ORRC January Jaunt Rally – 7 January 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 http://youtu.be/lUUiZz4sSJs


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