The rally organizer – named Kurt – is known for preparing challenging instructions and he didn’t disappoint. Even the beginning odo check section was different, with average speeds provided for the whole section, including the pause which is necessary at the odo check distance.

We had been warned at the meeting about a section that was arranged in reverse and Section A2 proved to be it. Not only did we have to start at the end and work backwards – calculating all of the distances to turns – but each tulip diagram was reversed, with left meaning right, stop signs misplaced and the angle of side roads reversed. We struggled a bit with it at first, but then Gary got the hang of it and we did fairly well, although we had to take a time allowance early to compensate for our confusion.

Section A3 was a fairly common line diagram, but it was drawn as a spiral to challenge the reader to keep track of lefts and rights. The starting point was not defined, but it was easy to figure it out from the first intersection. As we progressed, we were confused by the average speeds, because they didn’t make sense with the speed limits we saw. Only much later (in Section A4) did Gary notice that the average speed tables for Sections A3 and A4 had been placed on the opposing section’s page! Despite our confusion over the speeds, we stuck to our guns and were rewarded with a checkpoint midway along, so we knew we were still on route. The roads got a little more interesting in this section, with some twisty bits and plenty of hills, on a wet gravel surface.

Section A4 was a nightmare! The instructions required the navigator to find several small towns on a greyscale photocopy of a small scale map and connect them with straight lines to define intersection points. We were supposed to find the shortest route between the beginning and end of section while driving through all of the intersecting points. Local knowledge would have been a big help here, because we couldn’t find some of the town names no matter how hard we tried. One of our fellow competitors paused just before the section and took nine minutes to sort out it out, following with a nine minute time allowance at the next checkpoint to compensate. We stopped at several points to try and figure out the route and we stayed on track for a while. But about halfway along we were about to take a wrong turn when along came a Novice team, equipped with simpler instructions. When we saw which way they turned, we immediately decided to follow them and give up trying to plot our own route. This became kind of funny, as we followed them wherever they went, including a wrong turn! But they got us safely to end of section at the rest stop and we thanked them for their unwitting help. As we saw later, our overall efforts for Leg A weren’t bad, with a total score of 7.2 (compared to 2.6 and 6.1 for our competitors).

Leg B was a different story. Section B1 was a disjointed map of two squiggly lines, accompanied by a road map. We had to match the lines with roads on the map and follow the route. When we started out, we incorrectly identified the starting point and wasted about 17 minutes getting back on track. Then we missed a turn or two and wound up finding a checkpoint from the wrong direction. But it was CP 3, so we had already missed two. It turned out that if we’d kept going another half kilometre, we’d have found CP’s 1 & 2, since they were stacked extremely close together. Then we missed another one before eventually finding the end of section.

Section B2 was a series of tulip-like pictograms of certain intersections, combined with instructions on certain waypoints we had to pass through. We struggled with that one as well and missed another CP or two (I lost count). There was another short break after Leg B and we were one of the last cars out.

Leg C instructions consisted of one page – a map telling us to drive Leg A in reverse! Fortunately we still had all of our notes from Leg A but it was still difficult to get oriented, especially since we’d followed the Novices for Section A4 and had no clue as to the correct route. When we began Section C2, we were supposed to be driving the spiral line diagram in reverse. We got a bit confused early on and I turned around in the wide entrance to a quarry. As I cranked the wheel hard to the left at slow speed, we heard a horrible death rattle coming from the right front wheel. I got out and looked at it with a flashlight and couldn’t see anything broken or out of place. So we drove on a bit and stopped again for more examination.

The best we could figure was that the wheel bearing had let go, explaining the grinding noise we’d been hearing all along. It was hard to believe, since the bearing was only six months old. A local resident stopped to offer assistance, so we accepted his offer of accompanying us back to a major highway, where we could phone the rally organizer to seek a rescue. We made the call and it took a friend about 40 minutes to reach us – that’s how far west we had gone from Waterdown. He drove us back to the starting point where Gary handed in our (blank) route card while I fetched the truck and trailer. We drove back and loaded up the car, heading for Toronto about 11:30 PM. I dropped Gary off at his downtown hotel and made my way to my friend’s house in Pickering, arriving there about 1:30 AM. It had been a long day!

On the way home the next day, I realized that the bearing might have failed because that tire had been really low on air due to an undetected overnight leak, when my sons took the car on a shopping trip. About 60-70 km at highway speeds with only 50% of the appropriate air pressure would not have helped that bearing at all. I’ll assess the damage when I take it apart in a day or two. Our next event is in two weeks, so I should have plenty of time to make repairs.

Postscript: Upon removing the right wheel, the damage was obvious. The two tiny hitch pins that retain the brake pad locating pins had come out and one of the locating pins had sheared off. After installing new parts, everything is good. I believe this was caused by the tire being run on very low air pressure.

Video of Section A4 is available at